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Voter fraud?

Ang Lee took home the best director Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain" earlier this month, but the film failed to win best picture honors. --AP Sara Paxton plays the title character in "Aquamarine."

Q. I was rooting for "Brokeback Mountain" to win the Best Picture Oscar. I thought it was a great film. I haven't seen "Crash," but I'm curious now to see it and be able to make a comparison. I wish the Academy voters had done the same. For the major categories, there is no requirement that Academy voters have seen all nominees. Or that they've even seen any of the nominees. Or that the Academy member is the person actually filling out the ballot. The process is a sham.

If one of the Olympic ice skating judges missed one of the performances but then was able to submit a score that helped determine who won the gold medal, people would be outraged. The Academy should change its rules. Bob Bartosch, Somerville, Mass.

A. Although the Academy requires members to see all five documentaries and all five foreign films before voting in those categories, there is no such requirement in any of the other categories. Perhaps it is time for new by-laws. It was widely reported that two Academy members refused to see "Brokeback Mountain" because of its gay subject matter, and anecdotal evidence that others also refused. Of course, some members no doubt voted for the film because of its theme. Members are free to vote however they want, but I think it is reasonable to expect them to see the films first, and I am awaiting apologies from Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine, who shamelessly went public with their refusals.

Q. What was Tom Hanks so visibly irritated about as he came onstage at the Academy Awards? Brian McCarthy, Minneapolis

A. Many Oscarcast viewers thought they saw Hanks saying something angry to host Jon Stewart. Lip-readers who recorded it came up with highly colorful possibilities. But was he talking to Stewart? From the TV viewer's POV, Hanks seemed to be looking at Stewart. But he could also, in the same line of sight, have been looking at Bill Conti, the musical director, who was not visible in the TV shot. has produced a plausible theory. The site says Hanks thought he had a deal with Conti and the Academy that they would not play the theme from "Forrest Gump" when he came onstage; he is tired of always being identified with it. But that was the music played, and that's why he was unhappy.

Q. I must take issue with your response to Jay Leno's question about whether Hollywood is out of step with the mainstream public. Your response was, "Maybe the moviegoing public is out of step with good movies." How incredibly insulting and arrogant! Your comment illustrates an obvious belief on your part that the people involved with financing, writing, directing and acting in films -- most of whom live in the unnatural and aesthetic environments of Hollywood and other cloistered situations -- know better than I and the rest of the public what WE want and need in entertainment! Many of us are TIRED of the continual diet of political, environmental and societal issues forced upon us by today's moviemakers. The overwhelming and continual box-office success of the lighter fare vs. the others proves my point. Donna Larson, Princeton, Minn.

A. No, I think it proves my point. These 2006 films "won" their weekends or placed second: "Hostel," "Underworld: Evolution," "Big Mamma's House 2," "When a Stranger Calls," "Madea's Family Reunion," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Ultraviolet" and "Date Movie." Only three of these, by the way, were "lighter fare," unless vivisection and evisceration make you smile. During the same weeks, these films were not embraced at the box office: "The Matador," "Cache," "The New World," "Transamerica," "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "Tristram Shandy" and "Tsotsi." If I prefer the films on the second list, does that make me arrogant? Moviegoers "tired of the continual diet of political, environmental and societal issues" are finding lots of films that entertain them, and those of us who prefer more challenging films have to look a little harder.

Here's some insight from Daniel R. Huron, of Texas City, Texas: "I was reading a review of 'Syriana' from Reuters but I stopped reading, not because I was offended by their opinion, but because the reviewer insisted on commenting on its box-office potential. According to the reviewer, the film was unlikely to connect with the 'under-25,' 'mainstream audience' because it is so 'dialogue heavy.' My feeling is, who cares? Shouldn't a reviewer critique the film for what it is and not for its potential to make money?"

Q. Has anyone you know ever finished reading Tristram Shandy? I have been a member of a book club dedicated to reading the book, and we've met every year for 22 years. None of us have finished it, although we do discuss how many pages we've read during the year. No one has missed at least one page per year! Vicki Halliday, Angus, Scotland

A. No one I know has finished the novel, and perhaps its author, Laurence Sterne, never finished it either, since it begins in the middle and claims to be getting around to its beginning and its end.

On the Internet Movie Database, we are told of the screenplay: "The credited writer, Martin Hardy, is actually a pseudonym for the writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, who had his name taken off the film after a falling-out with longtime collaborator Michael Winterbottom." In the spirit of "Tristram Shandy," this, too, is a fabrication. Frank Cottrell Boyce writes me: "Re 'Martin Hardy': So much of the script was improvised by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon that it seemed like cheating and a bit churlish to take all the credit. Inventing a writer seemed the most Shandean option. I recently won a British script award in which the other contender was Martin, and in my speech I called him a true genius and a great lover."

Q. In your review of "Aquamarine," you say the mermaid reminds you of your friend McHugh explaining why lobsters make ideal pets: "They don't bark, and they know the secrets of the deep." Actually it was Gerard de Nerval who said that, shortly before hanging himself in 1855. David Gilmour, Toronto

A. Of course it was. As Wikipedia writes about the French Romantic poet: "Nerval had a pet lobster. He took it for walks in Paris on the end of a blue ribbon. He regarded lobsters as 'peaceful, serious creatures, who know the secrets of the sea, and don't bark.'" Apologies to my friend McHugh, who is never seen far from his well-thumbed volume of Nerval. His translation of Nerval, by the way, is funnier and more graceful than Wikipedia's.

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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