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Entertainment

I smell Oscar ... not

Sometimes, enthusiasm just isn't enough

By Todd Leopold
CNN

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"The Aviator" is up for 11 Oscars.
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(CNN) -- The late, lamented Spy magazine used to have a "critic" named Walter Monheit, a probably fake personage famed for providing ridiculously hyperbolic blurbs for anything that rolled off the Hollywood assembly line.

So Monheit promoted "Dances with Wolves" with a line that went something like, "Kevin Costner will be dancing with Oscar!" And even swill like "Hudson Hawk" was blessed with something on the order of, "This action-comedy will be flying down the river to the Academy Awards!"

(Nowadays, of course, Monheit's role is filled by any number of real "critics." See this story.)

Well, even Walter Monheit might find it hard to say nice things about some movies -- or movie concepts. Whatever one thinks about the films up for Oscar gold this Sunday, there's no doubt that they're far better than the majority of scripts, pitches and ideas that get thrown at producers and executives.

Case in point: the "Query Letters I Love" Web site -- http://queryletters.blogspot.com/ -- maintained by a film industry manager who prefers to remain anonymous. (See siteexternal link.)

The Web site, which has been up since October, lists actual pitches, query letters and plot descriptions received by the manager. He started it, he says in a phone call from Los Angeles, when he started reading a sheaf of letters he had received and "couldn't stop laughing."

Despite being a Web neophyte -- "I didn't know what a blog was until October," he says -- he jumped in with both feet. Or, given the snarky headlines he gives the postings, perhaps that should be both barrels.

Among the submissions: a story about a deformed gypsy boy, a plot about a prison guard ghost, and " 'Miss Congeniality' meets 'La Femme Nikita.' "

The site accepts comments, many of which are funnier than the ideas themselves. One idea, about a 19th-century Russian neurotic who challenges a classmate to a duel and is involved with a prostitute, was slammed with, "Wow. So it's 'Notes from Underground' meets 'Behind the Green Door'? Fantastic!"

Even if some of the ideas are intriguing, the manager -- also a veteran script reader -- says that they all suffer from a big problem: they're impossible to make into movies.

"There's a difference between a good concept and a good script," he says. "You have to ask, 'How do you do this cinematically?' Some people have a great idea, but when you think about it, it's not a movie."

But they are entertaining, as the site's fans -- including executives and producers -- attest.

"If you're in a room and you've been reading scripts all day, it's good to have a laugh," says the manager.

Amen.

And now Eye on Entertainment looks at movies up for bigger awards.

Eye-opener

The 77th annual Academy Awards are Sunday night, and there are two Oscar questions on everybody's mind: "Million Dollar Baby" or "Aviator"? And how will host Chris Rock do?

"Million Dollar Baby," though now considered the front-runner, has faced a late-breaking campaign to discredit the film. (Spoiler warning: If you haven't seen it yet -- and you should -- you may want to skip the next two sentences.) Conservative commentators such as Michael Medved and Rush Limbaugh, as well as advocates for the disabled, have slammed the film for its euthanasia storyline.

Other critics have responded -- Jim Emerson's essay at RogerEbert.com (see storyexternal link) is particularly eloquent -- but the controversy may have hurt nonetheless.

Nobody has complained about "The Aviator," on the other hand, besides critics who believe the sprawling film is a big step down from director Martin Scorsese's peak.

"Million Dollar Baby" has terrific performances, a fine script and an economically presented story that packs an emotional wallop; "The Aviator" has its own fine performances, some great filmmaking by Scorsese, and fits the Oscar fondness for long epics.

Scorsese has had some rotten luck at the Oscars. His films have come up empty in the best picture race and he's never won best director. In fact, he's twice lost the latter category to actors making their directing debuts (Robert Redford, "Ordinary People," and Kevin Costner, "Dances with Wolves"). If he loses again, there will be dozens of stories about his streak.

But viewers should note: The Oscar ceremony can have its moments, and the win of a statue is a nice addition to a movie's credits, but only time separates the truly great movies and performances from lesser candidates.

Or, to put it another way: When was the last time you watched "The Greatest Show on Earth"? Have you ever muddled your way through "The Life of Emile Zola"? And did you know that Alfred Hitchcock, Peter O'Toole and Cary Grant never won? (When it came to the twice-nominated Grant, the academy probably dismissed him because he usually played Cary Grant -- but "Cary Grant" was a hell of a hard character to play, as the former Archie Leach often noted.)

As for Rock, I'll make a prediction: He's going to be brilliant. Anybody who's ever read an article about him or watched last week's "60 Minutes" interview knows that Rock is a very smart and funny man who knows his limits -- and has a sense of humor about himself for when he pushes a little too hard. He'll be great.

The 77th annual Academy Awards begin at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC. The show will be preceded by "Oscar Countdown 2005" at 8 p.m. and the ever-present Barbara Walters special at 7 p.m. And I'd tell you what time they'll be over, but it's the tiebreaker in my pool.

On screen

  • Tommy Lee Jones stars in "Man of the House," with a plot that sounds ripped from the "Query Letters" Web site: He plays a Texas Ranger assigned to protect members of a cheerleading squad who saw a murder. Hilarity ensues. Maybe. Opens Friday.
  • "Cursed" is the latest film from horror-meister Wes Craven. Christina Ricci stars as a woman who -- along with her brother -- survives a werewolf attack. But do you actually survive such a thing? Opens Friday.
  • "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" stars Tyler Perry, who plays several characters in a film about, well, a mad black woman. "Mad" as in angry, and "mad" as in crazy. Opens Friday
  • On the tube

  • Who will "The Bachelorette" choose: the one guy or the other guy? The season finale airs 9 p.m. ET Monday on ABC.
  • It's been a good, long run, but like its forbears at "Hill Street Blues' " Hill Street Station and "Cop Rock's" singing-and-dancing headquarters, the police of "NYPD Blue's" 15th Precinct are wrapping up their case files. The show's final episode airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday on ABC; a tribute begins at 9 p.m.
  • Sound waves

  • Jennifer Lopez keeps her singing career going with "Rebirth" (Sony). The album releases Tuesday.
  • Get out your studded dog collars. Judas Priest releases its first album of new material with lead singer Rob Halford in, well, many years on Tuesday. It's called "Angel of Retribution" (Sony).
  • Paging readers

  • Danielle Steel insists on putting more forests to the blade with her new novel, "Impossible" (Delacorte). As Booklist says, it's a "love story about the difficulties of a relationship between two wildly different persons." OK. Comes out Tuesday.
  • Since Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have finished the "Left Behind" series with Armageddon, they now go back in time to look at the lives of their characters in "The Rising" (Tyndale House). No relation to the Bruce Springsteen album. The book comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • "The Brady Bunch: The Complete First Season" (Paramount) comes out Tuesday. As if you didn't have them all memorized already.

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