I admit that I'm a total hypocrite when it comes to awards shows. There's a big part of me that bemoans the insanity of pitting people against each other in the most arbitrary of ways and then pretending that the nominations and awards actually mean something. My wife always wants to watch every awards show on TV, but my running commentary is usually so annoying that we rarely make it past the first commercial break. Of course, the minute someone we know is nominated for an award I undergo an immediate conversion and start rooting for them with more enthusiasm than a Laker Girl. My brother-in-law Jeff was nominated for two Grammys last year and when his band Wilco won both of them I was so excited you'd have thought I'd just been given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Suddenly I loved the Grammys even though I had barely heard of most of the nominees. Wasn't Norah Jones the actress from that last James Bond film? Weren't Alicia Keys and Kanye West the name of those Florida counties that had their butterfly ballots impounded?
Some awards shows beg for ridicule. Does anyone really take the Golden Globes seriously? Who are these members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who vote on the awards? Do I really care what some film reviewer from Kirkutsk thinks of Brokeback Mountain? Hey, I'm still recovering from the Pia Zadora scandal. Some of the newer awards shows take themselves so seriously I can barely make it through the first few minutes. Could you believe the pomposity of the opening of the SAG Awards the other night? Were those poor actors forced to say those lines by overeager publicists? "My name is James Denton...and I'M AN ACTOR." And whose idea was it to name the actual SAG Award an "Actor?" Gag me. When they said "...and the Actor goes to Philip Seymour Hoffman" I thought they were sending him home with Heath Ledger. By the way, have you ever seen a more hideous award statue? It looks like something that might have burst out of Sigourney Weaver's chest in one of the Alien movies.
But the Oscars...ah, the Oscars! So rich in history, so full of intrigue. I try to remain blasé about this granddaddy of awards shows but I get swept away every year. I try to remember that these awards are no different than any of the others. They are not handed down by Divine Decree but are chosen by a bunch of folks who sometimes see less of the films in question than the Icelandic critics voting for the Golden Globes. We know several Academy voters and while some of them take their responsibilities very seriously, others make snap emotional decisions twenty seconds before they have to mail in their ballots.
Yesterday I was visiting a family friend whose husband won an Oscar for Best Art Direction 40 years ago for the cult classic "Fantastic Voyage" (remember Raquel Welch being miniaturized and implanted in a human body?). I couldn't put the Oscar down, cradling and caressing it like it was one of those Romanian orphans with that syndrome you get when you're not held enough as an infant. Another friend of ours in New York has an Oscar and my obsession with it during a visit last year was so embarrassing he practically had to file a restraining order. Fine, I admit it--I'm smitten with the Oscars. Touching one of those beautifully designed statues makes me feel a connection to my favorite stars from Spencer Tracy to Bette Davis to Clark Gable to Katharine Hepburn. I can relive memorable moments from the awards shows such as Greer Garson droning on and on in her acceptance speech (it was less than six minutes long, not the 20 minutes many people claim), Hattie McDaniels, the first black Oscar winner, reading the studio-written speech in which she expresses her desire to "be a credit to my race," George C. Scott's refusal of the award, Marlon Brando's Native American emissary Sacheen Littlefeather refusing his, Marlee Matlin and Louise Fletcher giving their speeches in sign language, Ingrid Bergman handing over her award to another actress in her category she felt was more worthy, and so many other moments.
The nominees for this year's Oscars were announced at 5:30 this morning. In the spirit of armchair Oscar enthusiasts everywhere, here are my early predictions:
Best Supporting Actor: One of my favorite hobbies is to form opinions about performances I haven't seen and this category gives me a lot of practice since I have yet to witness William Hurt in A History of Violence,, George Clooney in Syriana, or Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man. I think all three of those actors are excellent and Hurt and Clooney are probably the sentimental favorites. Matt Dillon was superb in Crash, a film whose impact on me has deepened with the passing of time. I thought he should have been nominated for Drugstore Cowboy and To Die For and I'd be very happy to see him take home the prize. (Isn't that what the Oscars are all about--making up for past slights such as giving one to Elizabeth Taylor for the trashy Butterfield 8 because she had nearly died that year and hadn't won for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?) If I didn't know better, I'd blame the Academy for putting Jake Gyllenhaal in this category for Brokeback Mountain instead of in the Best Actor category where he belongs. But I know it's not the Academy but the studios who decide which category they will submit their actors for and this was obviously a calculated move to get Gyllenhaal nominated for his fine performance and not overlooked in favor of Heath Ledger. Given the buzz surrounding Brokeback, I predict this ploy will work and that young Jake will go home with the statue.
