Friday, January 30, 2009

India's Enron Threatens the Legitimacy of the Oscars

With the Super Bowl over, the attention of a weary nation turns to its next distraction, the annual Academy Awards event in late February. And it just might have more drama than is noticed by the casual observer.

India has its own Enron. An Indian film also received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The accounting firm charged with overlooking nearly $1 billion while auditing the books of the Indian firm Satyam is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the same company that tabulates voting for the Oscars.

This could easily be a mystery-suspense picture starring the guy from Heroes as the scheming CEO, Jude Law as the unscrupulous accountant and Neil Patrick Harris as the guy who figures it all out. I'll wait for my Oscar nod until next year.

In the meantime, should there be a bit of concern for the legitimacy of the Oscars? Could PwC suffer the same fate as Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that went belly-up after the Enron scandal? The Oscars web site clearly states that a small amount of PwC employees are involved in the counting of votes. In fact, once a winner is declared, according to the Oscars, only two representatives from the firm know the results until showtime. PwC is trusted to faithfully deliver the correct winners, yet they are unable to account for $1 billion on the other side of the world?

The Indian film, Slumdog Millionaire, has received glowing reviews across the board and is unlikely to win Best Picture, so the specter of impropriety is low. On the other hand, Robert Downey, Jr., received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for playing an Australian actor who plays a black man in the comedy Tropic Thunder. Maybe there's something to this accounting scandal after all?

Welcome to Oscar Season, a time of rumors and speculation and hopes and inevitable embarrassing moments on stage by the award recipients.

The San Francisco Chronicle's renowned film critic Mick LaSalle will give his impressions and predictions for the 81st Oscars in a conversation with Sacramento Bee film critic Carla Meyer on Feb. 21 at the Napa Valley Opera House. For more information, visit The Commonwealth Club web site here.

–by Steven Tavares


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