Tuning Up


I’m glad you’re doing yoga this a.m.: It’s important to get those toxins out of your system and to get centered. I’ll be taking a long run and consuming a lot of water, in preparation for tonight’s massive drinking.

Are you hinting that Seabiscuit could win something? Lordy. I’m pretty happy with most of the nominations this year, but that one was a stunner. The book is a gripping look at the tortured underside of those old newsreels, but the adaptation was by someone whose principal love is for nostalgic period movie bric-a-brac. (That’s why the best thing in it is William H. Macy’s announcer.) I was stunned it beat out Cold Mountain for a nomination (and I’m not a big fan of Cold Mountain).

Re: Capturing the Friedmans. There is a fascinating piece in Slate right now by Harvey Silverglate and Carl Takei that also criticizes Jarecki, but from the other side. It suggests that Jarecki withheld more damning evidence against the Friedmans’ accusers in the name of a more commercial ambiguity. I know, it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking Ambiguity Sells, but the Friedman saga lent itself to that kind of unsavory speculation, and Jarecki plainly didn’t want to be seen as the author of an anti-prosecutorial tract. I noted this, too, in my original (extremely favorable) review, and added that I found parts of the movie coy and withholding. What’s interesting about all this is that we’re talking about it now. Many of these issues have been raised—by Debbie Nathan in The Village Voice, by me, by others. But when you put it in print in a national newspaper right before the Oscar ballots are due, it’s a Big Story.

One thing we haven’t talked about are the musical nominees—which makes this a good time to mention one of my favorite things about the Oscar season: Andy Trudeau’s tender analyses of the nominated scores on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition. It’s wonderful stuff—and you can hear it all on line at Among this year’s nominations, I found Danny Elfman’s Big Fish music egregiously bad in the context of the film, where it made Tim Burton’s already heavy-handed style even more in-your-face. But Trudeau made me appreciate its internal beauties. He also gave me new respect for the work of Thomas Newman and even (choke) James Horner, my least favorite big-deal film composer after the dread Hans Zimmer. This year, he saves the finest scores for last: Newman’s for Finding Nemo and Howard Shore’s for LOTR: The Return of the King. Trudeau leaves no doubt that Shore’s Lord of the Rings symphony deserves yet another Oscar.

I’d like to see your predictions before I make mine, but I agree that the contest of the night is for Best Actor. What do you think? Will Bill Murray edge out Sean Penn? I’m beginning to think so, but I don’t know what’s in the Academy voters’ hearts the way you do.

Meanwhile, the New York Times two weeks ago ran a comic feature in which a bunch of writers were asked to put themselves in the nominees’ heads and guess what they’d say if they won. I did an acceptance speech for Sean Penn that wasn’t used: I think the editor thought it was too mean, or maybe insufficiently comic, but I liked it—mostly because it’s about 75 percent Penn’s own words, arranged to bring out all the conflicts that will surely be raging on inside him. He’s such an anti-politician, after all. This is what I’d like him to say:

SEAN PENN: I promised my wife I wouldn’t say anything about not believing in these corrupt awards or about the decision of a subintelligent and mendacious political administration to invade the Middle East on false pretenses. So, I won’t. No, I’m happy to get this award: My price will go up and I can move my kids out of the United States of Halliburton—Hey, kids, it’s Daddy… Stay out of that cabinet… [Fumbles to light a cigarette]… I’m taking drugs to stop smoking… I don’t believe in awards. I’m here for Clint. My captain. I can’t believe I tore myself emotionally apart for a Republican. No, the script was a beast and I loved it! [Smokes] This is such an out-of-body experience. My right hand seems to be twitching. You know, if we put a tenth of the energy into worrying about the people of Iraq that we do about who gets this silly award, then we wouldn’t have so much blood on our hands. Thank you.