Happy Birthday/Globe Trotting/Oscar Predictions

January 26, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

Today, January 26, 2004, represents the eighth anniversary of ReelViews. In real-world terms, that may not be very many years, but in terms of the Internet (and especially the younger World Wide Web), it's a solid age. (Think of Internet years like dog years.) The common sentiment for people to express at a time like this is: "It doesn't seem that long." In this case, however, that's not true. It does seem that long, if not longer. So, for this occasion, I have decided to indulge myself by taking a look back.

I began writing reviews in early 1992, and my first one was published on-line in the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movie.reviews later that year. For the next three years, I posted regularly to that newsgroup, sending around 600 movie reviews into the ever-growing continuum known as cyberspace. But, with the close of 1995, I decided that I wanted a more permanent home, and the growing number of Internet service providers made that possible. I can recall my exhaustive search during November and December 1995 before I finally decided upon Cybernex. The website went live on January 26, 1996 at www.cybernex.net/~berardin under the name of "James Berardinelli's Movie Review Page." The first week I was up (with only five current reviews), I had 80 visitors, all directed to the site by a note at the bottom of the reviews I posted to rec.arts.movie.reviews.

The site grew slowly but steadily. In February, I added about 700 archived reviews, then started work on a few features. Those included commentaries and movie theater reviews (the latter has long since been defunct). By early 1997, on the site's first anniversary, I had nearly 300 visitors per day, and decided that a more catchy moniker than "James Berardinelli's Movie Review Page" was needed. After a few days' thought, I decided upon "ReelViews" (a name that a close friend said was about the most awful thing I could possibly have come up with), and designed a hideously amateurish and garish graphic to go along with it (that has long since vanished into obscurity, and I'm not about to resurrect it).

In mid-1997, Colossus arrived, and, even to this day, I marvel at their generosity. The deal they offered was that, in exchange for using their designated URL (movie-reviews.colossus.net, which remains the site's official address), they would provide me with unlimited web space and unlimited bandwidth. ReelViews moved, and, with bandwidth concerns no longer an issue, I started promoting the site in earnest. It was also around this time that I received an e-mail from Roger Ebert congratulating me on the site and saying how much he enjoyed my writing. Without pay or prodding, he began some low-key promotion of my reviews (a mention here, a mention there...), and people who might not otherwise have ever found ReelViews became loyal readers.

The site continued to expand at a rate that, in retrospect, was astounding. By mid-1998, ReelViews was visited by 40,000 individuals per week. A year later, it was 10,000 more. By June 2000, the weekly total had jumped to 70,000. Since then, traffic increase has been relatively linear. Currently, I average about 210,000 readers per week (registering in excess of 600,000 hits), and the tag line of "The Largest Non-Commercial Movie Site on the Internet" isn't hyperbole. (In terms of commercial and non-Commercial movie sites combined, ReelViews is between 15 and 30, depending on what you consult.)

ReelViews hasn't always been non-commercial. There was a three-month period in 1998 when I toyed with banner ads. But I was not satisfied with the impact, and never got paid, so I vowed that unless an advertising company could offer me substantial revenue, I would stay away. Thus far, no offers have come close. I have a simple requirement to add pop-ups to ReelViews: they have to pay enough for me to quit my day job. (Ain't gonna happen.)

The site has undergone four significant appearance shifts. The first two were cheesy, with the logos and graphics all the products of my artistically challenged keyboard. The third was a major revamp, adding frames and providing better organization, and using designs by Gary Seiler to add a more polished look. Last year, I changed the graphics, again relying on Gary's work.

Over the eight years of its existence, ReelViews has been good to me. It has enabled me to become a well-known and respected film critic who is recognized as a "pioneer" of the (a)vocation's Internet niche. It has put some spare change in my bank account and resulted in the publication of one book and the prospects of additional volumes. Most importantly, it has led me to interact with countless interesting people all around the world who I would otherwise never have met, including the woman who will be my wife before ReelViews reaches its ninth anniversary. So, to all of you who stop by this site, whether regularly or not, my deepest, most sincere thanks for eight wonderful years.

Globe Trotting

I'm not going to regurgitate a list of the Golden Globe winners/losers or discuss what I think of them. I'll do that for the Oscars, and once is enough for any given year. Besides, one always has to wonder about the Golden Globes, given the questionable ethics and journalistic validity of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (or whatever they're called). Pia Zadora? Give me a break.

But I have some thoughts, although I watched (in total) less than a hour's worth of the broadcast. I did not, for example, see Bill Murray's acceptance speech, although I understand it was a highlight. And I missed Nicole Kidman reading Tom Cruise's name on the list of Best Actor (Drama) nominees. But here'a a point-by-point list of some things I noticed:

  • How is it that the Golden Globes manage to keep things moving and end on time, despite giving out awards to TV shows and allowing winners to ramble on thanking everyone under the sun including their attorneys? Two thoughts: maybe the Oscar producers should take a few tips, and maybe the Golden Globe producers should institute a rule that you can only thank five people (maximum) by name. If you're thanking your attorney, you have gone too far.

  • Michael Douglas, the recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, knew for a long time that he was going to get this. How is it that he seemed totally unprepared? If he was reading a speech off the teleprompter, he wasn't doing a good job. His acceptance was borderline incoherent, and he stumbled on more than one occasion.

  • Best insult of the night came from Clint Eastwood, who, accepting for Sean Penn, managed to poke fun at just about everyone present by remarking that most award-winners got their citation for "imbecillic roles." Second-best insult from Peter Jackson, who thanked Harvey Weinsten "for your support at the beginning" of The Lord of the Rings. I don't think Peter intended to give Harvey a verbal backhand, but that's how it came across (and Harvey's sour-puss expression indicated that's how he took it).

  • Charlize Theron has suddenly adopted an American accent, tossing aside her South African one. She did this in a recent 20/20 segment, and followed it up here. Does this approach help with Hollywood acceptance? Ask Mel Gibson; he did the same sort of thing.

  • Finally, Jim Carrey threw solemnity out the window when he mock-announced Elf as the winner of Best Picture (Comedy), even though it hadn't been nominated. It was a funny moment, but no one laughed - presumably because they were too shocked to realize he wasn't serious.

Fearless Oscar Nomination Predictions

What the hell - I might as well take a crack at these to see how many I get wrong. Unlike some, I don't take Oscar predictions very seriously. It's a game; please don't use these for placing bets or you might find yourself in the red. These are listed in descending order of "certainty" (in other words, the last name or two are the ones I'm least sure about).

Best Picture: The Return of the King, Cold Mountain, Mystic River, Lost in Translation, Seabiscuit.

Best Director: Peter Jackson (The Return of the King), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain), Peter Weir (Master and Commander).

Best Actor: Sean Penn (Mystic River), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), Jude Law (Cold Mountain).

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman (Cold Mountain), Charlize Theron (Monster), Diane Keaton (Something's Gotta Give), Naomi Watts (21 Grams), Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation).

Best Supporting Actor: Alec Baldwin (The Cooler), Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams), Tim Robbins (Mystic River), Ken Watanabi (The Last Samurai), Albert Finney (Big Fish).

Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain), Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), Maria Bello (The Cooler), Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April), Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog).