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Academy Awards Nominations

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire February 12, 1997 at 2:0AM

ACADEMY'S VERDICT IS IN FAVOR OF INDIE FILMS
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ACADEMY'S VERDICT IS IN FAVOR OF INDIE FILMS

by Eugene Hernandez



People across the country gathered in front of televisions
early yesterday morning to await the latest in a series of dramatic
televised verdicts from Los Angeles. Braced for the news, especially
anticipated by Southern Californians, many got up at 5:30 a.m. Pacific
time to watch "head juror" Arthur Hiller read the announcements. Joined
by actress Mira Sorvino, the two detailed the list of nominees for the
69th Academy Awards.


Word traveled quickly -- on television and the Internet, via telephone
and FAX -- that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had
recognized an overwhelming number of independently-produced films in
their annual list of nominations for the year's best movies. On CNN,
Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers called Oscar's shun of
Hollywood studio films, a "revolution", likening it to the spirit of the
cinema during the late-1960's. Indeed, in 1996, non-studio
independently produced films captured Hollywood's attention and their
fascination is reflected in a number of Oscar categories. Four out of
five best picture nominees are from outside the traditional Hollywood
studio system. "The English Patient", "Fargo", "Secrets & Lies", and "Shine" were independently produced pictures; Sony's "Jerry Maguire" stands as the sole studio entry. In fact, of the 99 feature nominations announced yesterday, 53 went to non-Hollywood, indie films.


Amidst the hoopla over the Academy's acknowledgment of indies, some are
wondering whether the nominations merely indicate an embrace of the
studios' acquisition of "boutique" films through their
independent-minded divisions: Disney's Miramax Films, Time-Warner's Fine
Line Features
, or Sony's Sony Pictures Classics. Discussing the
nominations on E! last night, film critic Peter Rainier supported this
theory, suggesting it is reminiscent of Hollywood's old-time standard of
producing A, B, and C pictures. Discussing the nominations in a
telephone call yesterday, however, Miramax's marketing President Mark
Gill offered a statement that seems to accurately reflect the views of studios and
non-studios alike, "What all of this points out is how much the
definition of 'independent' has changed."


The change undoubtedly pleases Miramax Films, whose movies' received 20
nominations, among them are two for an unlikely prospect -- Billy Bob
Thornton's "Sling Blade". The film, which premiered at last year's New
York Film Festival, has been in limited release for almost eleven weeks,
and now with two nominations behind it, will be released on 250 screens
by the end of the month, according to Miramax's Gill. Two other New
York Film Festival premieres, Mike Leigh's "Secrets &anp; Lies" and Lars Von
Trier's "Breaking the Waves", both from October Films, similarly stand to
gain significantly from Academy awareness, while Sundance standout,
Scott Hicks' "Shine", from Fine Line Features, also remains an art house
heavy hitter following its seven nominations. In an open letter, Fine
Line acknowledged that yesterday's announcement was an "emotional
moment" for the company that spent over a year working on the film and
for the filmmakers who spent nearly a decade on the project. The other
indie standout is the Coen Brother's "Fargo", from Gramercy. Best Actress
nominee Frances McDormand told Reuters yesterday that, "the whole family
is tickled pink." McDormand is the wife of Director/Screenwriter Joel
Coen and sister-in-law of Producer/Screenwriter Ethan Coen, both double
Oscar nominees.