The Pre-Show Game

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

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

Dear Lynda,
Posted, Thursday, March 2, 2006

I didn’t mean to be so snide in our discussion of the Academy’s artistic standards. Oh, I suppose I did. Look: I don’t consider any of the films nominated for Best Picture to be especially Out There. Although Capote and Munich don’t spoon feed the audience—they throw you some narrative curves—they’re not hard to diagram if you pay attention. The fact that Hollywood regards all five of these decent mainstream efforts as “artsy” and more suitable for Indie Spirit awards strikes me as bizarre. It’s not like anyone voted for The New World!

The reaction to this year’s nominations made me think of a recent interview given by my colleague Charles Taylor, who was foolishly booted from Salon last year: “[Ray] is a perfect example of a film that maybe not 15 years ago, but 20 to 25 years ago, would have been a big hit, and now is almost considered specialty filmmaking,” he said. “What we think of as art films find a way to get made, they find a way to get shown, they may be playing to a small audience, but it really worries me when we have a mainstream audience that doesn’t care for mainstream cinema.”

I think he’s right. In the same way that what used to be considered the political center is now akin to godless Marxism, what used to be considered mainstream narrative filmmaking is now the province of the Indie Spirits.

Which brings me to Robert Altman, a filmmaker who is being honored this year and who has never won an Oscar. True, he styles himself a maverick: He hates Hollywood bullshit, he’s a well-known S.O.B. and an anti-politician, he doesn’t care if you don’t hear every word his characters say, he never spells anything out in his movies, and he avoids glamour close-ups (or any close-ups). He happens to be my favorite living director in the whole wide world, and I hope the Los Angeles audience rises to its feet and cheers him for ten minutes. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is in my top five favorite films, and M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Long Goodbye, California Split, and Gosford Park are up there, too. A healthy mainstream cinema would find a place for Altman; he wouldn’t have to scramble for financing from disparate sources every time out.

Enough of the highbrow stuff. (Actually, I suspect that my critical brethren consider me exceedingly middlebrow, so I’m only a highbrow in this context.) You write intriguingly that the races are duels, Brokeback versus Crash foremost.

Not that I’m such a Brokeback partisan (Munich was my favorite picture last year), but I would be appalled if Crash ended up with the prize (especially after the last Paul Haggis cliché fest, Million Dollar Baby won last year). What do you think? Isn’t Brokeback the perfect consensus film? A gay movie with ostentatiously hetero actors. A lot of art dressing up a very simple story—soap opera, but nourishing soap opera.

I’ve now seen all the foreign films and think Tsotsi will carry the day. As you wrote, Paradise Now is too controversial—although the idea that it glorifies suicide bombers is absurd. The filmmakers clearly deplore the act. All they aim to do is to show us how decent people can be driven to turn themselves into monsters. Anyway, no chance… I rather liked Joyeux Noel for its vision of warring WW I armies staging an impromptu ceasefire on Christmas Eve and being reluctant to go back to shooting one another. I liked the juxtaposition of carnage and honest sentiment. (The central couple—two opera singers—are fairly insipid, though, and the woman is the least convincing dubbed soprano I’ve ever seen.) Don’t Tell is a strange mixture of comedy and buried secret psychodrama; I don’t think it works, but I respected it. No chance. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is an intense melodrama—a series of gripping interrogations—about a young woman who defied the Nazis by passing out flyers condemning Hitler. I have no complaints about it—it’s excellent. But I can’t say it excited me as drama, and it’s probably too austere to be embraced even by Jewish voters.

Which leaves Tsotsi. I have this theory about what wins the foreign-film Academy Award most years. You start with a movie that feels really alien—the average Oscar voter says, “What is this? Where am I? I can’t handle this.” And then gradually, the recognizable Hollywood formula kicks in, so by the end they’re saying, “Who’s the director’s agent?” Tsotsi is set in a South African shantytown and opens with a horrifying murder. The main character has a face that’s unreadable at first—hard and cold, yet with a trace of androgyny that suggests something more complex and unresolved. Well, he steals a car and ends up with a baby and finds the meaning of Christmas, etc. At test screenings there were standing ovations. Oscar bait doesn’t come any more tempting.


Next: Lynda Obst on Oscar competition mini dramas and controversies

Dear David,
Posted, Thursday, March 2, 2006

I think getting tangled up in a conversation with a film critic about what constitutes art is the definition of a losing proposition for a studio movie producer, but suffice it to say that Hollywood is proud of its support of Terry Malick—whose movies have always been financed without interference by his dedicated patrons at various studios. If no one voted for The New World, it’s probably more because of flaws in that particular film—I can name one or two, as perhaps you can—than with its filmmaker, who is treated in his rare appearances like Buddha meets Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The point I was making is that these movies were not made as commerce, and studio movies are. We are in show business as Peter Guber, my first boss, was fond of pointing out, not show show And that is a different job than the one the classics divisions are lucky enough to get to do. When we can do both, that is our bull’s-eye, our Holy Grail. This is what the great filmmakers do: the Hitchcocks, the Wilders, the Spielbergs, Camerons, and Jacksons, et al., at their best.

On the big contests, I am quite interested in some of the sub-fights and controversies, just for their own bitchy selves. Like, what the hell happened at the British Oscars in the Best Supporting Actor category, the one with all the cute boys like George and Jake and, well, Paul Giamatti—he’s not so cute but might win this Sunday. Did Heath really say he thought George should win for that confusing Syriana? (Disclosure: Gaghan made his even-more-confusing directorial debut, Abandon, with me.) What led to this out-of-protocol outburst? Obviously, a vile breakup! Is something cooking between the two hot Best Actor nominees? Only joking, don’t sue. George is the most hetero guy I’ve ever met, and the new gaydar is that if your blind date liked Jake better, ask for a check. All the gay men I know love Jake, not Heath. It’s the girls that love Heath. So there you are.

