The Critic and the Producer

Photo: From left, courtesy of Eric Lee/Fox; Think Film; Neil Davidson/Film Four/DNA Films; David James/Dreamworks; Barry Wetcher/Twentieth Century Fox; and Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

This (highly abbreviated) e-mail exchange between New York’s film critic and one of Paramount’s highest-profile producers took place on January 23, beginning right after the Oscars nominations were announced. For the full conversation, click here.

From: David Edelstein [9:28 A.M.]

Unbelievable! Incredible! Astonishing! The absolute shoo-in, Dreamgirls, has been dealt a devastating blow. Nothing for Best Picture, nothing for Best Director—not even that consolation nom, Adapted Screenplay! I thought Dreamgirls was thoroughly mediocre (with one song, “Family,” among the most eardrum-lacerating things I’ve ever heard), but the dis is stunning. Did anyone see this coming?

If your studio [Paramount] is in an uproar over Dreamgirls, there is good news for Babel, another film I disliked for its over-the-top and unearned emotional cruelty. No nom for Brad Pitt, deglamorized and making a George Clooney–esque Oscar run. But the two supporting-actress noms are something—shutting out poor, dear Catherine O’Hara in For Your Consideration. (It’s Jennifer Hudson’s prize, though, isn’t it?)

From: Lynda Obst [12:48 P.M.]

Amazing, isn’t it, when the Academy defies the odds and seems to say something controversial? But remember, we voted before the Golden Globes (not that the Academy would have been influenced by those 92 voters). Dreamgirls’ buzz came about because of America’s hunger for a true musical—and the expertise of the DreamWorks publicity department (best in the biz). But those factors don’t heavily influence Academy voters.

Little Miss Sunshine may be the industry underdog favorite. Why does the industry love it? Maybe because we are one big dysfunctional family. Or maybe it’s because we’re all individually nutty, and our real families are cuckoo. All I know is that it is NOT because it’s the only movie we can agree on. (What does that mean, anyway? We certainly didn’t all agree on Crash, and it won!) I agree that it is delightful and right that Leo should be nominated for Blood Diamond. His accent was so perfect, I was reminded of Meryl doing Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa. And yet it’s Forest’s year, I think. The range in his performance was operatic.

From: David Edelstein [2:11 P.M.]

I didn’t expect Meryl would be such a strong Best Actress candidate for a very witty but very minimalist performance in a supporting role in a lame movie. (I know it’s your genre, but …)

As for Whitaker: You said the “range in his performance was operatic.” Did you mean “the rage”? Because rage is the only thing that has been missing from his work. Now, it seems, he can do anything. (Me, I’m a Ryan Gosling partisan. But that’s an honor-to-be-nominated nomination.)

We haven’t talked docs. Is Al Gore a lock, in this election anyway? (I love all the films in this category.) We still have much to talk about—the overpraised Volver, or how Cars won a Golden Globe when Happy Feet and Monster House are so much cooler. But let’s save something for Oscar week.

And will starlets dare to wear diamonds this year?

From: Lynda Obst [4:10 P.M.]

Doc-wise, I do think Al is a lock, if for no other reason than most everyone has seen it and it’s such a hassle to see the other documentaries. Let’s face it—the Zeitgeist determines the doc, and the Zeitgeist is with him.

What is there to say about Meryl that hasn’t been said? The Devil Wears Prada was beloved because Meryl played a fully realized human being, not a monster. Her performance delivers the entire cacophony of female ambition and its life costs: She is brassy, bossy, mellifluous, and polished, and her private life plays out in the minor key. Helen and Meryl are neck and neck.

Babel: An Oscar picture for sure. But one with a problem—half the serious moviegoing audience refuses to see it. It’s just too grim. Many people find it didactic and contrived, but that’s the filmmaker’s intent.

As for diamonds—you know they’re all freebies. And my guess is yes, you will be seeing actresses with them on. Do you see E! Entertainment grilling people on the red carpet? Imagine Vanessa Minnillo demanding to know whether Cameron Diaz is wearing conflict-free diamonds. “Chanel,” she’d answer.

To be continued: Read Daily Intel’s Oscar coverage during the week of February 19, as the Oscars approach, for Edelstein and Obst’s final word on awards buzz.

The Critic and the Producer