The Oscars

It’s Time, Tarantino’s Natt-zees, and Elliott Smith

Troy, my favorite self-important swine-ass,

Your mastery of Walter Winchell-esque trade-paper lingo makes me feel like a character from Simple Jack who wandered into Sweet Smell of Success. The aspect of the whole Oscar season you so snappily describe is the one I’m most baffled by: the passive-aggressive horse race investigated by Mark Harris in that long New York magazine article. Central to his argument is the notion that academy members (of whom there are more than I realized—nearly 6,000) tend to vote, above all, on the narrative that emerges during the campaign season. Archetypes include The Little Movie That Could (this year, Precious); the Kid With a Future (Anna Kendrick, Carey Mulligan); and, according to Harris, the most foolproof of all, It’s Time (definitely Jeff Bridges, possibly Kathryn Bigelow).

The limitless subterfuges by which marketing campaigns gently guide voters to the conclusion that It’s Time (a conclusion which, of course, they must believe they’ve come to independently) remind me more than anything of Obama’s presidential campaign. Remember how masterfully he flattered the taste of voters, never bragging or begging, but somehow making each one feel they’d independently stumbled upon his awesomeness? I specifically recall the moment in the campaign, around the time of the race speech in Philadelphia, when I gave myself over. And yet a part of me knew that the decision had nothing to do with a referendum on his qualifications. It was just his time.

This may be why the best-actress race is the only one still in dispute: No really powerful narrative has emerged in the category, besides We Still Love Meryl and Hey, This Sandra Bullock Movie Is the Least Objectionable Thing She’s Made in Years. Helen Mirren is certainly not due for an Oscar, and The Last Station is arguably the worst movie up for a prize in any major category. (How—how!—could it not be at least amusing to watch Mirren and Christopher Plummer chomp on the elaborate pre-Revolutionary furniture as Countess and Count Tolstoy? I still don’t get it.) Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe, the two newcomers on the slate, sort of cancel each other out, but I could envision a split-vote scenario in which Gabby—who, as you’ve observed, works a mean talk-show couch—takes it.

Your “ Inglourious Basterdswill win best picture” theory—that the film’s epic scale, and Harvey Weinstein’s artful chicanery, will sneak it past the two favorites—is intriguing, but I’d be willing to bet you a post-Oscar brunch that it won’t. As we discussed when the nominations came out, Quentin Tarantino has been shut out by the academy since his screenplay win for Pulp Fiction—he’s too Postmodern, and too much of an impious smartass, to be a well-liked figure in Hollywood. I also suspect that there are enough Jews offended by the movie’s flip Holocaust revisionism—Brad Pitt as a gentile commander instructing his loyal Semitic underlings to “go out and kill us some Natt-zees”—to toss it out on those grounds alone.

So you want to talk about music? I happen to have strong feelings about this year’s candidates for both best song and best score, and about the sad fact that the individual song perfs (see? I can speak Variety too!) have been dropped from this year’s ceremony. Sure, the song performances can be cheesy and time-hogging, but they occasionally offer up a real jewel. (Remember Elliott Smith in a white suit, all alone and tiny onstage as he sang that beautiful song from Good Will Hunting? It was as if a rare gazelle had escaped from the zoo and wandered into the proceedings.) The songs also make space in the telecast for something it has precious little of: live, on-the-spot theater, a moment in which something unexpected could happen. I would love for Crazy Heart’s “The Weary Kind” to win for best song, and to be performed by Jeff Bridges rather than Ryan Bingham. I know, Bingham wrote it, but we get to hear him perform it on the soundtrack ever after, and we get to see Jeff Bridges in character as Bad Blake only one last time (unless my dream sequel, Even Crazier Heart: Electric Boogaloo, is currently in development).

In the best-score category, my first choice would be Alexandre Desplat for the utterly delightful soundscape behind Fantastic Mr. Fox; I’d also be thrilled to see Michael Giacchino, cinema music’s most skillful shape-shifter, take it for Up. (The most inventive and unpredictable score of the year, Marvin Hamlisch’s for The Informant!, wasn’t even nominated.) As previously discussed, James Horner winning for the Avatar soundtrack is not permissible, and if that happens, I will not be responsible for any damage to my television.

I asked about whom you were wearing Sunday night because—unbeknownst to Slate readers who can admire only the cut of your prose—you’re probably this magazine’s best turned-out dandy. If you could score one of the Tom Ford-designed bathrobes from A Single Man, you’d not only look smashing on the outside but (unlike that movie) have a brain and heart beneath.

Happy viewing. We’ll reconvene early Monday morning to sweep up the sawdust, the tinsel, and any errant clown noses that happen to roll by.


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