At last, film critics have found a Hollywood creation they loathe even more than ''Gigli.'' It's the Motion Picture Association of America's recently announced ban on year-end home videos for awards voters, including members of the Academy and reviewers like themselves who are members of various cities' critics circles. Besides the hundreds of Hollywood actors, writers, and directors who have openly criticized the ban, film critics associations in Washington, D.C., and Chicago have given thumbs-down to the MPAA move, with Chicago group calling it the worst Hollywood decision since the blacklist in the 1950s. Now, Hollywood's hometown critics have taken their opposition one step further. The Los Angeles Film Critics announced on Sunday that, unless the MPAA lifted the ban, it would cancel its annual awards ceremony.
Acting at the behest of the seven major Hollywood studios that are its members, the MPAA announced the ban on Sept. 30 as a measure to combat piracy, but the ban's critics have said it tilts the playing field away from sparsely distributed, low-budget movies, which have done well at awards galas (and subsequently, at the box office) in recent years, thanks in part to exposure to voters via ''screener'' DVDs and VHS tapes, favoring instead big-budget spectacles from major studios that can afford to book them widely enough to give awards juries ample opportunities to see them in theaters. The Los Angeles critics, in a statement, said they ''are committed in our annual awards process to a fair and unbiased evaluation of all films theatrically screened in Los Angeles during the year, whatever their budget or production source,'' but that ''the ban on screeners seriously inhibits our ability to work as professionals and compromises the integrity and fairness of the evaluative process.''
The MPAA has said the ban will remain in place, though in a meeting with studio execs last week it discussed possible compromises, like sending out VHS tapes coded so as to identify their source if they're leaked to pirates. Meanwhile, the New York Film Critics Circle, which, like the L.A. group, makes use of screeners to help pick winners for its annual awards ceremony, announced Monday that this year's prize vote and awards dinner would take place as scheduled, ban or no ban.