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The Scars of Oscars 

Envy and spite will determine Academy Award winners

Wednesday, Jan 24 2007
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THERE’S SO MUCH TO SAY about Tuesday’s 79th Academy Award nods. But first, recognize that to understand this Oscar process, you have to think like a voter. Which means being cruel, quirky and daft. Now let’s begin:

Everything in Hollywood is agenda driven. That’s why, when it comes to its biggest awards, what’s important are the scars, not the Oscars. The negatives, not positives, will decide this year’s Academy Awards. That’s par for the course in Hollywood, where nastiness rules and niceness gets rolled. So, if you want to handicap the Oscars, just figure out who is envied most by the Academy voters and bet that those names probably won’t get called onstage at Kodak Theater.

Take Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima), who scored Best Director and Best Picture noms. He deserves both, and the geriatrics who still make up the majority of Oscar balloters love the guy cuz he’s still got a prostate and balls. But Hollywood is also jealous of him because he’s won too many times. His Best Picture nominee Letters wasn’t anointed by any of the four major guilds (DGA, PGA, SAG and WGA). That hasn’t happened for eons. Give him more Golden Boys and the awards might as well be renamed the Clints (and remade with a big swingin’ dick besides). Problem is, this worshiped and wrinkly auteur won’t retire. So the Academy pries the viewfinder from his liver-spotted hands and picks from younger generations to make that walk to the podium. Yes, Marty Scorsese qualifies, even at age 64. Since he’s never won for Best Director, the envy factor in his case is null and void.

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Following my reasoning, David Geffen’s Dreamgirls was snubbed because Hollywood is jealous of him. So what that the Motown musical led with eight Oscar nominations (three of them for Best Song)? That tally may be a promotional wet dream, but trust me: DreamWorks and Paramount, who’ve been pimping this pic since those disgusting $25 movie tickets during the first 10 days of its theatrical run, are having dry-hump nightmares. Shut out for Best Picture. Shut out for Best Director. Shut out for Best Actor/Actress. Among the big nominations, it made do with only Best Supporting Actor and Actress. There was too much hype and it came too early for this musical to survive even the shortened awards season without the inevitable backlash. So it was bitch-slapped by the Academy’s nominating formula, which gives the advantage to films with a small but passionate following versus films with broad lukewarm support. Clearly, those spiteful Academy members are sending the message to Geffen that no matter how rich and powerful he is, they will deny him what he most desires: to exit the movie industry accompanied by Oscar. Individually, none of the Oscar voters would dare take on David. But there’s safety in numbers, so they figure, what the hell.

Not that Dreamgirls is even in the same league with my own favorite, The Departed. I was floored that this tour de force from a major studio received less nominations than Pan’s Labyrinth from minor Picturehouse. Then I remembered that Warner Bros. is lousy at mounting Oscar campaigns (a huge handicap that only a legend like Clint seems able to overcome). The Industry buzz has been that Dreamgirls wasn’t that good despite the media’s multiple orgasms over it. (Among them, The New York Times’ David Carr, who I said at the time would eat his words for declaring the Oscar season over in November because Dreamgirls would win Best Picture and Best Director.) Geffen is taking the high road and acting all “I don’t care” when you know he really wants to be kicking butt and taking names.

No way the critically heralded United 93 was going to get a Best Picture nomination, because this critics’ short lister had no stars in it, and the elitist Screen Actors Guild members also make up the largest segment of Academy voters. They don’t like it when somebody with a good script makes a great movie with mostly unknown actors. It’s bad for their celebrity biz (that biz, of course, consisting of implausibly padded perks combined with pain-in-the-ass behavior all aimed at needlessly inflating production costs). There was also the content problem: Given this town’s anti-Bush fervor, no one in Hollywood wanted to nominate a drama that could be perceived as even remotely jingoistic. Not when this year’s seven-times nominated Babel was to global sociopolitical-multilingual bleakness what last year’s Crash was to Los Angeles’ sociopolitical-multilingual bleakness. (The Academy’s a sucker for pseudo-profound bleakness of any sort: Witness other Best Picture winners of recent vintage like The English Patient, American Beauty, Million Dollar Baby and even Gladiator.) So the punishment they meted out was to nominate Paul Greengrass for Best Director, which means he will be forced to sit through that interminable broadcast with an outside chance of winning.

