The ratings for this month’s Academy Awards were the lowest since 2003, and down eight percent from last year. Many attribute that to the fact that the movies up for the top awards were not very popular at the box office. “Crash,” which won Best Picture, finished 49th in domestic box office of all films in 2005, with just over $50 million gross. That is the lowest total by more than $20 million for a Best Picture since “The Last Emperor” in 1987 earned less than $50 million at the box office. But the Hollywood-left loved “Crash,” a film about racial tensions in American society, or at least preferred it to all the rest. But is anybody listening to or watching Hollywood’s messages?
It doesn’t matter because more message movies are on the way.
Indeed, the latest mogul to enter the Hollywood scene is a man committed to producing more of them. The mogul is Jeff Skoll, a Canadian with a green card, and one of the founders of eBay, the online auction service, which has earned him a current net worth of an estimated $5 billion. That allows someone to send a lot of messages, whether he makes any money on them or not.
Skoll’s film company, Participant Productions, was responsible for three films in the running for awards in major categories. His big Hollywood ally is George Clooney, star of two of Skoll’s films among this year’s entries. Clooney won Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Syriana,” a conspiratorial story of oil being the driving force behind U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
This message, of course, is just plain wrong when it comes to the Bush Administration. While oil is a factor in foreign policy, this administration is the first to break from the history of making accommodations with all of the monarchs, theocrats and military dictators who run the oil rich countries of the region.
The second film starring Clooney in another supporting role, a film that he also directed, was “Good Night and Good Luck.” A recent AIM Report exposed many of the factual problems with this film.
His third nominated film was “North Country,” about a woman’s struggle for respect and equal opportunity in her job. Based on a true story, Academy Award winning actress Charlize Theron plays the lead, who ends up leading a class action sexual harassment lawsuit against her employer. Without having seen the film (I did see the other two), it’s hard not to stand with Charlize’s character, if her charges are true. And this may be one of those examples. But in true Participant fashion, the film had a clear political agenda. Skoll worked with Ms. Magazine and other feminist groups, and released the film with the goal of helping to get the Violence Against Women bill passed through Congress. President Bush signed it into law in January.
Participant’s three nominated films finished 57th, 88th and 119th respectively in terms of being among the top grossing films for 2005.
Skoll claims his politics are centrist, and that while he is no fan of President Bush, he leans more to the Republican side. We don’t believe him. Any fair analysis of his politics based on the movies he chooses to make would place him squarely on the Hollywood Left. It’s his money, and he can do what he wants with it, but he should have the courage of his convictions to admit it, like Clooney, in his own inarticulate way, tries to do.
It seems like the Hollywood Left has fallen head over heels for Skoll. They can make movies that lose money, or make very little by Hollywood standards, and believe they are the true journalists, speaking truth to power. This must make them feel good-and morally superior.
This was the perfect year for the arrival of a force like Skoll. The academy answered the call by nominating small films, by Hollywood standards, that were “meaningful,” and very left-wing. But as George Clooney said on Larry King shortly before winning his award, he is proud to be a liberal and wants to know when it became a bad word. He told King that he doesn’t believe he and Hollywood are out of touch with America, but he told the Academy that “We are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood,” and went on to claim that they have been ahead of the country in social awareness.
The vice-present of Participant, Meredith Blake, recently said in an interview, “Our product is social change, and the movies are a vehicle for that social change.” The website links to “social action” groups, generally referring to left-wing groups. Now they have a film coming out that just played at Sundance called “An Inconvenient Truth,” which is apparently a lecture by Al Gore on global warming.
We can’t wait to see that. It sounds like the start of a presidential campaign. If Al Gore runs for president again, now that would be real entertainment.