My Dearest Ms. Stevens:
Thank you for your thoughtful questions. Answering them completely will involve a number of fanciful tangents, but I’ll take the first part first, in the manner of Herb Stempel in Quiz Show, which was perhaps the best English-language movie of 1994—and certainly the best one not titled Pulp Fiction, Heavenly Creatures, Hoop Dreams, or Crumb—and which lost best picture to Forrest Gump. The King’s Speech is of course the Forrest Gump of the year of our Lord-Is-This-Over-Yet?, 2010. It’s classy but unthreatening; it says that it has something to say about history; it portrays a triumph over adversity and exercises some kind of restraint in doing so. The filmmakers are on the same page as Tropic Thunder’s Kirk Lazarus: Everybody knows you never go full retard.
So you want to know how “pumped” I am for the Oscars? And you want me to express the answer in terms of tire inflation? If I were a tire—a whitewall on a vintage Citroën, say—then the driver controlling me would be best advised to slow down gradually and pull to the shoulder. The lack of suspense is killing me. Everybody knows that Firth will crinkle and twinkle as he humbly collects his hardware and that Christian Bale—who proved resoundingly charming at the Golden Globes, not for nothing—will do much the same. Everybody knows that Aaron Sorkin will walk-and-talk off with the screenwriting prize for The Social Network. Anyone can predict that at least two acceptance speeches will mention trade unions and that at least one cable news network will accept those speeches as further evidence that Hollywood hates America.
For another thing, I have already bored myself silly arguing with colleagues and frenemies that The Kids Are All Right is merely alright. (Why it is that a movie so manifestly undercooked should be so munificently overpraised? How does the film’s flattering half-lampoon of a certain bobo Los Angeles ethos, local and organic, fit into the equation?) Third on my endless list of petty gripes is the fact that my favorite new anti-starlet—Greta Gerwig, sensational as the love-hate interest in Greenberg—did not get a best actress nod, though Nicole Kidman did, seemingly just because her face, in Rabbit Hole, is marginally less inexpressive than the academy has come to expect.
What I’m saying is, I’m unpumped, and I’ll need some help getting excited about this most special of all psuedo-events. I reach out to you in the manner of a stranded motorist calling Triple-A.
You’ve already helped, just a little, by addressing the matter of Melissa Leo’s ill-considered for-your-consideration ad. (Leo descending?) This is indeed a complex faux pas. With few exceptions—Rin Tin Tin comes to mind—all screen performers are driven by vanity and hubris. The trick, during Oscar season, is to express those traits in the right ways. The social code is Byzantine, and Leo is a creature of both New York and Indieland but not of Byzantium, as this accident proves. You understate the case in referring to the photographs in question as glamour shots. Isn’t part of the problem that they look like the work of Glamour Shots® and could possibly have been shot at the fifth-best mall in Dallas? That hilarious neo-classical natatorium sent me paging through a David Thomson essay titled “20 Things People Like to Forget About Hollywood.” Thing No. 7? ” ‘Hollywood is Chinatown’: Hollywood people must be able to contemplate the flawless water in glasses at Morton’s and in their own lap pools, without imbibing or entering, as ‘a symbol not of affluence but of order, of control over the uncontrollable’ (that’s Joan Didion).” Demonstrating bad form when plunging into her Oscar campaign, Leo executed a symbolic belly flop.
The fact of James Franco co-hosting the ceremony offers another glimmer of hope. I could teach a class on James Franco’s strenuously bizarre performance-art hustle. In fact, I am teaching a class on it. Hoeing a row in the groves of academe this semester, I’ve organized a course in arts journalism around ideas about celebrity identity and conceptual art, lines that intersect somewhere around Franco’s medulla. On the evidence of his Twitter feed—which offers, typically, a portrait of the artist snoozing among a pack of photoshopped kittens—he is one-man response to the title of a classic Clement Greenberg essay, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” Speaking of social media, I have here a press release inviting “fans from around the world to submit questions via Twitter (@TheAcademy)” for possible inclusion in the official preshow. The idea is that all us little people out here can suggest queries for ABC’s hosts to pose to nominees and presenters on the red carpet. I am strongly tempted to send a brief one—”What is art?”—Franco’s way, but I recognize that the consequences are potentially cataclysmic.
Dana, if you could pose one question to one nominee, what would it be? And what are your other thoughts on the circus around the circus? I see that CNN has recruited Camille Grammer, from the Real Housewives franchise, as an Oscar correspondent. Do you have any thoughts on this? Or does it not warrant further thought? And wouldn’t Bethenny have been a brighter choice?
P.S. I’ll be viewing the Oscars at the same viewing party where I always view the Oscars, at a friend’s place on the Upper West Side. It will be a good group, and the fact that Trent Reznor is nominated for his Social Network score will give one of my fellow guests an opening to discuss, for the umpteenth time, his theory that the Nine Inch Nails classic “Closer” marked the end of rock and roll. I am happy to share that theory with you in a coming e-mail, but for now I’ve got to sort through the mess of Oscar-related PR spam clogging my inbox. There’s a publicist who wants me to know about a pair of shoes seen last week at a film festival in Boulder: “Franco may be wearing the same [plug redacted] lace-up oxfords while performing a musical dance number alongside Anne Hathaway!”