As for other Best Picture nominees, while Little Miss Sunshine is the lighthearted darling, Oscar voters always seem to require intellectual heft, however half-baked, in their BP winners, which is why even the most deserving comedies almost never get nominated — like Borat, for example. Letters is lucky just to get noticed, while The Queen is too subtle and too Brit. (Especially since Mexicans have replaced Brits as the new toast of Hollywood. Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo Arriaga and Guillermo del Toro all received screenplay nods, Alejandro González Iñárritu for directing, and Adriana Barraza for supporting actress.) Internet blather is calling this The Year When the Academy Got Sick of Being Told What Its Favorite Movie of the Year Should Be while bitching about how so many films — including Children of Men, Little Children, Volver and even Apocalypto— were as good as if not better than the nominees.

SO WHICH PIC WILL WIN? Hell if I know. It will be decided by PR. Oscar voters don’t want to seem out of touch with the public, which would favor The Departed, but they also pride themselves on not being prisoner to convention, which would favor Babel.

The Best Actress category pits Notes on a Scandal’s too-oft-honored Dame Judi Dench against winless Queen Helen Mirren. Even though Dench’s performance is more multilayered, Mirren wins as the object of least envy. This is the first year since 1927 that none of the Best Picture nominees were represented in the Best Actor category. There’s an outside chance that Leo (Blood Diamond) could score if his role in The Departed is factored in, but the Academy deems him too young and too infamous to win an Oscar — yet. So the contest comes down to sentimental favorite Peter O’Toole and shoo-in Forest Whitaker.

Now, for the dark horse. There’s always a “What the fuck” moment when the Oscar nominations come out, and this year’s was the nod to Ryan Gosling for Best Actor in Half Nelson, a minuscule movie shown in only 106 theaters and grossing just $2.7 mil. (That’s about what fellow nominee Will Smith spends on hair product.) Its plot consists of a schoolteacher with a drug habit and a white-man’s-burden complex finding common ground with a bright but at-risk black student. Does it get more treacly than that? (Nothing about this movie shouted “For your consideration.”) Yet Gosling won the nod over Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Jamie Foxx, Ken Watanabe and, oh yes, Sacha Baron Cohen (who, by the way, inexplicably scored a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. Adapted from what? Apparently, his HBO show.). Turns out ThinkFilm was savvy enough to get that Half Nelson screener out early to voters — the lazy sons of bitches who only screen a couple dozen of the 306 eligible pictures — and then run a smart word-of-mouth campaign about Ryan’s rep as a pretty-boy type more interested in his craft than the covers of US magazine. (Those who’s-he-dating-now features have killed the careers of so many, like Ben Affleck, who should have been nommed for Hollywoodland but wasn’t.) Still, I would not be surprised if Ryan’s father works for the accounting firm that counts the ballots.

For Best Supporting Actress, always the novelty-act category, it’s hard for the Academy to be jealous of four one-hit wonders (a little girl, the two Babel babes that aren’t Cate Blanchett, and an American Idol loser), though they could muster some envy of previous winner Cate Blanchett, who seems to be in everything these days. The voters will want to save Little Miss Abigail Breslin from a Tatum O’Neal–like future of heroin addiction, so it’ll be Jennifer Hudson.

Best Supporting Actor won’t be Eddie Murphy because the town hates him. Not just because he squandered that megadeal he had for eons at Paramount, but also because he crapped on them during it. (This town never forgets that stuff. Two words: Lauren Bacall.) Besides, those Norbit trailers running now will ruin it for him. Mark Wahlberg should get the Oscar for The Departed, but the Academy’s jealous of his upward career trajectory. Alan Arkin has a shot. But the least enviable guy has to be comeback kid (literally) Jackie Earle Haley, not just for his creepy portrayal of a pedophile in Little Children but more for this Bad News Bears child actor’s back story.

With so much Oscar uncertainty, this year’s broadcast may actually reverse the recent trend of declining ratings. Then all the other networks will be jealous of ABC, whose prime time already is enviably strong. And so on, and so on, in the town fueled by the green-eyed monster.

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