The Oscars Have Jumped the Shark

Dana, Kim:

Let me start by asking Dana to hold on a second: You’re saying that the Oscars aren’t over yet? Does it not seem that Jennifer Hudson has already swanned into Morton’s with the hardware in hand and a hug for Graydon? That E!’s leering “Glam Cam” has already checked out everything with a pulse and a purse—including, grossly, Abigail Breslin? Aren’t you sick of seeing Helen Mirren? I think Helen Mirren is the best thing to happen to film acting since the projector, and yet I’m sick of seeing Helen Mirren. Does anyone else feel that they’ve been inoculated against Oscar fever? For your consideration: The Academy Awards have jumped the shark.

For starters, the awards season is loud, hectic, and numbing, something like a Brett Ratner film. Mirren, Whitaker, and Hudson have been the front-runners since critics starting doling out prizes in December, and each seems to have lapped the rest of the field. They’re all deserving, but where’s the suspense and the fun? There’s no plausible underdog to root for. The buzz has turned into a drone.

Though this year’s race for best picture seems to be more competitive, to follow it even at a distance is to catch a whiff of a rancid pool. Stephen Rodrick’s Los Angeles magazine story about Oscar campaigning in the blog age—it’s in the issue with Helen Mirren on the cover—was so fine it inspired mild nausea. Do you have a favorite passage? Mine’s the one in which Rodrick calls up Jeffrey Wells, the proprietor of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com: “As the phone rang, I glanced at his Web site, which featured a ‘for your consideration’ ad for Little Miss Sunshine. We were both in New York. ‘I’m in Williamsburg, staying at Michael Arndt’s house,’ Wells told me. ‘You know, the screenwriter for Little Miss Sunshine.’ ”

I’m picking Little Miss Sunshine to walk away with the best picture prize. It won at the Producers Guild Awards, and it won the SAG Award for outstanding performance by a cast, and I loved how the Weinstein-caliber ferocity of its campaign came across in a January Entertainment Weekly piece. The essay laments how the new, compressed Oscar-season schedule has limited the opportunities for dark horses to emerge and generally made the whole affair a bit more horrible. “This year, Fox Searchlight has done everything but trademark the color yellow in its attempt to drive the Little Miss Sunshine bus all the way to the Kodak Theatre,” Mark Harris, a former boss of mine, writes. “One of the season’s ripest ironies may be the company’s mammoth effort to secure prizes for a movie that makes such acute fun of the American obsession with winning.” Did you read it? Do you agree? It’s in the issue with Helen Mirren on the cover.

Meanwhile, with the audience for movies more fragmented than ever, the academy is promoting not the ceremony itself but the movie-love that the ceremony is itself supposed to promote. Last night on ABC, Oprah lent her name and her visage to an Oscars special featuring six actors, none of whom are in contention. And you can’t have missed the slew of commercials, print ads, billboards, and such that quote lines from Oscar-nominated movies, as if people need to be reminded of the romance and community of filmgoing, which maybe they do.

Kim, you’re in L.A.: Have you noticed that the bus shelter right in front of the academy’s headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard bears one such ad? And that it features Norma Desmond’s delusional declaration of readiness to Mr. DeMille? Is there an omen in that? Is Oscar a faded idol out of step with the times and off his rocker? If so, what does it mean for all those wonderful people out there in the dark?