The National Board of Review has posted its award winners for 2008, and it’s a wacky list as usual.
The NBR’s safe bet: naming “Slumdog Millionaire” Best Film. It’s going to win the Oscar, and they’ll say they gave it its first award. Fair enough. But then, well, let the good times roll.
For one thing, insiders tell me that NBR director, er, dictator Annie Schulgof “wanted Brad and Angelina” very badly to come to their January 14th soiree. As most industry insiders know, the NBR is all about their party, what big names they can get to come to it, and to get the studios to buy expensive tables for dinner.
They’ve already sent out a call to the studios this afternoon looking for money for their 100th anniversary program book. The centerfold, in color, goes for $7,500; in black and white, $5000. A full page ad is $3,500. The back cover, which they note is reserved for Best Film, is $5,000—so Fox Searchlight had better get out that checkbook now.
The call for money went out with the release of their winners, of course.
They include: the completely strange choice of David Fincher for Best Director, of “Benjamin Button.” The theory is that the NBR will ask Brad Pitt to introduce him, and Brad, a good guy, will do it. “Button” is also on the NBR’s top ten list for the year, and so is “Changeling,” Angelina Jolie’s Clint Eastwood movie that no critic in their right mind would pick for a top 10 list.
But the theory is that Angie will be asked to introduce Clint, whom the NBR has named Best Actor, for “Gran Torino.” They’ve also put “Gran Torino” on the top 10 list to make sure Eastwood, the group’s golden boy, will be there with many tables bought by his two studios, Warner Bros. and Universal. Well done! Luckily, the group’s Jeanine Basinger, who teaches at Wesleyan University, has written extensively about Eastwood, produced a PBS show about him, and brought his archives to her school. The actor told Variety last March: “You just don’t say no to Jeanine Basinger.”
Apparently, not. In 2006, they chose “Letters from Iwo Jima” as their Best Picture.
One person the NBR must not like: producer Scott Rudin. They totally snubbed both “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader.” They ignored Kate Winslet’s two performances, and went for Anne Hathaway’s junkie in “Rachel Getting Married.” Instead, at least of three of their top 10 choices are plain weird: “Burn After Reading,” “Defiance,” and “The Dark Knight.” They also gave a top 10 nod to “Benjamin Button,” although that might have to do with the subject matter of growing young backwards in life.
The group weighed heavily toward the big studios to make sure of dinner ticket sales. Warners, Universal and Paramount did the best. The NBR’s Annie Schulhof, who runs the group like a politburo, has close ties to Warner Bros. Last year the studio scored three of the top 10 including the godawful “Bucket List.” At least they’re consistent!
The rest of the NBR choices are a scattershot through the business to make sure everyone gets something. They threw “Milk” a Best Supporting Actor nod for Josh Brolin, and a top 10 slot, guaranteeing a second Universal table besides the one for “Changeling.” Disney’s “Wall-E” got two awards, to make sure Disney shows up. And so on.
But it’s their list of top 10 “independent films” that really boggles the mind. Two of the ten have never been heard of or seen by anyone. One of them, called “Mr. Foe,” is a Scottish film starring Jamie Bell and listed on the imdb as “Hallam Foe.” It’s grossed $55,000 since its September release. The other one, “In Search of A Midnight Kiss,” is just finishing a run of C-level markets around the country. Go figure. There’s no doubt some connection between these films and NBR members. In time, I’m sure, we’ll hear what it is.
Another year, and more weird Grammy nominations from left field. You can count on it as a definite right up there with death and taxes.
The big disaster: all but total snub of Alicia Keys’s album, “As I Am.” It should have been in Best Album, Song and Record. Instead, Keys was relegated to Best R&B album, R&B vocal performance by a female, and her duet with the ubiquitous darling of the awards, John Mayer. That the Grammys chose to snub Keys—maybe the leading performer/writer of her generation—speaks volumes.
PHOTOS: The 2008 Grammy Nominees.
Second big disaster: not a single nomination for Mariah Carey or anything from her “E=MC2” album. Not even a throwaway nod in R&B. Just an outright, across the board snub. What’s worse: they put Carey through the agony of participating in the Grammy live telecast last night and then giving her nothing!
Only two nominations, and minor ones, for Madonna for her Hard Candy album.
Strange nominations: tracks from Paul McCartney and Beyonce each came from unofficial albums, or side releases that are generally unavailable or unknown.
