Former Fox411 scribe Friedman thinks Oscar changes bad, but so is his track record

So….Oscar is growing…10 Best Picture nominees starting this calendar year.

There are some who are screaming "Foul", like disgraced Fox411 turned Hollywood Reporter gossip columnist Roger Friedman, who had this to say about the Academy's decision in his column this morning:

This you can call “The Batman Effect.” It stems from Warner Bros. abandoning all reason and trying — and failing– to get “The Dark Knight” nominated for Best Picture. They went so crazy for this idea that they all but ignored Clint Eastwood’s fine “Gran Torino,” which should have gained a spot in the top five.

The rule of thumb has been for the last thirty years: blockbusters, movies based on comic books, and cartoons, not to mention sci-fi, are not Oscar worthy material. The unwritten law in Oscar land was, if you made hundreds of millions of dollars, that was reward in itself. Sometimes, a blockbuster sneaked, in, like “Lord of the Rings.” But for the last fifteen years or so, indie pictures, movies of merit with artistic integrity, vied for Oscar nominations.

These films rarely came from the big studios. And the studios didn’t like it. This past year, 20th Century Fox was upstaged by its own Fox Searchlight, which won the Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire.” In recent years, Miramax took Disney’s steam, Paramount Vantage (now deceased) did the same to big P, Focus clobbered parent Universal, and so on.

What to do? Remember a few years ago the big studios tried to stop screeners being sent to Oscar voters? The idea was that, without screeners, voters wouldn’t see the indie films. It didn’t work, and the screeners all went out.

Now what? The studios have forced the Academy to expand the list of Best Picture nominees to ten from five. If that had been the last year, “The Dark Knight” — a bad, convoluted film that made scads of money — would have neen nominated.

This means that this year, along with five or six well crafted Oscar-obvious films, we’re going to have some fun movies that are no more worthy of a nomination than “Dark Knight.” I’m sure the Paramount art department has already got posters ready for “Star Trek,” Fox is laying out the “Avatar” campaign as we speak, etc. I’ve no doubt the Warners marketing people are high fiving each other with grandiose expectations for “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.”

You can read the full column here.

Ok, Roger, what's the matter? People actually seeing through your gossipy tripe these days? What happened to the good old days? Oh, yes, that's right, you reviewed an ILLEGALLY-DOWNLOADED movie, and got FIRED from Fox News, didn't you?  (MMMEOOOOWWWWW!!!)

Over the past few years, Friedman has been grandiosly WRONG about the motion picture industry, and particularly the Academy Awards, just as he's not only wrong but completely ignorant about the music copyright and royalty situation (see RadioTC for more on his intensely and admirably loyal but completely oblivious copyright rants) and its effect on the music industry as a whole. I remember a couple years back when Friedman was the one who was gloriously proclaiming as early as November 2006 that Dreamgirls was a "can't miss" film that was going to sweep the Oscar ceremony, including surefire wins for Best Picture (wasn't even nominated),  Best Supporting Actor Eddie Murphy (lost to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine) and Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson (well, one out of three isn't bad I suppose…) (Fox411 11/16/06)

Just because Friedman doesn't agree with some things Oscar doesn't mean he's right.  Consider the following about Mr. Friedman's movie taste:

> He called The Dark Knight "a bad, convoluted film that made scads of money" above – if it was so bad, why was it the second best-reviewed film of 2008? Critics loved The Dark Knight. Many critics were shocked and stunned that this masterpiece (and yes, Roger, it IS A masterpiece, even if you refuse to acknowledge it) wasn't nominated for Best Picture. Friedman apparently thinks they're all wet…and I bet he's also happy they gave the visual effects Oscar to the "wrinkled baby" of Benjamin Button…instead of the incredible prosthetic work used to turn Aaron Eckhart into Two-Face, which was a real masterpiece…not just an animatronic puppet…

>  He laughed and scoffed as only the "ridiculous" Los Angeles Critics would name "WALL-E" their Best Picture of 2008 (Fox411, 12/11/08)…then twisted in the wind gasping and sputtering as Boston and two other cities followed suit…WALL-E was, according to most box-office sources, the best-reviewed movie of 2008, was on all but three of the top 100 critics Best of 2008 lists, and won The Golden Globe, The Critic's Choice, AND an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature…and should have been, according to about 70% of the critics out there, nominated for Best Picture. Even eventual winner Slumdog Millionaire (which, to be fair, Friedman immediately latched onto in Toronto and wouldn't let go, so he CAN be right, occasionally) didn't get as many positive reviews as BOTH WALL-E AND The Dark Knight…go figure that one out…

Let's put it out there – just because a movie is popular does NOT mean it's not worthy of Oscar Consideration. And by the same token, just because an indie film is great, it doesn't mean it is automatically Oscar favored. By the same token, just because Oscar voters like a film, it doesn't always mean they're right either – I mean seriously, Chariots Of Fire, Best Picture of 1981? Really? What a boneheaded decision that was. And you'll find a LOT of people who agree with me on that one…

Still, I suppose, it's a matter of personal taste as well. Friedman has every right to not like The Dark Knight, Star Trek, Harry Potter, or other movies, but it isn't necessary to be so gosh-darned snarky about it.

I'm sure Friedman would be (or will be, depending on if he reads this) appalled that I named Speed Racer Best Picture of 2008. I certainly didn't expect it, however, to be nominated for an Oscar – not their kind of film. The Oscars are often faced to overlook great films that deserve more consideration – both indie and mainstream – and now this move from five to ten best picture nominations can only serve to help the films more.

For the record, I see no problem nominating Star Trek for Best Picture – it's one of the best films of the year thus far, and again with a HUGE critical following -  but I don't think it will happen, especially when you stack it up against a crop of unbelievable indie films yet to hit theaters, like [500] Days Of Summer, That Evening Sun, My Suicide, Gentlemen Broncos, and others as well as mainstream films like Julie & Julia, Taking Woodstock, and more. There's going to be a bumper crop of both blockbusters and indie films that are deserving of Oscar mentions. And it doesn't matter if they made $30,000 on the indie circuit, or $300,000,000 on the blockbuster multiplex circuit.

For the further record, Friedman is also right about Gran Torino – it got the shaft. But so did a lot of other worthy films over the last couple of years, including Paranoid Park, Fierce People, Black Irish, Man In The Chair, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Brick, and another couple dozen worthy films, most of which were critics or festival winners.  And the Oscar missed the mark on a number of occasions as well, with nominations and winners that didn't really deserve it – you should NOT automatically win because you're relevant, important, politically savvy, or anything else. Which is why the Oscar community – and the Oscar watching community – had collective cardiac arrest when the little known Japanese film Departures became the little foreign language film that could, winning the Foreign Language Oscar over the two hot favorites Waltz With Bashir and The Class. Why did it win? Who knows what Academy voters were thinking? But they got it right – Departures was without a doubt the best of the films nominated in that catagory this past year. You got some very elated, very stunned filmmakers who won, also some stunned observers and political activists that were non-plussed that Bashir lost, and it made for a far more interesting show. Oscar could do with more such upsets…and in all honesty…Departures was the true Best Picture of 2008, and should have been nominated in the main catagory as well. I would go out on a limb in saying it was better than all of the films nominated, as well as winner Slumdog Millionaire.

So here's the new rule of thumb for Friedman…get off your high horse, start recognizing quality no matter whether it's indie or studio, and realize that the Oscars are ALWAYS going to stun people. Maybe by doing that, you can come kicking and screaming into the 21st century of movie observations…not be stuck in 1950 with Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and Rona Barrett