Don’t forget to check that list — at the door

WITH THE FILM AWARD SEASON finally behind us, we now confront another annual rite — the season of Lists. Magazines have found big profits each year in unfurling their lists of the most powerful, the most overpaid, the most contentious, etc.

If these lists seem a little “old,” the reason is that most are leftovers from the ’80s when there was a sense of excitement about charting salaries and other emoluments. In 1993 the excitement has long since subsided.

Premiere magazine’s newly released list “The Hundred Most Powerful People in Hollywood” reflects this malaise.

Originally the list singled out those who exerted the greatest influence over both the art and commerce of picture-making. No longer. “The Vision Thing now counts for less than the time-tested ability to write a big check,” concedes Premiere — an ’80s type admission if ever there was one.

In changing the rules, Premiere opened itself up to some dicey calls. If “writing the check” is the criterion, why is Kit Culkin, father of Macaulay, ranked much higher than James Robinson of Morgan Creek, who writes plenty of them? Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel may write deft screenplays, but should they occupy a higher perch than, say, Michael Kuhn, the Prince of Polygram?

TIM BURTON is a director for hire, but he ranks higher on the Premiere list than James Cameron, who pieced together a self-funding company. Jonathan Dolgen, the man who says “no” at Sony, ranks way above Mario Kassar, who still manages to stitch together some amazing megapix.

Even the corporate power lines seem a bit blurred. Rupert Murdoch ranks only fifth on the list while his production chief, Peter Chernin, is 29th. Who hovers atop the list? Bob Daly and Terry Semel of Warners, that’s who.

Yet their corporate hierarch, Gerald Levin — arguably the equivalent of Rupert Murdoch in terms of corporate position — is not included on the Premiere list at all. Preoccupied with newspapers and television, Murdoch plays little if any role on the feature side at Fox, nor does Levin at Warners, but there’s no doubt who’s CEO.

PREMIERE ADMITS IT has tossed lots of agents off the list this year, but a newly revved-up Jeff Berg of ICM will not like to see himself ranked in the low teens adjacent to Ron Meyer, who is Mike Ovitz’ No. 2 man.

Ovitz himself sank to No. 3 behind the Daly-Semel team and Michael Eisner, again on the apparent grounds that he doesn’t write enough checks (this list was assembled before Credit Lyonnais symbolically put a new checkbook in Ovitz’s hand).

“In hard times,” Premiere intones, “power tends to flow up the studio hierarchy and to the dreamers who provide the software that gets the town humming.” Random dreamers, however, don’t seem to make the lists anymore.

Barry Diller was chopped off this year because he took his dream elsewhere — from Fox to the new world of interactive television. Diller wrote a very big check this year –$ 25 million to QVC — but that didn’t seem to impress the listmakers.

I guess the bottom line is that the art of listmaking has somehow lost its panache. The criteria seem crass, the process haphazard.

SOME LIST-MAKERS, indeed, have launched a new cycle — a sort of counterlist. Movieline this month, for example, sets out to list “The Hundred Dumbest Things Hollywood’s Done Recently.”

The selection process was far from easy, Movieline tells us. “It was a challenge to narrow this list down to 100, but a scrupulous winnowing effort yielded the following collective and individual moves …”

The entries are less intriguing than the premise. A sampling:

“Some of the worst titles in movie history were given to films that were not likely to survive good titles, such as ‘Wind,’ ‘The Ox,’ ‘Being Human’ and ‘Leaving Normal.’ ”

“Thanks to the scourge of High Concept, movies came to lack not only a third act, but a second act as well.”

“Jeffrey Katzenberg criticized the industry for thinking too much about profit.”

“Nobody had the balls to tell Mike Ovitz to give up on packaging Madonna for the big screen and start thinking infomercials.”

Plodding through these lists, one is tempted to make a list of the worst lists. A better idea would be to swear off lists entirely. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the ’90s, it is that ’80s ideas don’t seem to work anymore. We need new ideas for the ’90s — a list of new ideas, perhaps.

Perhaps not.

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