Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  Jan. 7, 2002 at 6:07 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The first annual American Film Institute Awards flopped Saturday night in a three-hour show that lacked star power.

The same fate met the first annual Screen Actors Guild Awards when it premiered in 1993 when the only star in sight was Tom Hanks. Both new awards failed to produce a swarm of sexy glamour girls, hunky leading men, previous exciting award winners or a parade of barely clad skinny blondes.

Worse, the AFI show lacked razzmatazz, the old Hollywood ballyhoo and Barnum & Bailey showmanship that viewers worldwide have come to expect from Tinseltown.

That doesn't mean the evening's award winners were undeserving or in any way tainted. But it just didn't work as a zestful, eye-popping event with the special flair of the Oscars and the Golden Globes. The humor and essential comic profundity of handing out prizes to people for acting, directing and making movies was absent.

True, this has been a somber season for the United States following the events of Sept. 11, but it was all the more necessary for some fun and nonsense.

The AFI Awards did not provide either.

The show took itself entirely too seriously.

With the country at war with murderous terrorists, few things could be more trivial than awards for adults playing make-believe in costumes and makeup.

The lugubrious ceremonies took place in the Crystal Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel at a banquet minus the hoopla of arriving celebrities, limos and red carpets.

Naturally, there wasn't a single Oscar statuette to be seen. Nor much cleavage, female navels, or improbable gowns by outre couturiers. Missing too were panting TV reporters outside the hotel begging the likes of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston or Julia Roberts and George Clooney for world-shaking news about their new projects.

Hey, AFI, lighten up.

It's OK for Hollywood to make fun of itself. Why not? Everybody else does. Even the avid, noisy, pushy paparazzi were few and far between: not enough star power to attract them.

Still and all, the AFI is a serious and highly respected organization in these parts. But that needn't mean it should adopt the solemnity of the Nobel Prizes.

Any award show with people weeping with joy over a prize is second only to newspaper comic pages in diverting the public mind from sober world events affecting mankind.

It doesn't pay to cavil with the 100 voting members of the AFI Awards regarding choices for best or most outstanding achievements by performers and filmmakers during the year 2001.

Any such choices are, by nature, personal and a matter of taste. Unlike most such awards, popularity of individuals, friendships or collegiality are not of the first importance.

All the same, this debut year of the AFI Awards -- as yet unblessed by a catchy name such as Oscar or Emmy -- is the first award show of the year and, therefore, might carry some weight.

Whether it affects the Golden Globes or Oscars does not seem important or particularly relevant.

The winners in the major categories Saturday night do not reflect the conventional wisdom or prophesies so far this year. The AFI winner for best movie of the year was "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," the marvelous J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy of the netherworld which has grossed over $200 million in less than 20 days. It may well win the Oscar, too. But it will get strong competition from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "A Beautiful Mind," "In the Bedroom," "Mulholland Drive" and "Gosford Park" to name a few. Best male actor went to Denzel Washington for "Training Day."

Washington has not been highly ranked by critic groups and other clairvoyants. Of all the actresses in the running Sissy Spacek, who won the AFI Award, is most likely to repeat with an Oscar for "In the Bedroom."

Because there is no "best supporting" category in the AFI contest, it is unlikely the two winners for "featured" players, Gene Hackman ("The Royal Tenenbaums")and Jennifer Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind") will win best supporting Oscars because they played leading roles in their films.

Surprisingly, Robert Altman, a nomadic nonconformist filmmaker, won the AFI for best director for "Gosford Park." He would be a long shot in the Oscar race.

The CBS show trailed its chief competitors, NBC and ABC, throughout the three-hour stretch from 8-11 p.m.

While Dustin Hoffman briefly introduced the show, there was no identifiable host or hostess for the proceedings.

The lengthy show was more cerebral than entertaining with 10 directors introducing their 10 nominated films. It was an interesting show for dyed-in-the-wool movie fans and for filmmakers in general, but a bit wearisome for viewers seeking entertainment.

One could only wish AFI a livelier show in 2003.

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