Indie Focus: The future of the Oscars

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This newsletter is being sent out on the morning of one of the biggest days in the movie-year calendar: the Academy Awards ceremony. It’s been a year of surprises and controversy, and those conversations likely won’t stop — even well after that last envelope has been opened.

This past week, we had a really great event as part of the Indie Focus Screening Series, with the upcoming movie “Eye in the Sky,” starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi, followed by a provocative Q&A with director Gavin Hood. We’ll have more screenings coming soon, so check for more info.

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.


The Oscars


(L-r) NATHAN JONES as Rictus Erectus and HUGH KEAYS-BYRNE as Immortan Joe in 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

(Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

In a follow-up to The Times’ landmark 2012 study of Academy membership, Rebecca Keegan, Sandra Poindexter and Glenn Whipp published a new look at how the recent changes in membership rules and the push for new members will impact the makeup of the organization.

“With Sunday’s Oscar show, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will close one of the most contentious awards seasons in its history and open an era of historic change, as the 89-year-old institution launches an ambitious drive to diversify its membership.


A Los Angeles Times study shows just how much work the academy has to do if it intends to reflect the audience it serves — and just how aggressive the group’s new goals are.”

In an interview, academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said, “Our goal is to make sure that we are active in bringing in different voices regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation. … Inclusiveness in this organization, that is our goal.”

Greg Braxton took a look at the options available to host Chris Rock by asking the question: “WWCD (What Will Chris Do)?”

Josh Rottenberg explored how the controversy over this year’s nominations will potentially impact the show itself — “a controversy that has divided its membership and damaged its image. And now, many expect it will take some of the glitz off Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony.”

Randall Roberts covered another story involving inclusion and the Oscars ceremony when he wrote about the announcement that singer and artist Anohni, a nominee for best song, will not be attending following a decision by the show’s producers not to include her as a performer on the broadcast.

And finally, I wrote about this year’s nominations in regard to what they say about the academy’s ideas of quality, how part of the issue facing the group moving forward is the somewhat narrow definitions they follow of what makes for a movie worthy of an Oscar. Thinking of all the film’s left out of this year’s nominations, I put forward that “there needs to be an expansion of what the modern Oscar movie can be, away from strictly the tastefully respectable movies that have too often recently come to dominate the field.”

And good luck to everyone on their Oscar ballot pools. Hopefully our coverage throughout the season will help someone win big.

‘Triple 9'


Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet in a scene from 'Triple 9.'

(Bob Mahoney / AP)

Amid all the Oscar talk, there are some new movies out there, too, and among them this week is the gritty crime thriller “Triple 9,” the latest from John Hillcoat, director of “The Proposition” and “Lawless.”

I spoke to Hillcoat about the film, which boasts a cast including Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kate Winslet in creating a dark, unnerving vision of the world that nevertheless feels authentic.

“I’m actually a humanist, believe it or not,” Hillcoat said, “and I believe even when people are corrupted, even when they’ve gone to the dark side, they are still human beings. Being under pressure always brings out the best and worst in people.”

Reviewing the film for The Times, Katie Walsh noted, with a stacked cast and skillful filmmaking, “Triple 9" proves to be a satisfying crooked-cop heist thriller, imbued with complicated topical issues that last long after the adrenaline rush.

In Screen Daily, Tim Grierson called it “a nicely nasty little crime thriller … pulp with plenty of juice.”

‘Underground USA: Indie Cinema of the ‘80s’


Tracy Camilla Johns and Spike Lee in 'She's Gotta Have It.'

(handout / handout)

Following its recent weekend with John Sayles, the Cinefamily is launching what may be its most ambitious repertory series yet with “Underground USA: Indie Cinema of the ’80s.” Stretched out over two months and including more than 40 films, this program has a pretty stunning lineup, whether you’re returning to these films as longtime favorites and points of influence or seeing them for the first time.

The series really gets into gear with a screening on March 4 of Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” along with an appearance by John Pierson for a 20th anniversary tribute to his influential book “Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes.” Throughout the series, there are going to be some incredible guests, including Allison Anders, John McNaughton, Rosanna Arquette, Susan Seidelman, Ross McElwee, Robert Townsend, Lizzie Borden, Billy Woodberry and Alex Cox. The lineup of films, which includes “Border Radio,” “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Sherman’s March,” “Hollywood Shuffle,” “Born In Flames,” “Bless Their Little Hearts” and “Repo Man,” is really incredible.

This may prove to be one of the most exciting programs to hit Los Angeles all year.

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.

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