Oscar detritus and a mad Academy Award daydream

Waded through many double-page newspaper ads lately? Checked any late-night talk shows? With Academy balloting closing today  it’s last ditch stand time for nominees, who’ve suddenly popped up on every flat surface to remind Academy voters of their existence.

It’s not just the ballots. . .although it IS, of course. But also, all those end-of-the-year movies have just been released on DVD – and, bien sur, Blu-ray – and their reappearance has given their stars a chance for one last chorus of “Hey, big spender, spend some time with me.”

The results have been. . .informative. You might imagine after The Hunger Games and especially her nominated work in Silver Linings Playbook  that Jennifer Lawrence was a peppy thing, but who could have predicted she’d throw in a mention of anal leakage to David Letterman?  Bet you he didn’t.

Helen Hunt’s Letterman moment was calibrated to a nanosecond. She’s gorgeously naked for a good deal of The Sessions, slipping between motel room sheets in her role as a sexual surrogate, so she and Dave kicked that one around to a fare-thee-well. She got to rap him on the knuckles for taking the low (i.e. leering) road with his questions, which only made him. . ummmm, aim lower. Big surprise, huh, Helen?

The really electrifying thing about all their merriment was the name that never once came up: John Hawkes.* He’s the actor in the other half of that bed, Hunt’s un-nominated co-star.  Hawkes’ deeply soulful playing of this wry, shy Berkeley writer and (partial) iron lung patient, anchors The Sessions and gives the film its greatest depths.

A great many people were in disbelief over Hawkes’ omission on nomination morning. White hot fury just about covers the mood around here: “What is this nonsense? Would they nominate Thelma and not Louise?  Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain and not Jake Gyllenhaal? ”

Wildness got the better of me. Helen Hunt already has one Oscar (won the very hard way, opposite Jack Nicholson.) Suddenly, I could see the steps she should take, that very morning, that would endear her forever to every actor living.   In full, impassioned Vanessa Redgrave octaves, she should say,

“I’m sorry, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I cannot accept this honor. This was a duet, not a solo; without equal recognition for my fellow actor John Hawkes, my nomination is a travesty and a shameful artistic miscarriage.”

(“Sounding brass and tinkling cymbals” may have been in there, too.)

I called my Oscar savant, Chuck Wilson (www.flickers.typepad.com) with this stunning idea. He knows the why of such outrages, based on a lifetime study of runes and press releases.

“Not a chance in the world, “ he said, instantly.  “No actress would ever. . . Besides, Sheila, he doesn’t have a moment.“

“A moment!?! He has the whole bloody movie!!!!”

“Remember her sitting, alone, in her car? She breaks down. We see his effect on her. She fights for control.  She has a moment.  He doesn’t have a moment.


You live, You learn.  From your betters.

And yes, I did see Emmanuelle Riva and her equally un-nominated costar, Jean-Louis Trintignant, in lockstep throughout Amour.  What can I say.  They’re French. It would simply never come up.

Well, in less than a week, the air will be filled with the sound of snapping Spanx; limos will gum up the Hollywood streets, and a great many far-too overdressed folks will mill about, exposing too much make-up to too much sunlight, until they’re finally allowed into the rarified gloom of the Kodak. . . .Oops! dead technology, , , DOLBY Theatre.

I don’t mean the actors. Unless they’re Meryl Streep, all that hair-and-make-up stuff is what they live for. I’m talking about the comfortable wives of nominated Sound Mixers, the tetchy girlfriends of nominated Screenwriters, the put-upon wives of nominated Editors.  This is their sweetheart’s moment and these partners have gotten all dressed and made-up to meet the challenge full on. . . And???

The assembled yobs of TV all but stub out their cigarettes on these best beloveds, as they speed off to exchange a sound bite or two with the Youngest Nominee ever. Or the Oldest.

I was one of those hangers-on myself, when I was about 10.  I knew that my upstanding screenwriter-mother meant it as a treat, and that dressing up meant you wore white socks and black patent leather Mary Janes.  In those unenlightened days, they let photographers into the auditorium, pre-show, and what I clearly remember is one of them, expertly canvassing one row after another, including ours, before telling his assistant, “Nope. Nobody.”  I remember patting my hands and arms, thinking, “Noooooooo, there’s somebody here. I can feel her.”  Hah! Shows you what I knew.

The most deft reporting I’ve seen on this 85th Oscar extravaganza came from the estimable Doree Lewak at the NY Post. In a moment of deadpan inspiration, she tracked down lifelong Academy members Rita Gam and Arlene Dahl, collecting their opinions about the show, its hosts, past and present, the cost of keeping one’s ballot, and a few picks for Best Picture – and a Best Director.  For balance, she also interviewed screenwriter Walter Bernstein, now 93 and holding his own in a more recognizable universe. (Personally, I’d say who needs balance, but that’s just my mean streak.)      

*Yes.  Helen Hunt did mention John Hawkes in the most appreciative terms when she was on Leno. She just didn’t say anything that could have suggested that the Academy, you know, blew it.

6 thoughts on “Oscar detritus and a mad Academy Award daydream

  1. Pingback: Oscar detritus and a mad Academy Award daydream - Parallax View | Parallax View

  2. Thanks for the link to the Post piece, Sheila. I am reminded of reading an Oscartime interview with the cognitively challenged Ann Miller, perhaps in the Village Voice, about thirty years ago. She allowed as how she too often hadn’t got around to, you know, seeing any movies, and yet she felt honorbound to vote: “It means a lot to the kids.”

  3. Plus, now that John Hawkes hasn’t been nominated, I can approach him about being in my next film, something that would have been that much tougher had he been recognized by the Academy for his incredible work. You see, SOMETHING good comes out of their oversight! 🙂

  4. Thanks again for another lovely, no bullshit write-up, Sheila. Always appreciated. I have a love/hate relationship with the Oscars (welcome to the club). There’s the love, which is what the Oscars meant to me as a kid before I knew better, and those fleeting moments when someone down-to-earth and articulate is actually allowed to speak. The hate is the travesty of a show that consistently second-guesses its audience and still manages to treat cinema as if it were more about the popcorn and the networking than any semblance of an art form. Yes, I have a fantasy scenario of the Oscars where film is taken seriously, where it’s more about the speeches than the clothes, the commercials and the incessantly insulting dance numbers (sorry, Hugh Jackman, drop the top hat and cane, this isn’t the Tony’s). And I will never get over the annual celebration of nominating the bejeezus out of an average film in an attempt to convince the world that it’s actually brilliant and insightful; a reflection of humanity at its deepest and most introspective. All the while films that actually risk contempt and accusations of pretentiousness as they cross that line are nowhere to be found among the nominations. With the occasional exception, of course. Each year I swear I’m not going to watch and each year I give in partly as a slave to tradition and partly out of hope that I might see some trace, some hint of change for the better; of a fresh and new beginning. But the Hollywood machine is currently in a slump of mega-proprtions in terms of quality (just ask Steven Soderbergh) and the Oscars have always been more about Hollywood than cinema. But who knows, maybe this year– Oh, never mind.

  5. yes, sheila, it was downright criminal but, as i’m sure you also suspect, his nomination would have fallen into the gutter, stepped over by ddl, the male meryl streep; not that i’m complaining mind you. both are wonderful but just once it would be wonderful to visit success on a small, subtle, internal journey.

    see you sunday in all my finery!

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