Now, out of the trash bin, the real big question is, is there a Brokeback backlash brewing? The source could be either hetero men who were unheeded in their lack of enthusiasm for the movie or people who felt a bit bulldozed by the buzz, which has been so brilliantly orchestrated by Focus into box-office dollars, front-running status, and cultural juggernaut. Some think, yes, and most of what I’ve read has claimed that the beneficiary of that backlash would be Crash. Maybe, though I have heard a lot of Capote talk. The other phenomenon that fascinates me is the East Coast–West Coast split on History of Violence and Crash. It seems to me that most East Coasters love H of V and loathe Crash, while most West Coasters loathe H of V (I, for one, thought Viggo was going to murder his entire family from the moment I set eyes on them eating a family meal) and love Crash. Why is this? By and large they are the exact same people with different Zip Codes and dietary habits.

On Hollywood’s view of Altman? I think everyone loves Nashville and McCabe & Mrs. Miller; thinks that Short Cuts was brilliant; and that he had a longer coherent run than most auteurs. But, of course, actors feel differently about auteurs than do producers and studio execs. As you know, this isn’t France, David…



Previously: David and Lynda’s first chat

Dear Lynda,
Posted, Feb. 27th
As a serious critic, I’m a little ashamed to kowtow to the awards-season frenzy that, in the words of my colleague Armond White, has “destroy[ed] film culture” by perennially brushing aside challenging fare in favor of excessively promoted consensus middlebrow beanbags. And yet I hunger for the latest Oscar dish.

But maybe it’s not entirely hypocritical. We’re not pretending this is about artistic merit. We’re just political pundits discussing an election—one in which disproportionately white, affluent, politically liberal, and artistically conservative voters choose the work that they believe will most nobly represent their generally venal industry to the world.

Over the last five years at, you and I have traded e-mails on the occasion of the Academy Awards, and I’m pleased to continue the tradition here at New York. It’s particularly fun to discuss Oscar politics with you, Lynda, because I have absolutely nothing to lose, whereas you, a studio-based producer of such films as The Fisher King, Sleepless in Seattle, Contact, The Siege, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, stand to be excommunicated by production heads and shunned by the big-deal actors you’re courting even as I write this. From your Hollywood perch you know and see far more than I do here in New York. But how much can I get you to spill?

If there is one thing we can expect from this year’s Oscars, it will be a record amount of self-congratulation for the Academy’s daring. The host, Jon Stewart, is TV’s most biting political commentator—sad but true—and the prospect of his getting in some good ones at the administration is already making me giddy! With the exception of Capote, the nominations for Best Picture (Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich) can be seen as, oooh, risky, and Capote makes the cut by being so relentlessly—and uncommercially—critical of its subject (a writer who sells his soul for a great book).

On the subject of daring: For his taut direction of the free-speech civics lesson Good Night, and Good Luck; for co-producing the semi-coherent muckraker Syriana; for giving lip to Bill O’Reilly without coming off like Alec Baldwin; and, most important, for gaining a lot of weight, George Clooney will win a Supporting Actor Oscar. As always, the physical transformation will be a factor in the acting awards. The sleek Clooney made himself look fat and disheveled in Syriana; the fat and disheveled Philip Seymour Hoffman made himself look tiny and sleek in Capote. We know that this year’s Best Actor contest comes down to two brands of homosexual: the loquacious queen versus the Marlboro Man of few words. Any other year, the avowedly hetero Aussie Heath Ledger’s poignant cowboy lockjaw while groping another fella might have been enough of a stunt to put him over. This year, bet the bathhouse on P. Seymour.

I’ve heard it said that the gap has closed between Brokeback Mountain and Crash. Please. There could be no more perfect Oscar vacuumer than Brokeback Mountain. It is a political film, but its characters have no larger political awareness and, hence, cannot get on the nerves of gay-lefty-manifesto-phobic Americans. The movie is about sex (a no-no), but it is hallowed sex—sex set against purple mountains’ majesty, with an aura of the sacred. Larry McMurtry co-wrote the screenplay, lending some classic Western bona fides. Bet the bathhouse here, too: Picture, Director, Screenplay (adapted), Cinematography, Score.

My Supporting Actress favorites, Maria Bello in A History of Violence and (especially) Robin Wright Penn in Nine Lives, were passed over. My other favorite, Amy Adams, wasn’t—but for a difficult (and brilliant) film like Junebug, this is the classic honor-just-to-be-nominated nomination. The Academy goes for political martyrs, no? And so The Constant Gardener’s lovely Rachel Weisz would seem to have an in for perishing so horribly at the behest of a multi-tentacled multinational.

The favorite in the Lead Actress category is Reese Witherspoon, so enchanting in Walk the Line. But I wonder if Felicity Huffman (until now, best known for Desperate Housewives and as the wife of William H. Macy) won’t stage a come-from-behind victory as more voters see Transamerica. It’s one of those performances Hollywood people must love, since Huffman plays a man playing a woman, thus dignifying both gays/transsexuals and actors.

How beloved is the Golden Girl Reese in Hollywood? Given the tone of the nominated films, might there be an anti-glamour backlash? A couple of weeks ago, the peerless Stephen Colbert lauded the gorgeous movie-star couples who give our lives meaning, especially those whose names could be handily combined, i.e., “Brangelina,” “Bennifer 2,” and “Filliam H. Muffman.” Perhaps, with Macy’s frequent co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman likely to pick up an Oscar, this could be a Filliam H. Muffman kind of year.

Next: Lynda Obst takes issue with David’s description of the Academy

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

The Pre-Show Game