Fade In

11-10slide1With TUESDAY MORNING'S ANNOUNCEMENT of the 2005 Academy Award nominees, we enter that glorious time of the year when news of Oscar snubs and formal duds eclipses the latest dispatches from Darfur on the front page, when movie buffs feel comfortable talking about "the Academy" as if it's a human entity ("THE ACADEMY owes Marty a GOLDEN BOY after all these years"). It's a six-week period rife with light-minded debate - and Fade In, a mag still transitioning from an insider to a mass-consumer approach, desperately wants to be a part of it.

Its annual Oscar issue, currently on newsstands, shows that the title hasn't yet found the right balance between snark and substance. Don't get us wrong - Fade In trumps Premiere (which nowadays feels like it is written by and for entertainment publicists) and pretty much every other movie-only title aimed at the masses. But in attempting to offer both an insider/enthusiast perspective and the requisite I-can't-believe-they're-remaking-"The-Shaggy-Dog-Goes-to-Summer-Camp" sass, the magazine comes up slightly short in both departments.

Take the Oscar issue, for example. There's nothing wrong with the "Movies That Mattered" section per se, but one-on-one interviews with A-listers like Tom Cruise (yapping mostly about "Collateral," released last summer) and Kevin Spacey (talking about the process of channeling Bobby Darin for the hundredth time) feel dated. Similarly, a feature on "The Aviator" is all well and good, but it offers little that wasn't chronicled in an Entertainment Weekly cover story five weeks ago.

By devoting 10 pages to Cruise (who, in an unspeakably candid moment, reveals that winning an Oscar would be "fun"), the section relegates its chats with "Vera Drake" nominee Imelda Staunton and "Kinsey" writer/director Bill Condon to second-tier status. This is a shame.

Puffy celeb pieces centered on the releases of big-budget monstrosities should remain the defining mission of Premiere and its ilk; given the obvious intellect and passion of Fade In's editorial staff, the mag would be better served by focusing on beneath-the-title names.

Much better is the "Player" section, which shines a light on parts of the entertainment biz for which the red carpet is rarely extended. A story on the pitch process - described as "part salesmanship, part artistry, part blind date" - entertains and illuminates at the same time.

Then there's the feature on West Hollywood's Cake & Art, which creates celebrity-themed custom cakes for any occasion (think Ron Howard lovingly rendered as a mermaid with vanilla icing). Quirky pieces like these could and should become Fade In's great differentiator, as opposed to the fashion spreads seeping into movie mags with increasing frequency or commonplace DVD reviews.

"The Grid," a front-of-the-book compilation of smaller, snarkier items, also works well. While it may be troubling in a decline-of-Western-civilization sense to learn that producer Neil Moritz is plotting "The Fast and the Furious 3," the advance preview of this and other 2006-2007 flicks is one part Daily Variety and one part Page Six. And the flashback to 1997 is worth more than a few chuckles - oh, "Beverly Hills Ninja," you were but a star shooting across Oscar's night sky.

It should be interesting to see how Fade In evolves over the next year. Given the soft-news focus of mass entertainment journalism, the magazine has a real opportunity to carve out a niche for itself. Ultimately, the mag will have to make a choice: will it go the route of the vacuous celebrity feature, or will it focus on the film and entertainment arcana that can't be found on every corner newsstand? Here's hoping Fade In chooses the latter course.

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