Wolf of Hollywood: Only One Oscar Nominee was Made in Fiscally-Unfriendly California

Actors and directors may mumble about their art all they like, but Hollywood studios are all about the almighty dollar. But the very capitalist model that makes Hollywood such a wonderful force in the world may lure away California’s signature industry from the very place that gave it the moniker “Hollywood.”

Check out this chart from e21 showing that although the subject of films may be hippie-dippy anti-capitalism, the behavior of those making and marketing films is bare-teethed capitalism itself. Only one film nominated for an Oscar this year, the comparatively small-budget Her, was actually filmed in California.

Read more about Her and its sadly small version of love.

California is no longer the de-facto home of moviemaking.

It’s long been an issue in California that the restrictive and costly labor laws and taxes drive movies and TV away from being shot in California.

It’s sad.

California is my home state. It’s also the place that birthed the industry of movie-making. Plus, it still has all the non-taxation factors going for it: Beautiful light, lots of varied and lovely settings, predictable and cooperative weather, and a huge labor force of skilled and ready industry workers. Let’s not forget those thousands of actors waiting tables, just waiting to be discovered and willing to work for a nothing!

Still, the $100 million budget of Gravity went to the U.K. Another $100 million budget was spent in New York for Wolf of Wall Street.

Read why it’s ok to hate the Wolf of Wall Street, even if it was nominated for an Oscar.

The situation is so bad that the mayor of Hollywood declared a state of emergency after last year’s Oscars ceremony.

“I am starting to see people who have never made a feature film in Los Angeles,” Chris Baugh, location manager for Oscar winner “Argo,” which actually shot in L.A., told the small group outside a soundstage. “In fact, they are afraid to. They are concerned that it is too expensive and too difficult.”

Looks like the state of emergency didn’t work.

There are lots of reasons why industry incentives aren’t the answer for California. Subsidies are generally bad for states and California has so many likely takers that it would be particularly bad for them to offer deep incentives.

Better to reform the entire state budget. For film as for all industry in California, the government has created an atmosphere in which the cost of doing business is prohibitively high. Corporations are moving out, taking their job opportunities with them. Why should the film industry be any different?

California, with its punishment of business in general and its out of control spending, is in a bad way no matter how you look at it. But it is sad it looks like those ultraliberal fiscal policies are costing the Golden State its signature industry.

Hattip to Mark Perry for the link to the chart. 

Muppets Take Los Angeles

In case you were wondering what Miss Piggy and Kermit were doing during the Oscars, their own personal photographer kept track.

Miss Piggy (dress: Zac Posen, shoes: ChristianLouboutin, jewelry: Fred Leighton, hair: KimKimble) and Kermit the Frog (in Brooks Brothers) atthe 84th Annual Academy Awards ©A.M.P.A.S. —at KODAK Theatre.





Doesn’t Piggy look lovely? Angelina better watch her back. I hear Piggy wasn’t happy that Angie’s right leg stole all the limelight.

Why The Tree of Life Should Win Best Picture

If the nominees for Academy Awards are any indication, Hollywood is collectively going through a process of self-examination and doubt. The turmoil in the industry – falling ticket sales, new methods of distribution and subsequent rise of small films and heretofore unknown artists – have everyone in town questioning its future and their personal role in whatever new normal will settle out to be. To this insecurity I attribute the creation of and reaction to films like “The Artist,” “Hugo” and “My Week with Marilyn,” as individuals like Martin Scorsese and Michel Hazanavicius grapple to great effect with their bedrock love of their art and their reason for being in such an industry.

However, the film that should win Best Picture, “The Tree of Life,” is the only movie in this brave new world that does what the others don’t: Make the argument for cinematic greatness by creating a movie that can only be a movie and must be seen on the big screen.

As we go down the list of the nine Best Picture nominees, we find eight works that could (or were) be a book or a play. “Hugo,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” “The Help,” “The Descendants,” and “Moneyball” started life as books. “War Horse” is an adaptation of a novel turned into a Broadway play.

Only “The Artist” and “Midnight in Paris” have original screenplays, both written, interestingly, by their directors, Michel Hazanavicius and Woody Allen, respectively. It is not hard to imagine either as an imaginatively staged play. In fact, the emphasis on acting and character development might mean they would be highly enjoyable as plays. “The Tree of Life” has an original screenplay as well, words that each carry the weight of cosmic meaning as they’re whispered.

Like “The Help” and “The Descendants,” it features fine acting and exquisite character development, particularly by Brad Pitt as the World War II era father, a man universal yet grounded in time. As others before me have commented, he embodies a generation we knew well and gives a tremendously human performance.

Like “Moneyball” and “The Artist,” it has story, in this case, in the history of one boy’s family of origin. This human story, like all our stories, is engulfed and somehow enhanced by the much larger esoteric story around it: the story of creation, universe, life and death on a cosmic scale.

Like “Hugo” and “War Horse,” it has beautiful images, scenes that reach past the intellect to project beauty and emotion to those places thoughts don’t touch.

Unlike the stories that were plays or books, “The Tree of Life” must be watched to be experienced. Each aspect of it is integral to the whole. The cinematography would not be as effective without the score. The acting would not so effectively move hearts without the excellent recreation of the 1950s setting. The costumes are authentic, the lighting luminescent. Each word in the script is important, almost every frame in the film revelatory.

