the oscars

When Are They Going to Award the Believable Behavers?


Workman prepare for the Oscars presentation yesterday.Photo: Getty Images/AFP

As Oscar night approaches, New York film critic David Edelstein and Hollywood producer Lynda Obst rekindle their discussion of the race. There’ll be more later today and through the weekend.

From: David Edelstein

Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2007 2:01 AM

To: Lynda Obst

Subject: RE: Overcoming Obamamania

Dear Lynda:

Actors in biopics clean up at awards time because:

1. What you said: the magnitude of real lives, etc.

2. Biopics are character-driven, which means less emphasis on plot, which means better showcases for actors, who can focus on their “arcs” and epiphanies instead of staring at blue screens and pretending to be awed.

3. They have to transform (usually), so their acting is easier to see and, therefore, to reward. You hear, “What an amazing actor!” more often than, “What a believable behaver!” — although behaving believably onscreen is often the greater feat (which is why Oscar-deprived Kate Winslet might be the best actress of her generation).

I was going to write something like, “I think Joaquin Phoenix didn’t win because you couldn’t see his acting the way you could Philip Seymour Hoffman’s.” Except I loved Hoffman’s Capote. Both performances finally transcended mimicry. Both were miracles of sympathetic imagination. So why do we spend so much time brooding about why one actor is a “loser” and the other a “winner”? Why are we paid to? Why aren’t artists’ achievements valued in and of themselves? The other day I saw a King of the Hill rerun in which poor blobby Bobby tries to escape from the world of competition by growing roses — but Hank finds out and makes him enter a rose-growing competition. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. (Has King of the Hill won an Emmy?)

I’m sorry you miss the Harvey-inspired era of gross Oscar politicking. But if that means you and your Hollywood pals have more time (and David Geffen has more money) to invest in electing the junior senator from Illinois, I couldn’t be happier.

On a lighter note, what do you hear about the foreign-language award? Is Guillermo del Toro’s anti-fascist fairy tale still the strongest contender, or is the anti-totalitarian Stasi melodrama making inroads? Does the anti-racist French-Moroccan-Algerian picture have a shot? Or is the anti-patriarchal Indian movie the one to beat? I haven’t seen After the Wedding, so I don’t know what it’s opposed to, but I’m sure it’s something very bad.

Can you discern any movement in the bewildering Best Picture race?

Along with billions of other people all over the world, I use the presentation of the short subject awards, both live-action and animated, as the time for mixing a new batch of martinis: I haven’t seen the films, I don’t have a dog in the fight, I need more alcohol. But this year, thanks to Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International, I have seen all ten nominees — and I give a full account of the experience today on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.” Here’s a preview: The shorts are, on the whole, surprisingly slick and mainstream. I like the chances of The Danish Poet (lovely) and the one-joke (but what a joke) West Side Story parody featuring Israelis and Palestinians trying to burn down each other’s fast-food emporiums.

Finally: Are you as astonished as I am by the idiocy of this year’s innovation, a backstage Webcam allowing winners to finish their thank-you speeches in the wings — leaving more time for sparkling banter between presenters? Why don’t Oscar producers ever get it through their heads that run-on acceptance speeches by drunken, desperately insecure exhibitionists are where the real magic happens?

Earlier: Oscar Loves Real People (When They’re Interpreted by Famous Actors)

When Are They Going to Award the Believable Behavers?