Best Supporting Actress: In this category I'm guilty of not yet seeing the always superb Frances McDormand in North Country, or the talented Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener but I don't think it's their year. I was delighted to see Amy Adams nominated for her heartwarming performance in Junebug but I doubt enough Academy voters even saw this low-budget film. I was riveted by Catherine Keener's portrayal of author Harper Lee in Capote and it's always a Oscar attention-getter for beautiful women to don unattractive prosthetics, but my gut says that Michelle Williams' sad portrayal as Heath Ledger's wife in Brokeback Mountain will bring her the coveted statue and immediately hurl her into A-list territory. Middle America will breathe a little easier when they see that she and Heath Ledger are really together after all (they just had a baby girl) and he's not actually running around with any of the Best Supporting Actor nominees.
Best Actor: What a tough category this year. The only performance I haven't seen was Terence Howard in Hustle & Flow. David Strathairn was a pitch-perfect Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck and I'm thrilled he was nominated but I don't think the film is a favorite among the voters. My hands-down choice would be for Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line, I thought his portrayal of Johnny Cash was extraordinary especially since he didn't even know how to sing before he began filming. I think it's a possibility that Phoenix could pull off a much deserved win, but I'm not holding my breath. I think it comes down to a race between people who want to honor Heath Ledger's work in Brokeback Mountain and Philip Seymour Hoffman's incredible channeling of Capote. In what could be the closest race since the 2000 presidential election (okay, people, it wasn't that close, we all know Al Gore won), I believe Hoffman will win it by a nose.
Best Actress: Very tough to call. Sorry, Charlize, I didn't see North Country. I'm sure you were good, if not as physically transformed as you were in the riveting Monster. But you already have your Oscar, give someone else a chance. I'd give Judi Dench an Oscar for selling popcorn at the concession stand, she is always such a thrill to watch. I loved her in Mrs. Henderson Presents even though I thought the movie could be better. But the Dame ain't gonna win. I've been a fan of 21-year-old Keira Knightley's for a while now and I enjoyed her fresh interpretation of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice but I admit I was a bit surprised that the Academy gave her the nomination. I was bowled over by Reese Witherspoon's performance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line and I would jump for joy if she got the Oscar. I'm thrilled to see her finally given a role as juicy as the one she had in Election (she should have won an Oscar for that). But despite my cheers for Reese, am I crazy to think that Felicity Huffman might pull a major upset and win for her risky and poignant performance as a transsexual in Transamerica, a much smaller film that I'm sure most of America has not yet seen? Well, she just won the Golden Globe and a slew of other awards, maybe it's not such a long shot!
Best Director: George Clooney is nominated for three Oscars this year for two different films and he may just get it for Good Night and Good Luck to make up for the Academy's blowing off that film the rest of the evening. I think Paul Haggis winning for Crash would be well deserved but I don't see Bennett Miller getting it for the critically acclaimed Capote. He's not even 40 yet and this was his first feature film. Gotta pay your dues, man. Steven Spielberg has certainly paid his dues, God knows, but he's already won two Best Director Oscars and I have a feeling most Academy voters didn't even like Munich that much but only voted for it because they felt that had to. I really think it's Ang Lee's year and that he'll win for Brokeback Mountain. For a man who's only made a handful of English-language films, he has a very high profile and I believe that many folks in the Academy want to see a mini-Brokeback sweep, if for no other reason than to make the right-wing fundamentalists collapse in apoplexy.
Best Picture: No matter how wrapped up I get in the Oscars, I really do hate the concept of these awards, especially when I look at the list of the five films nominated for Best Picture and start thinking of the dozens of exquisite films that were left out in the cold. It's not that I don't think all the nominated films are worthy. I've seen and enjoyed all of them: Good Night and Good Luck, Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Capote, and Crash. My personal choice would be Crash but my gut says that Brokeback Mountain will emerge the winner on March 5th and that on March 6th that lunatic Larry Miller will rescind his order to ban the film in his Utah theatres.
Sorry to ignore the writing and other awards but I think that's enough from me for now. I'll be watching every minute of the awards, God help me. Is it too much to ask for a little humor that is not focused on the knockers of beautiful actresses (remember Chris Rock's tasteless introduction of Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek last year and Adam Sandler's awful jokes about Catherine Zeta-Jones)? My 11-year-old daughter is a budding actress. I'm sure that if she's ever nominated for an Oscar, I'll cast whatever cynicism I have about the awards aside and follow the ceremony with the same reverence as the Bishops responding to the Second Vatican. If Leah were to win the Oscar, I'd make Paul Sorvino, the weeping papa of 1996 winner Mira Sorvino, seem like a poker-faced automaton. Of course if Leah were to lose it would just prove that the Oscars are a total sham.