Looking for a Smart, Opinionated Oscars Crowd Online? Good Luck

Media Reviews for Media People: Movie Sites

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After inciting a riot a few years back by arguing that the oh-so-well-intentioned "Crash" boasted as sophisticated a view of race relations as "The Steve Harvey Show," I'm no longer permitted to watch the Academy Awards broadcast in a public setting. It's for the best, really, as I tend to get ornery when the Hollywood outsiders who populate Oscar parties insist on anthropomorphizing "The Academy" ("The Academy thinks Ellen Page is too young to win a Golden Boy"; "The Academy takes its coffee like it takes its baths: steamy and creamy, with a generous helping of jasmine").
You'd think that the site's Academy affiliation would lend it access that the EW.coms of the world can't touch. Instead, it sticks to the same mix of photo galleries and interview clips that can be found everywhere else.
You'd think that the site's Academy affiliation would lend it access that the EW.coms of the world can't touch. Instead, it sticks to the same mix of photo galleries and interview clips that can be found everywhere else.

Boredom sets in
And so it was that, resplendent in Proenza Schouler and Levi Strauss, I watched Sunday night's extravaganza at home with a few pals and the court-appointed monitor. She humored me, administering only a mild jolt of punitive voltage when I suggested that Jennifer Hudson's breasts should be deployed to the Middle East and that the best way to portray a doddering old coot would be to simply not learn your lines. We were uniformly bored, toggling between the ceremony and a National Geographic Channel documentary about this family of cats that gets picked off one by one by predators in the abandoned terrain around Chernobyl. Cats are stupid and they make my eyes itch. They had it coming.

I spent some time Monday on the web sorting through the Oscar aftermath, less to ferret out the reactions to Tilda Swinton's alien-in-toga getup than to compare the breadth of coverage with similar Emmy and Grammy postmortems. During my movie-site walkabout, I learned two things. First, internet types seem really, really, really pumped for the upcoming "Iron Man" flick. And second, that there isn't a single entity out there that does for movies what the merrily snide Television Without Pity does for TV.

While online epicenters for fans of Tolkien and Harry Potter offer a wealth of information and lively debate, most quote-unquote movie sites try to be all things to all viewers. As a result, they end up rehashing the same publicist dross and reprinting the same red-carpet photos.

Even the official site is boring
The official Academy Awards website has, for the 10th consecutive year, blown its Oscar-season close-up. Nobody expects objectivity or anything besides yay-for-everything! 'tude here, but you'd think that the site's Academy affiliation would lend it access that the EW.coms of the world can't touch. Instead, it sticks to the same mix of photo galleries and interview clips that can be found everywhere else. This may make marketers feel safe and warm -- Gillette Venus sponsors the style page, while Toyota runs an ad before the "exclusive" video diaries of Academy Prexy Sid Ganis and his quite excellent Kenny Rogers beard -- but it doesn't give film fans any reason to stick around.

Assuming Oscars.com has access to material from prior years and broadcasts, why wouldn't it feature such material prominently? You know, fond recollections of the time when Marlon Brando sent Pocahontas up to the podium to reject his "Godfather" statuette, footage from when a crack team of veterinarians and horse whisperers were forced to subdue Roberto Benigni with elephant tranquilizer, stuff like that. No business fetishizes its past like Hollywood does; the decision to limit Oscar.com to the here and now is baffling.

Invaluable as a resource to settle late-night bar arguments -- dude, that so totally was Kim Cattrall in "Porky's," etc. -- The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) rarely bothers with original content. This proves a wise choice, as its few attempts along those lines (the buried-deep "Ask a Filmmaker" feature) feel like afterthoughts. The site's message boards similarly lack vitality, with few threads generating spirited discourse, not even "Diablo is wearing a slutty dress."

The most to offer
Of all the movie sites, however, IMDb has the most to offer advertisers. Its listings are the most comprehensive of their kind and opinion-free to boot, meaning that marketers won't knock heads with militantly anti-commercial cinema purists. Still, IMDb oughta be careful about tie-ins such as the "DVD Hit List brought to you by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment," which straddles the ad/editorial line. The title alone should tip off half-intelligent visitors, but the mini-mini-feature blends in a bit too easily with the rest of the site's content.

I'll group AOL's Moviefone, Yahoo! Movies and the Disney-run Movies.com together for the purposes of this discussion, because they're nearly identical. One lists its "Top 25 Romance Movies" while the next lists its "25 Best Rom-Coms." One serves up a "Carpet Burn" look at Oscar fashion while the next serves up the imaginatively titled "Best and Worst Dressed." Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy gazing at shiny-faced white people as much as the next fella, but there has to be a more interesting way to present this material.

Moviefone's low-key "Cinematical" blog works well, even if it sometimes tries too hard to stimulate discussion threads ("What's your favorite Ernie Hudson role?" Wow, just one? Tough assignment). Beyond that, the operative words here are boring and innocuous, which explains the banner-ad presence of web prudes like Verizon FiOS and Dove. Let's move on.

Two to bookmark
If you want engagement -- and gosh, who doesn't nowadays? -- the two sites to bookmark are Ain't It Cool News and Dark Horizons. Both have been around forever, but neither has strayed from the formula that lured movie fans in the first place. Ain't It Cool is fueled by the personality of founder Harry Knowles, who presents scoops and way-early reviews with an enthusiasm that borders on outright mania. Dark Horizons ably ducks the studio publicity machines, offering interviews and news bits that are insider-y but never smug in a nyah-nyah-I've-got-it-first way.

Still, both sites could prove a tricky fit for marketers. The Ain't It Cool discussion boards and Knowles' own blasts contain more than their share of sniping, which means that studios and snark-averse mainstream marketers will maintain a healthy distance.

On the other hand, Dark Horizons -- and I don't know exactly how to phrase this -- sometimes doesn't work. Over the last three days, my attempts to read a single Diane Lane interview were met with a litany of error messages. Somewhere between 6 p.m. and 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, the problem was fixed. I don't particularly like or dislike Diane Lane. I wanted to read the friggin' piece simply because the site wouldn't let me. I assume webmaster types know how frustrating such problems can be; scheduling intermittent spot-checks might not be the worst idea.

Miraculously, the advertise-here screen popped up without hesitation all week long. Whew.
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