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The Pre-Show Game


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

No offense, but I was hoping for more surprises. I’m not disappointed with you—heaven forfend. It’s just that this race has been easier than most to call. (I want to remind New York readers that I got all the major categories right last year except for cinematographer—I went out on a limb and predicted the Academy would throw a bone to The Passion of the Christ and give something to Caleb Deschanel. But those damn Jews!)

So I guess it’s time to be offended, both for New Yorkers (this is New York magazine, after all) and for those who believe that the future of movies is in the indie world.

I was on MSNBC Saturday gassing on about politics and the Oscars—

By the way, I looked like a freak with wild hair (not the lovely make-up woman’s fault—I’m really spoiled by my handlers at CBS Sunday Morning. I only bring this up because if a critic who’s a congenital slob and has never cared one way or the other about dressing up is suddenly obsessed with hair and the right color combinations and getting the camera high enough to lessen the double chin, I can only imagine the psychological toll on, say, an actor or—especially—actress. And what’s with Philip Seymour Hoffman? He’ll wear a tux today, but will he bother to shave?)

Where was I? Perhaps I was too dismissive in our first post of the political angle of this year’s Oscars. “Do the Oscars have a political agenda?” I was asked on MSNBC. Well, that depends if you think that having some some fucking relationship to the real world is a political agenda. It’s clear that this year the movies have finally responded both to 9/11 and a ruling party that is both corrupt and incompetent at every level. Amazing: Hollywood has joined the reality-based community. How novel. If Syriana had been a halfway decent piece of storytelling instead of a mess—an arrogant mess—I might have been in there jumping up and down with the lefty bloggers. Because in the context of the pap we’ve been getting, that and Munich and even the tidy civics lesson Good Night, and Good Luck are an attempt to penetrate the opiate of obfuscation.

So you say “tiny.” Well, so be it. But if tiny means a movie like Capote or Brokeback Mountain can gross four or five times its budget (including prints and advertising) than this tiny thing could really pay off in an entertainment industry taking a hard look at niche marketing.

All the wingnuts, including Michael Medved—one of the only critics ever to be caught on a studio payroll as a “consultant”—have been fulminating about Hollywood really separating itself from the rest of the country this year with its depraved values. They’ve done it now! They’ve dug their graves! No one’s going to pay to see their movies anymore! (Never mind that their hero is at 34% in the polls…) That Jon Stewart—how appropriate to put his face on this godless dreck! On and on, blah blah blah, then it’s off to a fundraiser for Scooter Libby’s (and, down the road, Ralph Reed’s) defense.

Before I give Hollywood too much credit, there were no other candidates, were there? Were they going to nominate King Kong, especially after its stunningly lukewarm box office? (I liked it, mostly, but what an embarrassing showing.) That shallow, leaden Memoirs of a Geisha? War of the Worlds? (I also loved that, but Tom Cruise has his work cut out for him now… At this point, he’ll only win an Oscar if he plays a man breaking free of a dangerous cult… with Brooke Shields as his wife). The schmaltz masterpiece Cinderella Man had Oscar all over it, but Russell Crowe’s assault with a deadly telephone plus that title killed its box office—and a movie like that needs box office for any credibility. (If it had been about a gay boxer, the title might have worked and it might have shut out Brokeback Mountain.)

With Harvey out of the picture for a spell, there were no prestige Oscar-bait pictures except for Brokeback which of course will win because: a) it’s a political movie with characters who are apolitical, b) it’s a movie about sex but the sex is sacred, elemental (Woody Allen said sex is only dirty if you do it right), and c) the actors are not homos, they’re just pretending. (Heath and Jake appear at every turn with their respective distaff lovelies. I’m reminded of the way Ms. Swank was la femme Hilary every time she showed up to promote Boys Don’t Cry, frequently beginning interviews with the moment she passed the script to her studly husband, his face still flushed from torrid sex with her.)

Anyway, Crash is just a bloody awful movie, and the idea that it could win anything is scary. (Well, it will win the traditional consolation prize Original Screenplay award. And I can’t say I’d be unhappy if Matt Dillon was a surprise winner: He had the most ridiculous scenes in the movie and really put them over.)

Michelle Williams? Maybe. Long-suffering wife parts certainly have a history of winning Oscars, and many Hollywood wives will relate to the situation of a woman whose husband is dallying with a beautiful young man. On the other hand, most of those wives don’t vote; their husbands do.

We haven’t talked about the documentary category. I know people think the Penguin picture will win because a) it was pretty darn good and b) it made an unprecedented amount of money for an exalted National Geographic movie. What I think might work against it is that Hollywood knows that the French version featured talking penguins. So the Oscar should really go to the exec who buzzed his/her assistant and said, “Get me Morgan Freeman.” Although Darwin’s Nightmare is the most remarkable of these docs (and why was Grizzly Man passed over?), I have a hunch that Murderball might cross the finish line first. It’s a hell of a good film—and its driven, unpleasant paraplegic central character is a tonic to the usual overcome-one’s-disabilities heroes.

So I guess we’re thinking Brokeback, Ang Lee, P.S. Hoffman, Reese, Clooney, and Weisz, with conceivable spoilers Huffman, Williams, and Giamatti (partially retroactive for Sideways). Dark horse Dillon. Although it is almost irrelevant at this point, I want to add that my favorite film of last year was Munich, that Amy Adams rocked my world…

I’m most looking forward to my hero Robert Altman’s no doubt gracious-but-slightly-sour acceptance speech (he is my favorite living American director) and to Jon Stewart (he is my favorite living host). And, of course, I’m looking forward to the much-hyped New York Magazine party at the Spotted Pig that I’m (reportedly) co-hosting with editor-in-ehief Adam Moss—after which I’m supposed to send you my thoughts on the evening. Which is a real pain, of course, in that I’ll have to curb my drinking, which is the only way I usually get through the Academy Awards…



Previous Chat: David and Lynda on Heath vs. Jack and Brokeback vs. Crash

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