The News From Hollywood

Dear David,

I really don’t think testing whether you can push me into some ruinous career-ending faux pas is the only likely cliffhanger in our correspondence this Oscar season; though not a thrilling race by any imagining, there are some contests. Not like last year, when it was a runaway for Lord of the Rings and you could sleep through the whole thing; and no one knew anyone from New Zealand or New Line and the same people got up and thanked the same people over and over and they were all married to each other, and if you were a woman over 30 you hadn’t even seen the movies, 1, 2, or 3.

Last night was the opening night of the big party week (Variety lists 21 corporate- and human-sponsored soirees), and if there were momentous events stirring in the loins of Hollywood, and you were listening to the tom-toms, you would have gleaned two facts, none about the Oscars: the birth of a new studio chief in Brad Grey (note the plug) at Paramount, and the birth of a new Oscar season host team, Tom Ford and Richard Buckley, who in their first year of landing here now own Thursday night.

The truth is, the big races—with the exception of the male actors—are all up for grabs. We may not care about the outcomes, which is a different matter altogether. It’s a big betting night, if not a big rooting night, unless you have a relative in the plush red seats. Which brings us to this online thing, which is fairly new, I think.

It’s interesting, seeing as how all the online prognosticators don’t really understand the academy sensibility. Variety.com thinks it’s an Aviator sweep, as does every other online prog I found. Except something named HSX, which picks MDB (sounds like a brain disease, don’t you think?), and it claims a 78 percent success rate. But the blogs are way too rational. You, David, are much closer, with your heart and brain and anger. As I see it, there are a lot of two-way matchups. Most of the contests are between Aviator and MDB. When there are no clear favorites, sometimes the academy splits its tickets. It reasons: Clint has won, Marty has not; so let MDB win Best Pic and Scorsese finally get his Oscar. Or, conversely, Aviator is a big picture—an Oscar picture—but it’s not Scorsese’s best directorial effort (he should have won for Goodfellas, or Raging Bull, it is always added); and Clint directed perfect performances. So, let’s honor both by splitting the statuettes the other way. That is, of course, unless either film sweeps.

The two favorites are polar opposites, and this affects the temperature of the academy voters when they deliberate. Do they honor bigness or smallness this year? Aviator was born to be Oscar bait, seeped in pre-release buzz, released with huge hype—it was the picture to beat all year. It is about huge, gorgeous, big-budget splendor, even thematically. (If I understand it at all.) MDB is the underdog, in theme and execution. It came out of nowhere, tiny and orphaned, released in the nick of time to even qualify. At its helm is the beloved former mayor of Carmel, spiritual mayor of the academy. At the helm of the other is one of the great masters of the medium. So, what to do?

This is the Talmudic reasoning of a person looking at a ballot on Feb. 11. That or being completely stumped, as many were this year. I know two people who sent in write-ins for Hotel Rwanda, not because it was so great, but as a kind of protest vote. This is what has become of protest here these days.

The gender lens on Sideways was fascinating and under-discussed: It clearly fed a hunger among the critical public for classically unsympathetic heroes who undergo slight character change and get the luminescent, lonely girl in the end. (Ah, the fate of the single woman.) But is it surprising that men liked it more than the average female moviegoer? And let’s face it: MDB is not Rocky lite: euthanasia, eating your tongue, exploitive family—very rough stuff. It’s right to say that if the ratings continue to tumble for the telecast, as is being whined about this week, the tepid response to the nominated movies is certainly one reason. We should have had the temerity to nominate Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion. That would have made for my kind of zeitgeisty night. Bring it on!

As far as the other horse race, the Bening/Swank rematch is a tough call. Usually, academy-think would give the edge to your girl Bening: an elegant and intelligent actress, and the timing is right. But the Disabled Law of Oscars gives an edge to Hilary, who has become an “Oscar actress,” a new category: someone who specializes in snagging Oscar-type roles and killing in them. If you get beat up beyond recognition and require more than six hours of make-up between setups, this is an automatic advantage. Plus—spoiler alert—Hilary dies, and Julia lives. Advantage: Swank. Also, lost in all this, is the astonishing performance of Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake. Haunting, heartbreaking. Nothing more needs to be said on Jamie Foxx, other than he will lose for his gorgeous performance in Collateral. I am really excited to relay to you that I strongly think, as does everyone, that Charlie Kaufman will win for your favorite script of the millennium, Eternal Sunshine, about which you wrote so deeply that I went back and watched it again. I think the stodgy old academy has caught up with him, or caught on to him; and one reason is that one of my favorite actresses, Kate Winslet, whose luminosity is much taken for granted, made his work quite emotionally accessible for the “grown-ups.”

So, Gil Cates has divided above the line—and what fun it will be if it backfires. (This is of course what we really root for, accidents!) I, for one, hope the crew winners take all the time in the world thanking their children. And the academy has further divided the town in its unintended class war. From today on, east and west have been divided: Forget getting west or east of Highland through Monday. The Kodak Theater—conveniently located in the worst traffic intersection in Los Angeles—has divided my home and studio from the rest of upper-crust L.A. The gridlock has certain classist undertones.

Tonight will be dueling agency parties: ICM’s doyenne of Friday night, Ed Limato, dons his Hawaiian shirt and keeps his feet bare as he greets his thousand guests or so—all the nominees and the town’s finest, in their finest. Pity the rain if it dares to fall. His hillside estate off Coldwater has an old Hollywood glamour that makes a classic Oscar setting for this traditional Friday night do. While down the road, CAA’s Bryan Lourd has his movie star-meets-New York cafe society soiree—sleek modern house, late-night sophisticated crowd, new Hollywood glamour. Smaller, more intimate, everywhere you look a bold-face encounter. Very low key, if you know what I mean. Will report tomorrow, if I make it past the Kodak Theater. The big news will be if anyone talks Oscar at all.

Till then,