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Oscar nods in black and white

May contain spoilers

Q: As you mention in your "Outguess Ebert" Oscars column, Jamie Foxx was actually the lead in "Collateral," but was nominated for best supporting actor. I can't help being reminded of Samuel L. Jackson getting a mere best supporting actor nomination for "Pulp Fiction" while John Travolta, who did not have a larger part, received a best actor nomination. I suppose with "Ray" it was impossible not to give the best actor nomination to Foxx. Is the mere presence of a white actor in a role of similar size enough to cause a black actor not to be nominated for best actor?Justin Young, Syracuse, N.Y.

A: Foxx was obviously a leading contender for best actor for "Ray," so it made sense to position him as a supporting actor for "Collateral" instead of running him against himself. This year's 20 Oscar acting nominations include four African-Americans (Don Cheadle, Morgan Freeman and Foxx twice), a Brit of African descent (Sophie Okonedo) and a Latina, Catalina Sandino Moreno, from Colombia. I thought the academy showed imagination in reaching beyond the obvious front-runners, especially in naming Okonedo and Moreno.

Q. Left completely unresolved in "Million Dollar Baby" was what happened to Maggie's opponent after delivering the illegal sucker punch. It is vaguely suggested that the opponent was allowed to retain the contested title. This is ludicrous. After such conduct, no legitimate sanctioning body would simply award a championship to the offending fighter.

And even though the conduct occurred in a boxing ring, there would probably be some public outcry for criminal charges. I'm not objecting to the presentation of Maggie's story, but I feel there should have been some resolution to the boxing-related issues. Alan C. Douglas, Chicago

A. Tom Rosenberg of Chicago's Lakeshore Entertainment, one of the film's producers, replies: "The referee did not see the late punches in either bout. Often fighters are hit after the bell without disqualification. This ties into Frankie's constant advice to Maggie: 'Protect yourself at all times.' Maggie did not win the fight but her mother is incorrect, highlighting her meanness, when she tells Maggie 'you lost'."

Q. I found out that presenters of awards, nominees and winners receive gift baskets worth a staggering amount of money. This disappoints me because these people do not need these things. The money spent on the gift baskets could feed many starving families or it could buy medical supplies for doctors in Third World countries. Alison Danes, Winfield, Ill.

A. Bruce Davis, executive director of the Motion Picture Academy, replies:

"We don't give baskets to Academy Award nominees, or even to recipients. The baskets are called 'presenter baskets' because they go to the presenters on our show (some of whom, on a given evening, are also nominees, which may have led to your reader's misapprehension). The presenters on the Academy Awards are nearly always prominent actors. Most of them command breathtaking salaries, and if the 30 or so who handle the presenting of the statuettes were to demand even a small fraction of their usual fees, the show wouldn't happen. We couldn't afford them.

"Every presenter on the Oscar show is working for free -- not even for Guild minimum. They do it as a contribution to the academy and to their art form. The baskets are our way of thanking them for that, and for making our shows possible. For many years we gave our thank-you gifts without the world's knowledge, but in recent years the gossip world has learned about the baskets. They've made extravagant guesses about what is in them, and of course translated all gifts into dollar amounts. The wilder the estimated cash valuation, the better the story.

"Your questioner may be relieved to know that 'the money spent on [them]' doesn't exist, because the contents of the baskets are donated. I hope she'll find further comfort in the fact that most if not all of the presenters on the Academy Awards are already vigorous supporters of various charitable causes, and tend to put their money where their mouths are.

"Footnote: There is evidently a recent trend of companies directly bestowing gifts on the individuals nominated for awards of various kinds. The academy has no role in any such promotions."

Q. Your review says "Deep Throat" grossed $600 million, "making it the most profitable movie of all time." According to, it grossed $4,600,000. How do you explain such a tremendous difference? Don Pruitt, Golden, Colo.

A. That $600 million figure looked fishy to me, and I should have queried it more severely in my review. I did point out, "Since the mob owned most of the porn theaters in the pre-video days and inflated box-office receipts as a way of laundering income from drugs and prostitution, it is likely, in fact, that "Deep Throat" did not really gross $600 million, although that might have been the box-office tally."

Actually, I doubt that was even the post-laundering tally. Variety's list of all-time box-office champs doesn't have "Deep Throat" in its top 250 (where the 250th film is "Star Trek 4," at $109 million). However, if you check the site, it is indeed listed as the 26th largest-grossing film of all time, with a worldwide gross of over $600 million.

Less than 7 percent of that is said to be from the U.S. box office, however; is it possible that 93 percent of the movie's gross was international? Screen Daily, from the United Kingdom, says $600 million was the "FBI estimate," and the FBI is not known for its box office scorecards. The bottom line is from the Hollywood Reporter: "No one was really counting."

Q. I see your point in disagreeing with Michael Medved for revealing the plot of "Million Dollar Baby." But didn't you basically do the same thing in your review "The Girl Next Door"? John Fitch, Lake in the Hills, Ill.

A. Yes, I did. Right there in the first two sentences of my review, I wrote: "The studio should be ashamed of itself for advertising 'The Girl Next Door' as a teenage comedy. It's a nasty piece of business, involving a romance between a teenage porn actress and a high school senior." It was supposed to come as a surprise that she was a porn actress.

On the other hand, in the movie's trailer we hear the line, "Matt, she's a porn star, OK, dude?" And on the film's Web site, we read, "When Matthew discovers this perfect 'girl next door' is a one-time porn star, his sheltered existence begins to spin out of control." So the cat was already out of the bag.

With "Million Dollar Baby," the plot was not revealed in the advertising, but was a closely held secret, and Medved and Rush Limbaugh went out of their way to reveal the details long before the movie was in general release. I think they were deliberately trying to harm it.

Q. I have never felt so bad watching a movie as I felt during "Million Dollar Baby." Eastwood has simply made us love the character, to great emotional effect. Now I can't even think about gathering the courage to watch the movie again. I don't think I can stand the emotional overload once more. My question is, am I overreacting? Are there any movies that you can't bear to watch, too? Aydon Cil, Istanbul, Turkey

A. Yes, I know what you mean. There have been movies that affected me deeply, such as "Do the Right Thing" and "Leaving Las Vegas," but none so deeply I could not watch them again. However, Mitzi Thomas of Fort Wayne, Ind., writes me: "My husband and I went to 'Million Dollar Baby' last Saturday. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the final 15 minutes because something happened that still has me puzzled: I passed out. I can only attribute this to the power of the film. My episode came immediately upon the heels of Maggie's final fight. I think I must have been so emotionally invested in the characters that I had a very real and embarrassing reaction. Thankfully, the theater manager and other people I inconvenienced were very kind."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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