STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're nearing the end of an unusual year for movies. No single film has dominated the conversation in Hollywood. Some celebrated films this year refer to the past of the movie industry itself, like the silent film "The Artist," or "Hugo," which becomes a tale of old film preservation.
Today, thousands of people in the industry get a chance to say what they think of all this as the first Oscar ballots are mailed out. Kim Masters is covering the Oscar race and the campaigning that goes along with it. She is editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter. She joins us from NPR West once again.
KIM MASTERS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So does this feel like an unusual year to you?
MASTERS: You know, in some ways it feels like a very unusual year and in some ways it doesn't feel like such a bad year. I mean, overall the industry, the movie business, is in a tough situation. You know, the box office numbers have not been there. The - what used to be, you know, a $60 million opening is now a $20 million opening. So they're trying to figure out the future.
And the studios are, as you know, Steve, cranking in a lot of sequels and comic book heroes.
And so that's the negative. The good part is we actually have a clutch of movies that are not embarrassing to nominate. And in years past I've had trouble coming up with even five that I thought were worthy of a mention. And this year there are more than five, I think, that could be nominated and not embarrass the movie business.
INSKEEP: OK. Who reaches that not embarrassing threshold? A couple of them anyway.
MASTERS: I think the distinct frontrunner right now has to be "The Artist," the film you mentioned. Black and white, silent, and of course it's a valentine to the movie business. You know, it feels different and fresh. And so I think right now if you had to pick one, that's the one. But also, right up there in the top of the pack, "The Descendants," George Clooney is starring as a bereaved father who is struggling.
And "The Help," which was based on the Kathryn Stockett novel, and you know, is very well received, kind of an unexpected hit. Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" seems to be playing pretty well. I think it will certainly make the list. I wouldn't be surprised to see "Bridesmaids" get in there to the top list. Maybe Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." You know, that's not a short list. That's a decent list.
INSKEEP: OK. That's quite a clutch of movies, as you put it. It actually starts to make me feel a little bit better about this year's movies when you list it out like that, Kim Masters. But then there's the question of the Oscars themselves. Are they struggling a little bit to stay relevant right now?
MASTERS: Oh, yeah. It's been a struggle for years. I mean, it's still - the show still draws a big, big audience. But we've already seen this year the producer was going to be Brett Ratner. Eddie Murphy was going to host.
And then there was the whole blow-up of inappropriate comments and behavior from Ratner and he was out. And then Eddie Murphy was out. And now we're back to Billy Crystal. Doesn't feel quite like 2012; he's going to break ground. But you know, he's a good host.
INSKEEP: Well, in past years we've been here talking about how they expanded the list of best picture nominees from five to ten. And this year there will be how many?
MASTERS: You know, that is a good question, because they've devised this strange voting system, which is based on how many vote for this picture at number one, and don't ask me to explain it. But I think most people are thinking it's going to be about eight. They're trying to make it interesting. They're trying to make it a horse race.
You know, when you don't have a film like "Titanic," which is where you have a very popular film, you pull in big, big audiences that are very attached to a particular movie emotionally; when you have a year like this, where you don't have that huge blockbuster success, you know, you try to throw in as many as possible without, as I said earlier, making it an embarrassing list.
INSKEEP: Kim Masters, thanks very much.
MASTERS: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: She's of The Hollywood Reporter and also hosts The Business on member station KCRW.
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