Without the nebulae writhing in a vast universe, the butterfly alighting on Jessica Chastain would not carry such weight.

It could never be boiled down to a play or expressed in a book. The cinematography has too much meaning for that.

It’s not only a movie that must be a movie, but one that must be seen in a theater. And not only in a theater, but in the bigger and better ones.  One needs good sound and great image projection to envelop one for the experience.

In other words, “The Tree of Life” makes the argument for the relevance of cinema and art that “Hugo” and “The Artist,” by looking backwards, try to make.

Movies matter. Movies have something to say that can only be said on a big screen.

And that’s why “The Tree of Life” should win the Oscar for Best Picture.

My friend and Washington DC actor Todd Scofield (The Wire) gave me the original idea for this blog post. Y’all should totally hire him for movies, TV shows, and plays.

My review of “The Tree of Life” is here.

Who was Robbed and Who was Right in Oscar Nominations

Now that Katniss Everdeen, um, I mean Jennifer Lawrence, has announced the nominations for this year’s Oscars, we can all second-guess The Academy of Motion Pictures. Who got robbed? (The Muppets! Andy Serkis!) Who got the recognition they deserved? (The Tree of Life! Meryl Streep!) And who shouldn’t be on a list of the nine Best Pictures of the year even if they were the only picture made that year? (I’m looking at you, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close!)


Moi was robbed, Kermie!

Here are my reactions:

Best Animated Film

The Adventures of Tintin
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

The news in this category is that, unlike last year when Toy Story 3 deservedly made it to the Best Picture category, the contenders this year were kind of blah. Kung Fu Panda is OK, I guess, and Puss in Boots is workable, but none of them reaches the transcendence of aToy Story 3. Rango is likely to win, but is my least favorite. 

The Academy should consider a category tweak. The Muppets was better than all these movies I’ve seen and would win against them for sure. But it has no home, no category in which to be nominated. Poor, poor Muppets. They should write a song about that.

Best Supporting Actress

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
I’m glad to see Melissa McCarthy nominated for her fresh, hilarious role in Bridesmaids. Funny, fresh movie and funny, fresh actress. 

Octavia Spencer definitely deserves a nod for The Help, but I would have picked Amy Ryan for Win Win and Shailene Woodley for The Descendants. Carey Mulligan in Drive was also fantastic.

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
So glad to see Nick Nolte nominated for Warrior. His emotional but understated depiction of a lifelong alcoholic trying to remain sober and atone for his misdeeds was excellent. Who knew he had it in him? Would love to see him win. 

I would have liked to see John Boyega for Attack the Block. He did a tremendous job as a thug in training who finds his calling and nobility in fighting aliens. Really. Watch it.

While I love Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is just an overdone movie and doesn’t measure up to being nominated.

The biggest scandal, however, is the absence of Andy Serkis for his motion capture acting as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He played an intelligent ape. Not a human shaped like an ape, but an actual thinking ape. That he did it in front of a green screen with little nobby things glued all over his body…even more amazing.

Best Actress

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
This is about right, I suppose, although I’d probably trade Glenn Close for Charlize Theron in Young Adult. (I’d probably trade Glenn Close for just about anyone. She rubs me the wrong way.)

Best Actor

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
I would have liked to have seen Ryan Gosling for Drive, Paul Giamatti for Win Win and Brad Pitt for  The Tree of Life instead of Moneyball. The studio campaigned for him for Moneyball, and he is excellent in it, but he is transcendent in The Tree of Life

To make room for them, I’d take out the favorite, George Clooney, and Gary Oldman.

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
No doubt in my mind that Malick deserves this win. No doubt. 

All these movies are well directed, however, and I’d be happy to see any of them win. Disappointed, though, that Nicolas Winding Refn wasn’t nominated for Drive.

Best Picture

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse
War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are not in the same universe as the other films. One is long and boring, the other actively annoying. 

Films that should have been included: Drive, Win Win, and Warrior. That would make a nice, even ten.

The Tree of Life should win, but won’t. It’s the best movie in several years, but extremely polarizing. In a perfect world, it would win. But in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need it.

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Reactions to WAFCA awards

Today The Washington Area Film Critics Association, of which I am a member, announced its awards for 2011. I agree with some of the picks and disagree with others. That’s democracy, I guess, and I’m all for it until they appoint me Empress of the Universe.

The Artist



Critics like movies about movies.WAFCA awarded Best Picture to “The Artist,” an homage to silent movies. Best Director went to Martin Scorsese for “Hugo,” a love song to the early days of film covering roughly the same era. Best Actress was awarded to Michelle Williams for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn,” an exploration of the reigning queen of the Golden Age. And “Rango,” a movie about an actor who happens to be a gecko having an adventure in the Wild West, won Best Animated Film. All four are excellently made movies, yet their focus on art and specifically cinematic art leaves out much of human experience. It makes sense that critics (and later, it’s likely, the Academy) love movies about movies. After all, we don’t become critics for the paychecks, but for a passion for film. Still, we tend to be a bit myopic.

The rest of my reactions after the jump.

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