Best Actress is next, which is a tie. The first winner is, as expected, Streep. The other nominees listen to her speech with smiles of frozen expectancy. The second winner—announced after what seems an eternity—is Sandra Bullock. Carey Mulligan looks slightly crestfallen. Everybody braces themselves to lose, but nobody is really prepared to do so twice in three minutes.
For most of the room, it’s a shocker, and a sleepy race wakes up. You can almost feel it going viral—even though it’s happening on a show no one is watching (and, indeed, a clip of Streep and Bullock fake-insulting each other, then fake–French kissing, is soon on YouTube). Bullock, who has never come anywhere near an Oscar nomination but is riding a wave of big box office and positive press for The Blind Side, is almost as good as Streep at the podium: She gives the kind of emotive, funny, ingratiating speech that makes people say, “Maybe she should win,” just because it seems like fun. All at once, we have a contest—and the most interesting acting face-off of the season, since the excellent narrative behind Streep (namely, There Is No Way on God’s Green Earth That This Woman Should Have Fewer Best Actress Oscars Than Hilary Swank) must now fight off Bullock’s, the much simpler Who’da Thunk It?!
Bullock and Streep walk off arm in arm and head back to the press tent. A roar of approval can be heard from the theater as The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture and Director (the vibe was that Avatar would kick-start its awards momentum here, but no). Bullock does the first press conference as Streep watches; then, looking genuinely stunned, she walks off straight into Streep’s embrace, saying, “Oh, my blood sugar! Okay, now it’s your turn.”
The first question to Streep: “You haven’t won an Oscar for 26 years, and you’ve deserved so many. How does it make you feel to go to these shows?”
“Oh, it makes me feel fantastic,” she says, a microscopic edge to her voice before she explains—convincingly, of course—that it’s actually delightful. She’s asked about what she thinks of Bullock. Streep turns to her. “You have an amazing gift. You really do,” she says. “There are things that look effortless that are the hardest things to do.” I’m close enough to see tears in Bullock’s eyes.
Streep and Bullock, whispering and giggling, are about to leave together when their ultrapowerful CAA agent Kevin Huvane—three-way hug!—arrives, followed by Bigelow. Streep and Bigelow are introduced, and for a moment, you think that if these two women have made it to the center of this race, Hollywood might actually be doing something right.
The Kathryn Bigelow story has turned out to be, in many ways, the apex of Oscar excitement during this relatively quiet season; although she and James Cameron were amicably divorced in 1991 and talk about each other with unfailing respect, there is undeniably a gossip-ravenous appetite for this year’s voting to be coarsened into The Revenge of the Ex-Wife and decided as a kind of California joint-property settlement in which he walks away with the grosses but she gets the statuettes. And Bigelow’s principled refusal to play into this, or to present herself as anything resembling a scorned underdog, only makes people root for her harder.
As she enters to warm applause from the press, Bullock and Streep go into the alley outside the tent to hang out. The show’s over, and in a remarkable only-this-year moment, a trophyless Cameron is heading for the parking lot at the very minute his ex-wife is answering questions in the press room. He spots Bullock and Streep and stops to talk. Handlers quickly signal for photographs. Cameron introduces himself to Streep, saying, “I just thought, you know, we should meet before they take our picture.” And so they do.
During the long wait for limousines, I ask Bigelow if she was surprised at the Best Picture win. The director, a lithe 58, is being treated like a star (and sometimes a starlet) everywhere she goes. After more than 30 years of hard work, she seems touchingly abashed by the tide of goodwill flowing her way. “I don’t ever think that something like this is going to happen,” she says, looking unsure that it actually did.
The Saturday before the Globes offers a fourteen-hour run of parties, all designed to sell the impression that everyone is having a wonderful time, although in reality, this treadmill of clamor and Chardonnay and mini-sliders on silver trays serves primarily to instill in almost everyone the fear that they are somehow failing to do the good for themselves that God and their publicists intended. At a brunch given by the Independent Spirit Awards at a steakhouse, some smaller-scale contenders—from Precious, A Single Man, The Messenger, (500) Days of Summer, A Serious Man—get to mingle with one another and with past winners like Jodie Foster.