In fact, the McCartney nomination is for a live version of his song “That Was Me,” taken from a limited edition twelve inch vinyl release of four songs from his promotional performance at Amoeba Records in Hollywood.
What? Is this the bootleg Grammy show? McCartney released a very good album called Memory Almost Full including that song, that got nothing otherwise.
Or how about the Best Song nomination for a track by unknown singer Estelle and Kanye West? There are seven collaborators listed. The “song” also includes three samples. Best Dance Record maybe. But Best Song? I’m not convinced the judges on this panel knew what constituted a song. It’s very disappointing because they had many other better choices, and ignored them.
Of course, the big money is on Coldplay to just sweep everything and call it a day. Their album and title track, “Viva La Vida,” is the equivalent of U2 from a couple of years ago. And the value added of Coldplay wife Gwyneth Paltrow in the audience, being thanked by Chris Martin, etc. is incentive enough for the Grammy telecast.
Then there is the annual Kanye kerfuffle. He sampled a Daft Punk track called “Harder Better Stronger Faster” for his own track, called “Stronger” on his 2007 album, “Graduation.” That album was released in September 2007 and was eligible for last year’s Grammys. However: this year, the original Daft Punk track is nominated for Best Instrumental. According to amazon.com it was released on December 4, 2007 and was discontinued. It’s not available except maybe on a downloading service.
And there’s more. Beyonce is nominated for a track called “Me Myself I.” It wasn’t a single and it’s not from an album. It’s from the ITunes audio version of a DVD live concert called The Beyonce Experience. Again, are there are any rules anymore, or is this just a way to make sure Beyonce is on the show?
Of course, there may be more to the snubs than meet the eye. In the cases of Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey, it could be a punishment for appearing on the American Music Awards last month, and accepting awards from them. There has long been an unwritten rule that if an artist did anything with the AMAs, owned by Dick Clark Productions and considered a minor rival, the Grammys wouldn’t allow you on their show.
What happened on the AMA’s: Keys won two “favorite album” awards there, and performed the show ending blockbuster, her “Superwoman,” with Queen Latifah and opera diva Kathleen Battle.
Carey took home an honorary lifetime award and sang the hell out of “I Stay in Love.”
Next time they’ll know better. I guess.
The town was crawling with potential Oscar nominees last night. Some of them we got to see up close, others not.
Over at the Ziegfeld, Kate Winslet and director Stephen Daldry unveiled “The Reader” to a capacity crowd, along with co-stars Ralph Fiennes and Lena Olin.
Downtown, Sean Penn held a “secret” screening of “Milk” followed by dinner for 75 of his closest friends as long as they were Academy voters but weren’t reporters or photographers.
That’s four vs. one, so to the Ziegfeld we went, where director Daldry kept running back into the theater after the movie started to play, and we sat in the lobby with Kate, Ralph, and Lena. What was the problem?
“They’re projecting it digitally,” he said, “and we’ve heard all kinds of thing about problems with that. So I made sure there was a print, and it’s running in synch with the digital. If something goes wrong, the film takes over.”
We watched him wide-eyed.
“This is what he’s like,” Kate Winslet said, looking sort of amazing in a form fitting Herve Leger dress and not at all like the German camp guard she plays in “The Reader” or the preppy housewife of “Revolutionary Road.”
“If you were eating something on the set, and put it down, you’d come back and it was gone. It didn’t matter if you had even Herpes”—which she doesn’t have, so don’t start any rumors—“he’s just a ball of nerves.”
Well, maybe you’d be one, too, if you’d just launched “Billy Elliot” on Broadway and had “The Reader” going up in front of a thousand people at the Ziegfeld including Holocaust survivor and famed author Eli Wiesel.
Meantime, here’s a little thing I noticed about Kate Winslet. When she came into the Ziegfeld lobby after finishing walking the red carpet, it was time to take the cast picture. She could have chit-chatted with several different people who were milling around. Instead, she said, “Wait, I have to see Lena first,” and zoomed over to an already waiting Lena Olin, her co-star, to say hello deferentially and greet with a kiss on the cheek.
This Kate Winslet, with probably two Oscar nominations coming, is a person.
Olin, a great beauty, returned the greeting happily. In “The Reader,” extraordinarily, she plays two roles but has no scenes directly with Winslet, just Fiennes. (You’ll see.) Daldry, Fiennes, and 18 year old heartthrob German actor David Kross came in for the picture and various groupings.
Can she believe that she played both of these roles in one year, I asked Winslet? Her answer, without missing a beat: “No,”—pause—“I can’t!”