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The Pre-Show Game

New York’s David Edelstein and Hollywood’s Lynda Obst engage in their annual dissection of the Oscars.


Illustrations by Anooj Khan/Atelier 44  

Oscar Chat, Today:
Lynda and David's response

Oscar Chat, March 2:
David and Lynda's response

Oscar Chat, Feb. 27:
David and Lynda's response

Check back for their next chat on Sunday afternoon, March 5

Dear David,
Posted, Sunday morning, March 5, 2006

Looking for themes on Friday, I spotted tiny food. The hors d’oeuvre at Tom Ford’s and Richard Buckley’s soiree were so small that people must have gone blind making them. At CAA head Bryan Lourd’s, there were grilled-cheese sandwiches with black truffles the size of a Skittle and Kobe beef-on-rye so small it must have come from Bonsai cows. Thank God I’d eaten earlier at the Endeavor party, where caterers hadn’t received the miniature memo.

Bryan’s party had the elegant touches I’ve come to appreciate including a white-camellia wrist corsage, which no one has given me since high school… probably not even then. It was the type of party where you ran into your studio head, your ex-studio head, and every movie star you ever dreamed of. Your eyes, or your body, cannot relax. Mostly people talked about how cold they were. It was 55 degrees. Which presented challenges both sartorial and logistical: stay warm or take off your coat and show your new dress—or shoulders or leggings or cleavage.

I heard Ang Lee was taking pictures, though I missed that, and the mood ranged from jolly to jaded, as in “I can’t believe it’s only mid-party week crush and I’m already exhausted.” And New York had a massive turnout at the parties. Short of the Texas showing for the UT-USC game, I’ve never seen another city so dominant an occupying force here.

The jet set has arrived. Mick Jagger is everywhere, and the gang that was in Milan or Paris or wherever for fashion shows last week has come with Louis Vuitton trunks in tow to go from Tom’s to Bryan’s to Barry and Diane’s to Graydon’s.

But who’s going to win?

The most interesting category is Best Supporting Actor, probably because it’s a bellwether for the night. If by any miracle Jake wins—unlikely unless the night is gayer than we ever imagined in our wildest Focus on Family fantasies—expect a Brokeback sweep. George is the heavy favorite in this category. Ultimately, he will win more for being George, than for his role as a disillusioned CIA officer in Syriana. He’s the definitive movie star, self-deprecating, modern, and classic at the same time, and a throwback: a playboy who loves women. We want our stars Single, with a capital S, the better to fantasize about. We love him for being an intellectual, yet not taking himself too seriously, for being for the little guy yet being so glamorous, for becoming a terrific director in front of our eyes. So let’s end the season of George by declaring him Best Supporting Actor and let someone else be on a magazine cover. And what of the fine performance of Paul Giamatti? Could it be the Academy’s way of recognizing the neglected Cinderella Man? Less surprising, but still a shocker, would be if Matt Dillon pulled it out from behind and became the way Crash was honored. Don’t count on it. If it happens, and this race is early, the whole night is up for grabs.

On the Best Supporting Actress front, this is a duel. People are expecting Rachel Weisz to win as she has all season. She was radiant, the role was a breakthrough for her, and the Award rewards a much admired film, but no one would be shocked if Michelle Williams came from behind and stole it. Her shattering performance of a woman watching her dreams crumble was unforgettable. I loved Catherine Keener’s performance, as did many, but everyone thinks that she is a perennial and will be back with a yet another breakthrough role. She spoils us. This is also true with Frances McDormand.

Best Director belongs to Ang Lee by all accounts. Still, Paul Haggis is a force to be reckoned with, and you could feel the tremors from Crash from the day it opened, with no warning, no studio push, no buzz. That’s two years in a row now for Haggis. Everywhere you went in Los Angeles, people were talking about it. Bennett Miller has burst onto the field—an exciting, fresh voice—and the creative community has taken note, but it’s probably too early for an Oscar. He can now do anything he wants. That’s a lot. George will have already won Best Supporting Actor. And every year is Spielberg’s year. Just not this one.

On to the Ladies Duel: Everyone is expecting Reese to win. She elevated and illuminated an otherwise quite conventional movie, but people saw it, and that’s more than you can say about most of the movies this year, and that very well may be rewarded. Less likely would be a win for well-liked Felicity Huffman for her knock-out performance as a transsexual. It may be one gay person too many this year, or a movie not enough people saw, or just Reese’s year. Money’s on Reese.

The race for Best Actor was Heath’s all the way until the Golden Globes when Philip Seymour Hoffman started to pick up momentum. Then it’s as if Ledger’s gorgeous, understated, Brokeback performance started to feel eclipsed. This is the year’s hardest vote. Heath’s was an exquisitely wrought thing, fully conceived, in a foreign accent: tender and masculine, withholding and romantic. Philip, never an impersonation, felt also built from the ground up. He had the courage to let you see his self-loathing, and then his fall. Both were close to great. No one will be surprised at the victory of either, but it will be more of an upset if Heath wins, momentum wise.

The Best Picture race, David, brings me back to my theme: tiny food=tiny movies=tiny audiences. None of these tiny movies have tiny themes. Whichever film wins won’t be tiny anymore. It will reach further out into the heartland with the soul of its filmmaker than he had ever dreamed, its own American dream, and be seen by more people around the world than its maker could have ever have imagined. That’s true of all the tiny movies. The reason that everyone will be surprised if Brokeback loses despite the run given it by Crash is that Brokeback is the tiny movie that became the big movie already, the ambition of them all.

So we’re in sync, right?

Talk tonight.

Next: David Edelstein on politics and predictions

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