Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. worked together for two decades at Daily Variety. In this occasional column, two old friends get together and grind their axes, mostly on the movie business. 

peter-bart-mike-fleming-badge-verticalBART: Did I sleep through the starter’s gun? Did someone ring a bell? It seems the awards season has “officially started” (according to CBS) and I haven’t even seen some of the contenders yet (because they’re unfinished). It was CBS’ decision to broadcast the Hollywood Film Awards Friday night for the first time, thereby transforming kudo season into almost a year-long event (actually a third of the year). And the stars (Downey, et al) dutifully showed and Queen Latifah presided even though no one knew who had selected the winners or whether the mysterious judges had themselves seen the films.

john deppFLEMING: I watched some of the Hollywood Film Awards and found it a benign effort, with a drab brown backdrop salvaged from the 1960s (the Dean Martin Roasts?), with Johnny Depp playing the role of lovable, perpetually inebriated roaster Foster Brooks. From what I read, some mysterious guy named Carlos and his 12 movie apostles picked the winners. They gave out so many prizes, you wondered if they had simply been left on the table for everyone to grab up, like party favors. There didn’t seem like much rhyme or reason for who won and why, and yet a lot of stars showed up. And then you had Depp, who was either soused or sending a signal he will take his Keith Richards act to new levels in the next Pirates of the Caribbean installment.

james lJames L. Brooks kept sending snarky tweets, starting with: “First, no kidding, facts.1. CBS airs Hollywd Film Awards tonite. 2.Awards are the result of a vote of 12 anonymous people. I swear it’s so” and ending with resignation: “These postings futile. But I think watching show wud destroy…maybe, 100 million brain cells per viewer so thought was worth mentioning.” Despite this, my question to you, Peter: how is this any different from the Golden Globes? Wow, I just saw American Idol judge Randy Jackson do emcee work in a blindingly-Bozo-shoe-tone red blazer. Hey Randy, Captain Kangaroo called and he wants his blazer back. Peter, why didn’t we live blog this?

BART: Until CBS and Dick Clark Productions decided to anoint the show with a primetime slot, the Hollywood Films Awards were not (to put it mildly) accorded Globe-like prestige. The last time I attended three years ago, there was a running joke among acceptors as to who could time their entrances and exits in the shortest period of time. Stars were positively sprinting across the ballroom to win the competition (five minutes was the goal). One star (I won’t name her) all but toppled into her seat adjacent to mine and, clearly swackered, pleaded, “Help me write a speech…what award am I accepting?” We quickly cobbled something together…..another “I would like to thank….”

2029247_CA_TYLDUM_RRC_FLEMING: Just as you could throw a dart at a calendar and hit a film festival going on somewhere and wonder why, I think you have to ask, “‘Why shouldn’t there be an early show like this if even to give the public its first opportunity to ask, ‘Who the f*ck is Morten Tyldum?’” The HFAs give Oscar aspirants a chance to start honing awards speeches they’ll repeat over and over the next few months. CBS chief Les Moonves sat with his lovely wife Julie Chen and they wore tight smiles throughout. So I say, what’s the harm in providing a public forum to build buzz on prestige films viewers might actually seek out, rather than having to hear those titles for the first time during the Oscarcast and say, “Well, I missed that one, too.” There is no good reason why awards bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have any more validity than an HFA, People’s Choice or MTV Movie Award, and look how they’ve been embraced. Nobody loses an eye here. Winners know in advance and so losers don’t have to waste an evening styling for futility.

BART: Isn’t it utterly forgettable?

FLEMING: What really gives this event a foothold is Depp’s tipsy slurred speech. It was a memorable train-wreck moment, not as disreputable as the timeworn story that forever rears up in Globes discussions: when voters crowned Pia Zadora New Star of the Year for playing a nymphet who seduces her backwoods father in the 1982 film Butterfly. Her zillionaire old-enough-to-be-her-father husband Meshulem Riklis jetted some voters to the Riviera for power lobbying and she won over good actors for a movie that hadn’t come out in the U.S. and had zero awareness. The Globes got its act together enough to rebound; Hollywood long ago embraced it as an Academy Awards precursor and important momentum builder heading towards the Oscarcast. The HFAs will endure growing pains, but I bet it’s here to stay, if Moonves thinks the anemic ratings it got can grow, and if Hollywood awards publicists collectively decide it plays a worthy promotional role to have their clients keep showing up. My biggest problem was that it preempted Hawaii 5-0 and Blue Bloods. Those shows hit the spot on a Friday night.

BART: I agree that there’s nothing wrong with self-promotion – that’s what award shows are all about. They promote films that normally might not find a wide audience. Arguably film festivals serve the same purpose – identifying and promoting films that deserve visibility and credibility. Oops, did I say credibility?

globesFLEMING: Credibility? Again I have to point to the Golden Globes. What are there, like 80 foreign journalists who decide? Many are freelancers. Who vets their credibility? Do they write for major, esteemed offshore publications? Nobody seems to know, or care. I’ve heard over and over the joke that if you go out to dinner the night of the Globes, be prepared to wait for your meal because there’s a good chance your waiter will be wearing his tux, but sitting VIP at the Beverly Hilton.

BART: The word ‘award’ itself has come to carry a bogus connotation. Just about every banquet looking to sell tickets invents a phony award. I remember one banquet built around a humanitarian award. When the recipient’s name was uttered in the same sentence with the word ‘humanitarian’ the entire room exploded in laughter. So maybe both words should be retired.

FLEMING: I think the uproar over the Hollywood Film Awards and the outcry for purity overlooks what to me is obvious. If America is so hell bent on glimpsing movie stars that it will watch a show that builds awareness for worthy films that don’t have superheroes in them, and if that moves some of them to go see fine films like Supermensch, The Imitation Game, The Theory Of Everything, Birdman, Foxcatcher or Unbroken, then why not?

BART: Nonetheless, do you notice how many celebrities cringe when they present or receive awards? When they pan the room at the HFAs, it’s amazing how many celebrities look uncomfortable – or like they were just caught performing a regrettable, unnatural act.

chrisrockFLEMING: This is where the HFAs need work. I hope they address the obvious need to beg winners not to disparage the HFA when it is handed to them. Even if Les Moonves promises first-look TV-series development deals, it probably won’t be enough to stop a shrewd, honest guy like Chris Rock. He held his HFA like it was a turd on a pedestal. You’re probably never going to get him to pretend this bauble will be anything more than a paperweight or doorstop, or something for his kids to smash and not get in trouble for it.