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Pirates and 26 other sequels this year: Are Hollywood execs ruining movies?

By one count, Americans will be served a record 27 movie sequels this year: Pirates of the Caribbean, Spy Kids, Cars 2, The Hangover Part II, Happy Feet 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, etc., etc. Have Hollywood moguls gone overboard on sequels?

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He emailed: "The quality of theatrically released films has been dropping so precipitously in recent years that the Academy Awards are no longer a fair gauge of audiovisual entertainment. Several decades ago audiences could expect a film such as The Social Network every week; now we are lucky to have one or two a year. Add to this the fact serious dramas have more or less migrated to television, and it's clear that the Oscars have become progressively less relevant. Last year arguably the best male performance of the year (Al Pacino in You Don't Know Jack) was not eligible for the Oscars."

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That film, in which Pacino played Dr. Jack Kevorkian, was made for HBO and directed by A-list filmmaker Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog, Rain Man). It was apparently not possible for Pacino, Levinson, and a touchy subject to interest a major studio. This is a symptom of a desperate situation. It wasn't even a problem with budget (about $12 million) or running time (134 minutes). It won an Emmy, but I confess I hadn't heard of it until Paul mentioned it. Rotten Tomatoes doesn't list a single review of it. Was it eligible for the Oscars? No. "Made for TV." Kate Winslet's work in Mildred Pierce is also not eligible.

Schrader had some pointed advice for me: "A veteran film critic—by this I mean you, Roger—should take it on himself by unilaterally abandoning the distinction between theatrical and nontheatrical films in year-end best-of lists. All long-form audiovisual entertainment, released on any distribution platform, would be eligible for consideration. The Academy, of course, would regard this as a nightmare. It would downgrade the 'specialness' of theatrical films. But this is all happening anyway. Why not get ahead of the curve?"

Why not? It's tempting, Paul. I could relax before my big eight-foot home-theater screen, and the work would come to me. The problem is, that goes against my grain. A movie is shown in a movie theater, and I like to sit there and see it. That's how it's supposed to be. I'm not ready to bowl alone.

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Roger Ebert is the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times. His memoir, Life Itself, will be published on September 13 by Grand Central Publishing.

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