Oscar Race Won't Run In Payson

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by Mike Burkett

There is a strong and ire-raising local angle here. Bear with me for a moment while I set it up.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences came up with an unusually eclectic list of Oscar nominees this week, and made history in the process. Directors Steven Soderbergh and Ang Lee, two fiercely independent art-house favorites led the race with rare double nominations. Soderbergh earned two best-director nods, for "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic," which are also competing against each other for best picture. Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was nominated for best picture and foreign film a feat pulled off only twice before in academy history. Lee also earned a best director nomination.

The art-house film "Chocolat" also was nominated for best picture, and citations were doled out to supporting actor Benicio Del Toro's foreign-language performance in "Traffic"; best actor and supporting actress nominees Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden for "Pollock," the far-from-Hollywood story of doomed painter Jackson Pollock; Laura Linney and Ellen Burstyn, best actress contenders for the tiny independent films "You Can Count on Me" and "Requiem for a Dream"; supporting actor Willem Dafoe in "Shadow of the Vampire;" and best actor possibility Geoffrey Rush in "Quills."

OK. Here's the local angle: You don't have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of ever seeing any of these films at the Sawmill Theatres.

Genuine movie lovers have long since noticed that, if there is a brain-dead teen flick on the movie market, it is guaranteed to see the light of projector at the Sawmill Theatres. Otherwise, the Sawmill will bring in the safest and most homogenized Hollywood product it can find.

But if you want to swim two inches from the Tinseltown mainstream, fuggedaboudit.

Don't blame Sawmill's director of operations, Brian Deveny; the film distributors and his bosses have the final say over the local playlist. But let me quote a conversation I had with Deveny just last weekend.

"Have you seen 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'? It's great!" he exclaimed. "I'm seeing it this weekend down in the Valley," I replied."Do you think you might bring it here?"

"Nope. Won't happen," he said.

"What if it gets a slew of Oscar nominations, including best picture, as everyone expects?"

"Nope, not even then," Deveny said flatly. "People in Payson do not want to see subtitled films."

Tell Deveny to tell his film bookers that Payson isn't Mayberry. We can handle subtitles better than we can handle films with titles like, "Dude, Where's My Car?"

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