Bonjour, dear Dana—
Knowing your kind, I am confident that you have been skanking your way through Oscar news (read: raw gossip and thumb-sucking speculation) in the month since we got together to discuss the nominations. Nonetheless, before we get down to our predications and predilections, let us take a moment to be sure that we're all on the same Web page regarding continuing developments in the foreplay attendant to Sunday's 81st annual Academy Awards.
• Slumdog Millionaire continues to look like the top dog in the best picture race, having collected prizes from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, to go along with its Golden Globe. Indeed, it has secured every major honor possible in the past month, excepting the key to the City of New York, which went to Capt. C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, and the Westminster Kennel Club's best-in-show honor, which instead went to a Sussex spaniel somewhat resembling Walter Matthau.
• The Slumdog backlash continues its whipping with a violence I find rather reassuring, not to mention appropriate to the Lincoln bicentennial, as it confirms Abe's idea about how often you can fool how many people. Critics and bloggers have gotten their licks in, and the question of whether the filmmakers financially exploited their youngest actors has added an ironic twist. The star of this sideshow has been Harvey Weinstein. (Harvey is of course an executive producer of The Reader, a skilled Oscar campaigner, and an all-around nice guy.) Interviewed by our friends at Entertainment Weekly, he failed to deny rumors that he is responsible for fanning the flames of that underpaying-Third-World-children scandal. "What can I say?" is what Harvey said. "When you're Billy the Kid and people around you die of natural causes, everyone thinks you shot them.'' I have long admired Weinstein's knack for wild-West metaphors, and this was his finest since the time when, preparatory to putting New York Observer reporter Andrew Goldman in a headlock, he softly stated, "It's good that I'm the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town." Why has he not remade High Noon?
• Reality television continues to blow my mind. The Times of India reports that British TV producers are developing Secret Slumdog Millionaire, a spinoff of the philanthropy-minded Secret Millionaire, which itself is something of cross between Oprah's Big Give and Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Though I cannot wait for the panhandling challenges and Fear Factor-style fecal-pool diving competitions, I wonder: If the show were truly in the spirit of the film, wouldn't the winner of this game show have to go on another game show?
• The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke continues to let his freak flag flap all over the country, adding welcome intrigue to the best actor race. It is easy to imagine the academy feeling desperately torn between Rourke and Milk's Sean Penn. In choosing Rourke, it would be scripting a great career-comeback story. Going with Penn, it would honor an esteemed thespian (and, further, an almost-visionary director) for playing someone likeable for a change. I still think that Milk's politics are better than its art, but can Oscar voters tell the difference? And, if so, how do Penn's own politics play into things? The man has all but Lewinskied Castro's cigar.
• Nate Silver, the wunderkind number cruncher of baseball and other American pastimes, continues to captivate the chattering class with his statistical wizardy, forecasting the Oscars for New York magazine. This time, however, I politely decline to buy it. For starters, he believes that Benjamin Button's (very fine) Taraji P. Henson has a 51 percent chance of winning the best supporting actress prize. This is hogwash predicated on a misunderstanding of history. Penélope Cruz, of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, will win. Though generally phobic of Oscar ceremonies himself, VCB director Woody Allen has a special touch when it comes to the little parts of women. Let me rephrase that: Having now directed eight supporting actresses to nominations (Dianne Wiest twice),having directed Mira squeaking Sorvino to an actual win, Woody has a track record that Silver should have noted. I will grant you, however, that I am setting my "journalistic objectivity" aside in considering the matter, as I am so taken with Cruz's singular ethereality that I am presently stalking her and in fact typing this piece while lurking in the bushes outside of a house in Spain, piggybacking on Pedro Almodóvar's WiFi.
• Everyone continues not to talk about Frost/Nixon.
What did I miss? What do you make of Hugh Jackman as a host and the other assorted innovations designed to make this telecast somewhat more sprightly than an endurance test? And what do you make of our dear Chatterbox's notion that the New York Times is wasting the talents of David Carr by pressing him into service as its carpetbagging Oscar ninny. My personal take on newspapers remaking themselves for the digital age is: Hey, whatever works. Besides, the Bagger's more outré antics do rather compensate for the Times' continuing lack of a funnies page. (Thursday Styles and Maureen Dowd don't quite count.)
To be continued,