OFCS Awards

January 06, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

Yesterday, the On-Line Film Critics Society (OFCS) named The Return of the King as Best Picture. Peter Jackson was selected Best Director, with his film sweeping through most of the non-acting categories. Bill Murray won Best Actor for Lost in Translation. Naomi Watts took the female counterpart award for 21 Grams. Supporting citations went to Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog). [For a complete list of the nominations, go to The OFCS website.] That's the information that's found in the press release. Here are some random thoughts...

Obviously, the majority of OFCS-ers voted, like me, to name the third Lord of the Rings film as the cream of 2003's crop. There were dissenters, some of whom seemed inexplicably bitter in comments posted on various internal OFCS members-only bulletin boards. One minority sentiment is that the OFCS should somehow be "above" giving awards to something as popular as The Return of the King. But box office has no relationship to film quality. It's just as feasible for a blockbuster to be a great movie as for it to be a poor one. The key here is for members to have voted their true feelings, rather than attempting to make a political statement. There are too many of those already. I'm not saying any OFCS-ers did this (in fact, my guess is that, if any did, they represented a very small percentage), but some voters have expressed the kind of deeply rooted rancor that is most often associated with politics and religion.

It's interesting to note that many of the non-LotR rewards went to films for which screeners had been provided. This makes for an interesting sidelight concerning the recent MPAA flap. Would Peter Sarsgaard have had a chance without screeners? What about Naomi Watts or Capturing the Friedmans? Gristle to chew on, but it's clear that those distributors who were able to provide screeners got their films in front of all the voters. Anyone who doesn't believe screeners have an impact on any voting body (be it the OFCS or the Academy) may want to look carefully at some of these results. As a counter-example, a big loser may have been Monster. It's hard for me to believe that anyone who saw the film would not have voted for Charlize Theron as Best Actress. The problem is, the movie has thus far only opened in New York and Los Angeles, local press screenings have been scattered, and Newmarket was unable to produce screeners. So not enough OFCS members saw it. As a result, Naomi Watts' impressive work in 21 Grams took top honors. (I would have given her second-place.)

In the end, the OFCS awards are just another tally to throw into the bursting hopper of pre-Oscar honorees. Because of its relative newness (this is the seventh annual) and the residue of the Harry Knowles-based stigma that still clings to on-line journalists, it's near the bottom of the food chain. But I think it shows three interesting things: (1) The Return of the King has the most broad-based support since Titanic (although that still doesn't guarantee a Best Picture Oscar); (2) Support for Kill Bill, a favorite of many vocal on-line posters, is lukewarms amongst on-line critics (it garnered a lot of nominations, but no wins); and (3) No one could figure out in which category or for which movie Scarlett Johansson should receive recognition (so she got nothing).

To Picture or Not to Picture

I'll admit to being surprised by the flood of e-mail I have received over the past 24 hours advocating me to (on one hand) drop pictures from the reviews and (on the other) to forge ahead with this enhancement. Those on the negative side seem a little more passionate, stating that the inclusion of photographs cheapens the site. Those who like the new format say that it livens things up and brings the site more in line with its flashier competition. (At heart, I'm not a purist when it comes to things like this - stagnation can mean death.) The split is thus far about 50/50. I should mention that one impetus for adding photographs is to provide visual cues for lesser-known movies. Admittedly, nearly everyone knows what Mandy Moore looks like, so her picture doesn't add a whole lot. But what about shots from the upcoming Goodbye Lenin! or some obscure indie production that I'll review in May or June? Or some classic (but not overpublicized) stills from my first Video Views movie of 2004, To Have and Have Not? Sure, those can be found elsewhere if you look, but isn't it better to have them on hand as you're going through the review? Whichever way I go, I'm looking for some degree of conformity, so if I add pictures for one review (going forward - I will not be "doctoring" existing reviews), I want to add them for all reviews. By the same token, if I decide not to use pictures, I will go back and remove them from the dozen-or-so January reviews.

You Gotta Bereave

Tug McGraw, ex-Mets and Phillies pitcher and the father of country music star Tim McGraw, died yesterday afternoon, losing his ten-month battle against brain cancer. Although this headline will be overshadowed in the baseball world by the confession of pathological liar Pete Rose, it's a cause for great sadness for anyone who followed the Mets in the late '60s and early '70s, or the Phillies during the late '70s and early '80s. Strangely, there is a "movie" connection, although perhaps only in my mind.

McGraw's death recalls the similar passing of critic Gene Siskel. Both men had well-publicized struggles against brain tumors that involved surgery and lengthy recuperations. Both appeared to be on the road to recovery before suffering an unexpected (at least in the public's perception) fatal relapse. I was as shocked and saddened upon hearing of McGraw's death as I was when the radio news announcer informed me that Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel had passed away. The almost-universal reaction in both cases: "And I thought he was getting better..." As cliched as the observation is, it goes to show how indiscriminate this form of cancer is, and how nothing about life is assured.