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Oscar voters cool to 'The Birth of a Nation'

Oscar voters cool to 'The Birth of a Nation'
Nate Parker on the set of "The Birth of a Nation." (Jahi Chikwendiu / Twentieth Century Fox Film)

Welcome to the Gold Standard, the newsletter from the Los Angeles Times that helps guide you through the ins and outs of the awards season leading up to the Oscars.

I'm Glenn Whipp, The Times' awards columnist and your newsletter host.

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Academy turnout for 'Birth' disappointing

Nate Parker's "The Birth of a Nation" opened last weekend to a flat $7.1 million at the box office. Its reception with Oscar voters was equally disappointing. Only about 250 people – academy members and their guests (up to three per member) – showed up at the 1,000-seat Samuel L. Goldwyn Theater last Sunday to see the movie.

As I wrote here, the low turnout wasn't surprising. I've never had so many academy members tell me point-blank that they won't see a movie as they have with "Birth." Reasons ranged from distaste over the details of Parker's 1999 rape case, disdain for how Parker answered questions about his past while promoting the movie and a general fatigue with films about slavery.

The upshot: Between the box office and voter indifference, don't expect any Oscar nominations for "Birth." It's a surprising turn of events for a movie that many expected to be a best picture nominee when it premiered at Sundance in January.

Nate Parker on the set of "The Birth of a Nation."
Nate Parker on the set of "The Birth of a Nation." (Jahi Chikwendiu / Twentieth Century Fox Film)

New record for Oscar foreign language entries

Submissions for the foreign language film Oscar hit a record number for the second time in three years. This year, 85 countries submitted movies, including for the first time, Yemen, which entered Khadija Al-Salami's "I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced." (I'm intrigued by the title alone.)

Early nomination front-runners include  the brilliant father-daughter drama "Toni Erdmann" (Germany), Pablo Larrain's biopic(ish) "Neruda" (Chile), Asghar Farhadi's "The Salesman" (Iran) and Paul Verhoeven's audacious "Elle" (France), which has put Isabelle Huppert in the lead actress Oscar conversation.

You can find the complete list of 85 films here. The academy will announce a short list of nine titles in late December with the five finalists revealed on Jan. 24, along with all the other Oscar nominees.

"Toni Erdmann" actors Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek.
"Toni Erdmann" actors Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Film Critics honor Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine has, by her accounts, seen a mothership UFO hovering over her New Mexico ranch and enjoyed past lives that include being a harem girl in Turkey and a stint residing in the lost city of Atlantis.

MacLaine has also won an Oscar ("Terms of Endearment") and contributed her immense talents and charm to countless great movies ("The Apartment," "Irma La Douce," "Some Came Running," "Bernie"). The American Film Institute has saluted her career, as has the Kennedy Center Honors.

And now, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. has joined the parade, announcing the 82-year-old actress will receive the group's career achievement honor at its awards dinner in January.

I mention the New Age aspects of MacLaine's persona at the outset because, for some, those beliefs define her, obscuring what a remarkable career she has enjoyed for more than half a century.

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"When we first called her, she said, 'I demand a recount,'" LAFCA President Claudia Puig says. "She's still such a vital presence in the film community."

The L.A. Film Critics dinner will be held Jan. 14.

Shirley MacLaine, shown at the Oscars in 2015, will receive a career honor from the Los Angeles Film Critics.
Shirley MacLaine, shown at the Oscars in 2015, will receive a career honor from the Los Angeles Film Critics. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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I'd love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can't get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.

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