What Would Surprise No One

Dear David,

Though I like your versions far better—in fact I liked them more than the party—here goes my recollection of the dread two all-purpose Hollywood party sentences. I only wish we were as funny as you imagine, but here goes the banal reality:

EXEC No. 1: (looking over producer’s shoulder for boldface reality nearby)”You look great.” (Pause, glance). “What are you working on?”PRODUCER No. 1: (returning his non-attention)”You look great too. What are you working on?”

Then no one listens to the answers.

When one captures the attention of an instance of nominated Boldface, the eyes finally settle:

“You look great.” (This is optional for women nominees only.)

 “I adored your performance in X. Of course, I voted for you.”

STAR No.1: (murmurs graciously, looking elsewhere)

“Thank you.”  (And bolts, looking for her yogi/boyfriend, or otherwise appointed keeper.)

I effected this pathetic conversation Friday night with Jim Broadbent, who looked puzzled and said, “In which movie?” For a moment I was in a panic wondering if he could have possibly been nominated twice, but then I told his wife that she looked great and grabbed my drink and headed down the broad lawn to the big tent under the (and over the) stars.

If I answered half of your questions, the Academy Taliban would descend, and my oath of secrecy, sworn with blood, would be broken. But I’ll happily play a game called “What Would Surprise No One.” It lists what upsets would surprise no one and which would surprise everyone, though no one is really expecting a surprise, except maybe Dick Clark.

It Would Surprise No One if Russell (how about first names instead of boldface, because I am not sure how it works) won and either did or didn’t get into fisticuffs. It Would Surprise No One if, in victory, he ran off with his Oscar presenter, no matter who, except maybe Roberto Benigni.

It Would Surprise Many if Denzel wins, though many are rooting for him anyway because of last year (and every year), and others still are ready to pounce with ideology if that turns out to be the upset of the night. They would be wrong. If Denzel should win in an upset, it would be for the astonishing range of his talent and scope of his performances over the past few years and finally as a protest against Russell’s naughtiness. But this won’t happen, because the industry doesn’t care about naughtiness (look at its enabling embrace of Robert Downey Jr.) unless a hate crime is involved. We have a historic soft spot for rebel enfants terribles.

It Would Surprise No One if Jennifer Connelly (who is said to be a sweetie, yes) won, and she is surely the big winner of the season, regardless.

Everyone is very aware also of the eminence this year of the Divine Singleton Miss Zellweger—who I looked for but never spotted Friday night. But Everyone Would Be Surprised if she won, as you pointed out last week in the NYT. Even Oscar-less, this will be remembered as her year, too.

Sissy Spacek—whom I did see sitting alone—is an academy favorite, and those who believe the Motion Picture Old Folks Home is the central voting block of the academy believe (rightly) that the academy will always reward one of its own, and therefore Sissy is a shoo-in. There are so few great parts for women of Sissy’s (don’t start me) age, so It Would Surprise No One if she won, and in an “Up With People” kind of way, Everyone Will Be Glad when Sissy wins.

There is a strong sense that some of the other nominees are the new junior Oscar perennials, who’ll be offered an Oscar part every season, so therefore don’t present a voting emergency: Kate Winslet, for example, is a future Oscar regular if there ever was one; Denzel, certainly, is taken for granted in this way every year; and to a certain extent, this could apply to Jennifer Connelly as well, though her chances are mitigated by the fact that this is her career-defining part, and that is a strong positive factor in her favor.  Her performance itself was a surprise. If Halle Berry wins an upset, it would be in part because of the inverse of this thinking, that there won’t be this kind of dazzling Oscar part for her every year, but oddly, this would be false, as the industry is becoming increasingly colorblind thanks to the colorblind younger generation and these Afro-American mega-talents. I have noted with glee that Halle is up for every role Nicole and Julia are up for this coming year. So Some, but not All, Would Be Surprised by this much-discussed possible upset.

I Wouldn’t Be Totally Surprised if Robert Altman won, though many others would be, and Everybody Would Be Surprised if David Lynch won, though he was there, too, Friday night, politicking ironically. (An upset here is inhibited by the fact that not enough voters understood the movie, and the academy is proudly NOT the Independent Spirit Awards.) I wasn’t sitting with New Zealanders, so for all I know Lord of the Rings could be a favorite upset, but I, for one, Would Be Truly Surprised, as I haven’t met a woman under 30 who liked it, and the academy is certainly too old to appreciate its video game authenticity. It dazzled in technicals and will likely sweep them. It is a commonplace belief that Lord of the Rings got so many nominations for a fantasy piece that it is considered to be (and is) an honor in itself. If it wins, the whisper/shouting campaign against ABeautiful Mind, no matter its author, will have been a success. This would threaten to turn our Oscars into an all-out, down-and-dirty South Carolina primary every year. Soft money and all.

No One Would Be Really Surprised if Ron Howard wins or even if he doesn’t win. On the one hand, this is his year—who are we kidding. On the other, this is one way a Beautiful Mind backlash could play out. The academy is notoriously odd about youngish (under 60) upstart extremely commercial directors—it took them a while to embrace Spielberg and then they embraced him ad nauseam. They have a tendency to not take anyone seriously they don’t fear soon losing to grave illness. No one fears for Altman’s mortality. He appears, in fact, indomitable, and this is part of his appeal. There is an enormous respect for the persistence of his individuality, for the range of his entries, for his never-say-die attitude toward the deadening movie-making machine, for not falling apart in mid-career like so many auteurs. The academy loves this, so No One Would Be Surprised if this upset occurred—or Sort of Surprised, but Happy in that “Up With the Industry” kind of way.

Ron Howard, though beloved, is still not taken completely seriously—or conclusively considered at the pinnacle of a long career—as  Altman is. If Altman upsets Opie, that is why. No One Would Be Surprised, but Everyone (except a few people who work for Universal) Will Be Depressed, if (and when) A Beautiful Mind sweeps. Howard’s is an academy kind of movie, directed to two nominated performances, a nominated screenplay; it’s a lock, if anything is, to win. I keep reading that this year, anything goes. But that seems to have been true in forecasting nominations more than in final balloting. Maybe, as you suggest, we in the industry don’t like this year because so few of our big movies are in the running. But if that’s true, we’re likely to take it back to the mainstream tonight. Talk to you then …