It seems to have stopped pouring for a second, so maybe the Oscar party spirits, which felt wholly dampened yesterday, will reinvigorate. Everyone I spoke to claimed to want to stay home this weekend. Obviously none of them were among the nominees—they would all be in fittings or deciding between competing jewelers. It’s been a pretty pathetic pre-Oscar season, what with the shortened—some would say hysterically so—schedule between the Golden Globes and the nominees rushing hither and thither between the BAFTAs, and the SAG awards, and the Independent Spirits, and the various critics awards. Seeing the same people everywhere, exhaustion sets in.
This year began with our academy jerking away our screeners and taking away our big, juicy campaign events, pooping all our parties and perks. We whined and screamed until our DVDs returned as videotapes. A few measly parties were later given by “friends,” but they were not at all what the pre-season parties used to be. The omnipresent “event planners” seemed entirely absent. People wondered if the academy’s strategy was revenge against Miramax, after the overkill of Gangs of New York of last year. And, if so, was it a good idea? In any case, it made the season kind of a downer.
Or was the academy trying to prevent the Golden Globes from upstaging the more glorious Oscars? If so, it seemed kind of overly defensive and much too enervating for the nominees themselves. I flew across country with the divine Anthony Minghella in the middle of it all, and after a terrific conversation of about an hour, he passed out on me.
Now, on to your juicy questions about the politics of it all. The Oscars have become less political than you might think. Just like in the quiet of the voting booth, after a vociferous struggle, you tend to vote with your heart. That’s why the outcome on Sunday night is often a surprise. But there is one thing I want to say about “glamorously insular Hollywood.” To me, the biggest news about the nominations this year was how, well, non-insular they were. Two foreign-language films were nominated in non-foreign- language categories: City of God, a film I adored, received four nominations; and The Barbarian Invasions, a French-Canadian film that made me laugh and weep out loud, was nominated for best original screenplay *. This was a truly non-provincial moment for the academy. So, perhaps a small moment of appreciation (if not stunned silence) is in order. Now that my compulsory defense of Hollywood is over and done with, we can move on to our usual cockamamie reasoning.
Yes, I do think it is the year of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, though as a card-carrying member of the upper female quadrant, I am not its natural constituency. I think a small aspect of its regard in Hollywood is the accomplishment of the trilogy. I began to hear about how spectacular it was long before it opened, and it wasn’t just buzz. People—and, yes, usually they are of the male gender, though woman are among them—think that it is the greatest technical triumph of the film genre since 2001 and the first Star Wars, using every tool in the movie paint box. People also think Peter Jackson is a genuine genius who can do anything (his early movies count, too), and they don’t just mean taking on Harvey. Plus, his popularity has nothing to do with politics. Nobody knows Jackson; he doesn’t work the town from New Zealand. He is pure, he has invented his own FX and has his own FX house that other filmmakers now use.
The idea that Peter Biskind’s book had any effect on the race is absurd; not only does it wildly overestimate the book’s influence, I believe (though I could be off by a week or so) that the nominations were in by the time the book came out. An Oscar winner’s confluence of factors, as you say, does exist in many seasons—but there was no “lefty humanist factor” this time. This year, the X factor is just plain regard for Jackson’s unique talent. If anything, it’s akin to the regard for James Cameron’s technical/box office achievement with Titanic. And throw in the fact that it’s much harder to blow audiences away these days, post-Matrix, than it was in either Cameron’s, Lucas’, or Kubrick’s day.
The most beloved movie is, I agree, my favorite, Lost in Translation, which will walk away with some Oscars for certain. To me, it reinvented the romantic comedy, and I fear I will never be able to make one again without feeling desperately inadequate. As for the actors, I will hold my guesses for later. When I mingle with the well-dressed cocktail sippers, I can give you a sense of “No One Would Be Surprised If” factor: on the hot Charlize vs. Diane and Sean vs. Bill debates … more fun than my mere opinion … and certainly more interesting than any potential John vs. John matchup. Until then …
Correction, April 14, 2004: An earlier version of this dispatch referred to The Barbarian Invasions as a nominee for the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. It was nominated for best original screenplay. (Return to corrected paragraph.)