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Monday, February 23, 2009

And the Oscar Doesn't Go To..

A piece in the 'Economist' concludes:
Within Hollywood, of course, the Academy Awards still matter a great deal. Prestige and acclaim are hard currency in the film business, in many ways more valuable than money. The danger is that Hollywood’s taste in its own products is becoming as removed from public opinion as its political views are outside the American mainstream. What viewers will see on Sunday night is an industry talking to itself.
But James Patterson doesn't need to win a Pulitzer. He shouldn't even be considered for a Pulitzer because it would be defeating the whole purpose. His purpose is to make money. The purpose of the academy is to identify and honor artistes who made a worthy contribution. The giant financial machine that Hollywood is, it may not have been wise for it to exclude 'The Dark Knight', a giga-blockbuster and include 'Milk', an anemic-moneyspinner in the best picture category. But where else will the producers of 'Milk' be commended for telling the story of a forgotten man? How else can they pat on their backs for embarking on a project that didn't have a viable revenue generating star/story? How else are Melissa Leo & Richard Jenkins (who were nominated in the top acting categories) going to be recognized for their brilliant performances in minor productions that didn't play in theaters near you.

Oscar was once Hollywood's prom night. It still is, in terms of glitz and glamor, but in terms of recognition the members of the academy have opened up and started accepting range. Cannes & Berlin have a different style of scouting films where they go hunting all over the world. Oscars, though still mostly American, many nominations in the recent years have belogned to low-budget no-names in the eye of an international viewer. That's a welcome departure because the prestige & acclaim that comes with Oscar is more valuable than hard currency and that is what keeps the art of moving pictures moving.

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A.R.Rahman, the wonderboy from Chennai won Oscars for original score & song. A couple of weeks back I was listening to 'Uzhavan', one of his earlier soundtracks. The variety of this album borders on genius. 'Slumdog Millionaire' pales very much in comparison to 'Uzhavan'. So, I think it's fair to assume that if someone from Peru decides to dig up Rahman's earlier works, they're only going to be more impressed. Baradwaj Rangan wrote a piece a few weeks back explaining how the interconnected world has shrunk the cultural gap and increased the base of audience for Rahman's music. That's definitely one of the reasons why Rahman was picked up by Andrew Lloyd Weber in London and why M.S.V or Ilayaraja wasn't popular even in North India. Though Ilayaraja's music is closest to my heart, I'm very proud of Rahman's contribution to international music.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Live Tweets

  • Hugh Jackman did an amazingly fluid opening sequence.  He'll be setting a new benchmark in hosting, I hope.
  • Slumdog opens its account with an Oscar for adapted screenplay.  I'm afraid this undeserving movie is going to sweep the top categories.
  • I'm hoping to witness at least one interesting Oscar speech.  Three speeches so far, and all have been flat.
  • Wall-E wins best animation.  I thought the animation (the Earth part) was extraordinarily brilliant.  But I found the screenplay sugary-preachy.
  • Production Design goes to Benjamin Button.  The streets and cars and street lights and beer bottles looked authentic in this movie.  The movie didn't have a heart, but had a great body.
  • Make-up to Benjamin Button.  Really, I didn't know what was computer generated and what was prosthetic.  I think this movie will score a lot more in the technical achievements section.
  • Oh boy, doesn't anybody have anything interesting to say upon accepting the trophy.
  • Wally Pfister didn't get it for his cinematography for 'Dark Knight'.  I thought the sweeping epic tone was very much imparted by his magnificent eye.  I don't know if I'm sad that he didn't get the Oscar for his work or Mantle won for Slumdog.
  • The 4 living actors nominated for a best supporting actor are unlucky - the members of the academy just wanted to see Heath Ledger's family on stage as their thank you note before they forget.  Ledger was chillingly brilliant in 'Dark Knight'.  But did you see 'Tropic Thunder'?  You'll understand why Robert Downey Jr is a magnificent actor.  Any other year, hands down, he would have won.
  • Bill Maher, my favorite observational comedian, presented the best documentary.  But he went on a shameless self-promotion of his own documentary 'Religulous'. 'Man of Wire', a documentary about a man who walked between the two towers in the 70s won in this category.  It had a great buzz even before it was nominated.  And it's on Netflix Instant Play.
  • Rahman wins.  Wow, I still vividly remember being blown away by his 'Vellai Mazhai'.  Though his score for 'Slumdog Millionaire' is not his best this is a long overdue recognition.
  • Rahman wins again for 'Jai Ho'.  He caught the eyeballs of film producers all over the world tonight.  I wish he had hired a speech writer. Both speeches were a bit clumsy.
  • Two talented actors take the top acting prizes - Kate Winslet for 'Reader' and Sean Penn for 'Milk'.  Kate Winslet said 'I can't believe we're competing with Meryl Streep' - well, Kate is very nicely maturing into the next Meryl in terms of depth & range.
  • Best picture, anybody's guess.  What can I say, these are economically bad times and the members of the academy just love to see an underdog win a million.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Amazon, You Know It's the Content, Not the Device

When there is a business tie-up between the content provider and the device manufacturer for using that content, the price of the device has almost always been very inexpensive to lure in new customers. The price of iPods have steadily fallen because Apple makes money out of songs. Cell phones are inexpensive with service packages because of money/minute. Amazon has a deal with almost all the leading publishers, and almost every new book (which I assume is a major revenue generator) published will/should have an electronic version transferable through Kindle. In that case why price the reading device as high as $359?

Are they waiting for Kindle's usability to evolve? Are they waiting for the market for e-books to mature? We're in a recession now, didn't you know? People don't mind shelling out $10 for a Grisham e-novel. And they won't mind another $10 the following month for their favorite painter's e-biography. But they mind a lot paying $359 upfront for an e-reader - which in effect turns away the subsequent cash influx because of the sales of Kindle editions. The recent version, Kindle 2 offers more value (more memory, smaller size, etc) for the same price. For me, lesser price and same value would have made more economic sense. This would be taking a leaf from the success of Netbooks - a computer with lesser memory & lesser processing power at a lower price.

I think Amazon has manufactured only a limited number of Kindles so that it can collect extensive feedback and incorporate them into their next version. This way, a lot of users stand in queue and there are only a few disgruntled users. The electronic publishing industry is still an infant. The publish-on-demand and publish-yourself style services have greatly reduced inventory, thereby only printing copies that has a buyer. As the older generation which held newspapers in the mornings and flipped pages go away, Kindle and its competitors will become the default standard of reading. Reducing the price, say, to $100 and going for an early kill will disrupt the existing publishing model. Either that or Amazon needs to be kicked in the butt by somebody already in the content business - Apple or Microsoft or Sony.