Film experts share Oscars insights

You may think you know the Academy Awards, but have you ever partied with Anthony Hopkins or Jodie Foster? 

Jed Dietz was invited to an awkward Oscars party once in 1992.

He was in downtown Los Angeles, at a little Italian restaurant that he can’t remember the name of. It was just down the road from where they were hosting the 64th Annual Academy Awards and all the buzz was about Silence of the Lambs.

“The menu was all fava beans and lamb dishes,” Dietz said. And a nice chianti , we’re guessing.

It was an odd party because it was hosted by Orion Pictures, the production company that made Silence of the Lambs, and the same production company that just months before the awards season, filed for bankruptcy.

“This company was done,” Dietz said.

A few people dined and a few people drank. A TV was tuned in to the Oscars live. It was a relatively somber occasion until an extremely rare thing happened.

Silence of the Lambs went on to win Oscars in all of the “Big Five” categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay.

The Jonathan Demme directed film is one of just three movies in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to win the Big Five. The only other films to ever win all five major awards are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and It Happened One Night.

“And then an hour after the show, these Oscars started showing up,” Dietz said. “There was an Oscar I think on every table.”

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins walked in to the restaurant after winning Oscars for their portrayals of FBI agent Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Demme wasn’t far behind after delivering what the New York Times called a “rambling” and “nervous” acceptance speech.

“They were all there,” Dietz said.

And then another rare thing happened. They stayed.

“It went on deep into the night,” Dietz said. “No one wanted to leave. Usually people cruise around to other parities on Oscar night. But everybody wanted to stay.”

Orion, also known for Oscar winners Amadeus, Dances with Wolves and Platoon, would eventually make it out of bankruptcy in 1996 but folded in 1998. Dietz went on to become the director of the Maryland Film Festival , which will feature more than 100 movies between May 7 and 11 this year.

Dietz recalls that party back in 1992 fondly. He remembered that it was also rare that a movie released in February would do so well come awards season.

“Statistically, the Oscars always go to the films released in the third and fourth quarter,” he said.

Dietz is looking forward to the 86th Annual Academy Awards. He said he’s attending an Oscars viewing party with other like-minded film buffs.

“I like watching them. Like literally watching them,” Dietz said. “Too many people use them as background. … So not too many people [will be at the party].”

There are two things however that he does not like about the Academy Awards:  When the Academy panders to a younger generation and acceptance speeches that contain lists of names no one has ever heard of.

“I’d like to shoot that person,” Dietz said of whoever was the first winner to rifle off a list of names.

 “A list is just meaningless. In terms of writing, it’s the worst kind of writing,” he said. “It’s the classic joke. It’s like reading the phone book.”

His other gripe focuses on the Academy’s decision to target a younger, more advertising friendly, audience. Specifically, he was referencing the pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011 and  Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane in 2013.

“The most trouble that they’ve gotten in is when they try to go hip,” Dietz said.  “Those shows just don’t work.”

The Academy is hoping comedienne and afternoon talk show host Ellen DeGeneres will appeal to all generations of film lovers.

“They don’t want it to be a show just for senior citizens,” Peter Lev , a film historian and professor at Towson University, said. “They’re trying to get a much broader representation.”

Lev was one of the founding members of the electronic media and film program at Towson University. He’s written four books about film history and is the recipient of the prestigious Academy Scholars grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“I’m very fond of the Academy. … They’ve been very wonderful to me,” Lev said. “They do everything they can to help me.” The grant helped Lev complete his fourth book about Twentieth Century Fox.

He pointed out that the Academy’s decision to increase the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10 was actually taking the awards back to its roots.

He’s studied the history of the awards dating back to its inception in 1927 although in 2014 he jokes that he hopes to be awake by the time they announce the Best Picture of the year award.  

He said the awards are, “not perfect

and they don’t necessarily recognize the best film of the year but they raise lots of money,” which is important for the film industry. 

Christopher Llewellyn-Reed , film critic and chair of the film and video department at Stevenson University, agreed.

“I don’t necessarily think the Oscars reflect the best quality so much as the reflection of some kind of quality and politics. … So it’s interesting to see who wins,” he said.

The Vegas odds are out on Oscar nominees , but Llewellyn-Reed doesn’t necessarily agree with the favorites. He would prefer to see Amy Adams win for her performance in American Hustle over the heavy favorite Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine for example.

He’s split on his prediction for the Best Picture winner, which could either go to 12 Years a Slave or Gravity. His personal favorite films of the year were 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle. On his blog, he notes that Gravity shouldn’t have even been nominated.

“I would’ve liked to see Her, the movie Her, be nominated for more,” he said. Her, the story of a man who falls in love with an operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) was directed by Spike Jonze who was born in Rockville and grew up in Bethesda, Md.

 Llewellyn-Reed is a regular contributor to the WYPR-FM program Midday with Dan Rodricks. Get a full breakdown of Llewellyn-Reed’s Oscars scorecard on his personal website ChrisReedFilm.com . There you’ll find out how he really feels about The Wolf of Wall Street.

Debbie Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office, was a little more forgiving of the of the Wolf of Wall Street, going as far as saying she hopes Leonardo DiCaprio will finally take him his first Oscar—after suffering through a year of Internet memes dedicated to his lack of one.

But it’s the less popular or technical awards that really interested Dorsey, who for 35 years has worked in locations management for television and film production.

“It’s not just about who wins best actor or actress it’s all the other categories that are important,” she said. “The one category I wish they had was best location management … maybe someday.”

Fun fact: The Best Picture nominated Philomena spent two days filming in Potomac, Md. 

Think you know the Oscars? Try our Academy Awards winners quiz

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