Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar nominations announced: "boutique labels" favored

The 80th Annual Academy Awards made their announcements this morning. The imdb link is here. The Oscar 's own link is here, and the show can be watched on the Internet.

The best picture nominees are "Atonement" (Universal Focus); "No Country for Old Men" (Paramount Vantage) "Juno" (Fox Searchlight) "Michael Clayton" (Warner Brothers) and "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage) (Yes, there will be.) Only one of these films (Clayton) was released under the trademark of the owning studio (Warner Bros.)

Right now, my own favorites are "Atonement" and "There Will Be Blood." I might have been inclined to nominate "The Assassination of Jesse James", too.

Studios have recently been releasing more films on "issues" or historical or literary matters on their "boutique" brands, with most films at least partially financed and produced independently. Paramount has been especially active with its "Vantage" and "Classics" brands, which seem to be interchangeable, and now usually works in conjunction with Disney's Miramax (or sometimes Paramount's own Dreamworks studio, as with "The Kite Runner").

Paramount Vantage makes a good comparison to The Weinstein Company, which broke off from Miramax after a quarrel with Disney, and now usually works with Lions Gate, IFC, and (for slightly larger films, usually), MGM (owned by Sony and Comcast but recently "reinvented" as a brand for somewhat adventurous theme-oriented films than in the "glorious" past). Weinstein operates Dimension films for horror genre. Lions Gate, also known for horror, has recently been making or distributing much larger films on its own (3:10 to Yuma, with Atlas Shrugged to come)and may be able to establish itself as a significant player in the "theme movie" market. Lions Gate has the best trademark in the business, with a visual starting with machine gears from Metropolis, leading to an opening to the real "Lions Gate" in Greece (there's a National Geographic film that shows it), and a triumphant musical signature. Lions Gate took over Artisan Entertainment, which had been a signifcant player with these sorts of films ("The Blair Witch Project") in 2003, and does not seem to be operating Artisan as a separate brand. That's surprising, because revised trademark law encourages media companies to deploy all of their brands aggressively to protect them from future dilution.

When I lived in Minneapolis 1997-2003, the Minnesota AIDS Project sponsored the Oscars Party at either the State or Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis (both near The Saloon) on Hennepin. Some years, they had a volunteer breakfast in a downtown Minneapolis office building (on an upper floor) the morning the Oscars were announced. The Oscars used to be held later, in March (and they used to be held on Monday nights instead of Sunday), and the nominations used to be in February. I remember a "dramatic" moment when I set aside my crutches (recovering from the hip fracture) while at the Oscar Party in 1998, and got by the entire evening without them.

It looks like this still happens; visit the MAP website here. As for the WGA strike and the Oscars, cross your fingers.

Note: Actor Heath Ledger, 27 (Brokeback Mountain) was found dead in his New York City apartment today. CNN story.

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