The Critic and the Producer

Dear Lynda:
The Oscars are this Sunday, and so—as the nominees jet back and forth to twinkle for Jay, Dave, Oprah, and those enchanting ladies of The View—it’s time to entreat you once more to share your informal exit poll with those of us who aren’t Academy members. Will this definitely be the year of the king and queen? Are Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren locks? Dame Helen, certainly! Who could dethrone Whitaker? O’Toole? Won’t Academy members be too creeped out by Venus, which calls to mind the old-age question more harshly than voters (and their plastic surgeons) are accustomed? Is DiCaprio the dark horse?

Jennifer Hudson: lock. Martin Scorsese: lock (alas). My hunch is that the screenwriter of The Departed is (also, alas) a lock. That leaves only a few major categories in play, first and foremost Best Picture. Will Little Miss Sunshine be the Little Van That Could? I can’t think of another consensus pick. I imagine voters will feel as you did about my own fave, The Queen: best Masterpiece Theatre ever. Does anyone think The Departed is a great movie? Don’t Babel haters (like me) outnumber Babel lovers (like you)? Can Letters From Iwo Jima, a film in Japanese, win Best Picture? Given our ongoing Mideast catastrophe, is it possible that Oscar voters will choose to endorse a sorrowful depiction of war’s absurdity—by an old Republican hawk? (Bipartisanship!)

Re: Supporting Actor. Arkin for his whole career? As for Eddie Murphy, I have the impression that (a) most people find him insufferable and (b) Norbit reminds voters of the kind of swill he has shoveled for the last decade. What do you hear about Jackie Earle Haley? How many child actors reemerge after years of obscurity? Maybe his nuttiness will even help.

Are Oscar campaigns now year-round? There was an article in one of the L.A. magazines on the influence of Oscar bloggers. I read all their prognostications while the opening number of the old musical Zorba! plays in my head: “Life Is What You Do While You’re Waiting to Die.”

Dear David:
If Oscar campaigns feel interminable, I blame it on the New York Times Oscar advertising supplements, prognosticating early and wrong, before most of the movies they touted were even released. The movies I loved came out early, and it was up to the late releases to beat them, and the campaigns had no effect whatsoever. Money spent, money lost. The best-laid plans etc.

As I write, ballots are due in a few days. What that means for Academy members is the usual round of screenings and small fabulous lunches with conversations ranging between Hillary, Helen, Anna Nicole, Lisa Nowak, and Meryl, a weirder combination of female paradigms never before seen in pop culture in one month. We are all on to the harder contests now, the non-locks, the foreign and the technical and the smaller awards, looking for friends or foes or outstanding work that screams for recognition. We are listening to scores on our drives to work, as we fight for signals on our cell phones and green lights in an industry with a dwindling number of movies. So you grab joy where they are offering it for free.

Let’s concentrate on the unlocked races, and there are more of those than you think. Nothing is certain about Best Picture. There are advocates for Sunshine, Babel, Departed, and Queen—but nobody would be surprised or sad if Sunshine won, because everyone loves the saga: It was the great unproduced screenplay for five long years that every studio passed on and that five good producers couldn’t get made, until one finally said, “Screw it, I’ll make it right now, with the cast that we’ve got.” And then got the financing. It wasn’t hard getting The Departed made, if you know what I mean. What hurts Sunshine is being a comedy. Is it grave enough to be a Best Picture? That is the question.

The biggest toss-up is probably Best Supporting Actor, and not only do I not know who the Academy leans toward, I don’t yet know who I will vote for. Little Children must be honored somewhere, and if it loses to The Departed in Adapted Screenplay, maybe Jackie Earle Haley will honor it with this win. Certainly Kate Winslet’s performance was Oscar caliber, but the Academy expects consistent greatness from Winslet and will likely postpone her victory. As with Forest this year, it is the part, not the actor, and that gives the advantage to Hudson for Best Supporting Actress. The dark horse would go to Adriana Barraza for her haunting performance in Babel. If the Academy throws a loop, this is one that would shock but not stun. Okay, maybe it would stun a few.

Now we all must pick through our invites for the multiple soirées with the same divine people, hoping they may change by the time we see them next. Outfits for sure. C’est la vie.

To be continued:
The conversation between Edelstein and Obst, a producer at Paramount, will pick up again on Daily Intelligencer on Thursday, February 22.

The Critic and the Producer