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The Pre-Show Game


Illustrations by Anooj Khan/Atelier 44  

Dear David,
Ashamed? Ashamed? That hurts. Though I’ve had a couple strong rooting interests—an actor or director in an upcoming picture and an award could mean a green light—partaking in the festivities over the last few years has been largely social and anthropological. I’ve found that writing about it with you for the other coast has been a great way to get my jollies.

I take issue with your description of the Academy. We are admittedly not that radically diverse a group of voters—yes, of course, mostly white and liberal—but I disagree with artistically conservative. Of course, I’d barely heard of five of the movies on your top-ten list this year . . . Yes, we have our Titanic, Lord of the Rings, and Chicago years, but those don’t define the Academy. I would look more to the way we slice and dice our votes and carefully choose among the various actors’ performances to define the Academy’s artistic sensibility. The Academy loves daring and virtuosic performances, and it adores career-making ones. It loves performances that highlight a previously unexplored prejudice or oppression, and has always been partial to the highbrow handicap (or, as in Charlize Theron in Monster, big makeup) movie. It goes without saying that gender-bending is now the height of chic. The Academy has a famously Jewish and aging population (this is because it’s hard to get into but you have to die to get out), but it is determinedly not right-wing Jewish, which is why the Munich nomination didn’t surprise me. Also, King Spielberg had been insulted by the film’s rabid detractors, and his loyal subjects took offense. (On the other hand, a nod for the Palestinian movie Paradise Now would be a little too left wing and un-Jewish.) Finally, the Academy will champion an underdog over a big blockbuster (though it will be accused of doing the opposite) and vote against self-interest in pursuit of what it thinks is the Noble Thing. Movie people seek nobility wherever they can find it—preferably while on vacation with room service.

This is a very odd year. The East Coasters love it because it’s so arty, and the Left Coasters hate it because it’s so arty. Here, it’s considered a year for the “classics” divisions of studios, which exist for prestige, to attract filmmakers, and for the occasional breakthrough hit. On that score, Brokeback Mountain has been the subject of many a wager. As in, “No way this movie will ever do over $40 million, no matter what.” (It’s taken in more than $100 million worldwide.)

“They’re not races at this point so much as duels: the golden girl (Reese) versus the she-man (Felicity), the political martyr (Rachel W.) versus the domestic martyr (Michelle W.).”

It is not a big year for the studios. The huge campaign by Sony for Memoirs of a Geisha backfired, and all the Geisha perfume and merchandising sits in stores collecting dust. Meanwhile, their picked-up-by-accident-from-a-fire-sale-at MGM/UA Capote collects kudos. In many ways, it is the Battle of the Tinies. This is the year the Oscars turned into the Independent Spirit Awards, when no one can really learn or generalize from anything that happens so everyone is sort of depressed and disengaged, because it’s not like they can go back to their studios after the ball and make Capote. They are depressed and disengaged because, of course, they fear their audience is disappearing or their studio head is disappearing or their job is disappearing and they may not be wrong.

One thing I know for certain, no matter how depressed and disengaged everyone is, there is no anti-glamour backlash. Everyone is thinking about clothes, including me. During the parties this week, I will get a better sense of the mood.

Then, before the awards, I’ll do my yearly “Nobody would be surprised if . . . Everybody would be shocked if . . .” list.

You know, of course, that we are not allowed to tell anyone whom we are voting for. But no one stops us at parties from just, you know, sharing. And what I can tell you is that there are more horse races than you think—especially among the actors. Well, they’re not races at this point so much as duels: the golden girl (Reese) versus the she-man (Felicity); the little queen (Hoffman as Capote) versus the gay stud muffin (Heath); the guy who got side(ways)swiped last year (Paul Giamatti) versus the guy who’s also a helluva director (Clooney); the political martyr (Rachel W.) versus the domestic martyr (Michelle W.). Or maybe the duels will mean we’ll split our votes and someone nobody’s expecting will win.

As I write this, the last ballots are being checked off. By the time we are holding martinis, they will be in the mail.

Kiss Kiss,

David Edelstein is New York Magazine's film critic. E-mail him at Lynda Obst is a hollywood producer. Her website is


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