Starry, starry nightby Pat H. Broeske'Tis the season for show business awards shows, which, collectively, seem to honor every possible subject and category. But try as everyone might, there is no topping the granddaddy of awards shows the one that has spanned seven decades and continues to generate breathless guessing games. But if the Academy Awards are at the heart of the movie industry's biggest, most anticipated night of the year which this year comes on March 21 they are not the driving force behind movie making. Money is.
In The Gross: The Hits, the Flops The Summer That Ate Hollywood, Peter Bart explores the hows, the whys, and the surprises of the summer 1998 box office derby. As the editor-in-chief for Variety and Daily Variety, Bart had access to the executives and filmmakers behind a disparate slate, including the effects extravaganzas Godzilla and Armageddon, the paranoid character study The Truman Show, and that goofy exercise in raunchy, There's Something About Mary. From the genesis of the various films (inspiration for the Bruce Willis character in Armageddon was real-life firefighting legend, Red Adair), to their development (too many were written by committee ), to the final product (following a test screening, The Avengers went through a major reworking), and on through their journey at the box office, The Gross looks at the way big business has impacted the industry, which has itself become a big business.
Along the way, Bart delivers some enticing cameo appearances. In fact, given its roster of names stars, filmmakers, power-brokers and more it is curious that this book does not have an index, for some of its liveliest material concerns the names behind the titles. In recalling a meeting with Steven Spielberg, a sceenwriter is quoted as saying, He's like a Mafia boss in that he subtly flaunts his power. Indeed, while talking about a script particular, Spielberg said, We should ask the President that question. He's my house guest next weekend. Even the rich and famous can't resist name-dropping.
The rich and famous, as well as the artistes, have figured prominently in the saga of the Oscars. The predictably unpredictable awards race has honored both the obscure performer and the superstar, art house titles, and epics. In that respect, the lavish 70 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards (Abbeville Press, $65, 0789204843) reflects society, as well as the various film years.
Written by Robert Osborne, longtime columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, this newly revised and expanded edition has as much appeal to the movie buff as to the scholar. The tone may be ultra-respectful after all, this is the authorized account of Oscar but the detailed year-by-year summations are rife with facts and juicy trivia. Just in time for this year's Oscar night parties, Dining with the Stars (Pocket, $22, 0671017497) serves up all kinds of tasty possibilities. Here's one possible menu: Halle Berry's Almond-Berry Brie Appetizer, Shirley MacLaine's Favorite Chicken Soup, Joanne Woodward's Sole Cabernet, and, for dessert, Dolly Parton's, uh, Stack Pie. More than one hundred celebrities share their favorite recipes, knowing that a portion of the book's net proceeds will benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles. Whether they earn awards/money, many movies contain special gags or references some obvious, many not. Bill Givens, who has chronicled blunders via a series of books about film flubs, now goes after Reel Gags: Jokes, Sight Gags, and Directors' Tricks from Your Favorite Films (Renaissance Books, $9.95, 1580630421). Did you know that the first one to be eaten by a T-Rex in Jurassic Park was one of the movie's screenwriters? Now you do.