Gather Ye Ringwalds

The Hurt Locker Is a Piece of Chamber Music. Inglourious Basterds Is Epic.
All about the Academy Awards.
March 4 2010 3:31 PM

Gather Ye Ringwalds

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"Kudocast" is not a new coinage. After first emerging in the late-'80s, it caught on in the fall of 2001 (around when irony was alleged to have ended) and then really took off during the 2002-03 Oscar Season (when Harvey Weinstein—about whom more in a sec—bulldozed Chicago to a big win). Still, though exasperated by your tenuous grasp on hack jargon, I must applaud your judgment unsarcastically: The word is n.s.g.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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But let us turn to The Hurt Locker's Nicolas Chartier, ankled from the Kodak for dissing the competish in a sorry-for-the-mass-e-mail. Here are my thoughts on l'affaire Chartier: "HA-HA HA-HA HA-HA-HAW!" The man is obviously a novice. His crime is in his failure to be discreet. I always say, You don't sign your name to anything you wouldn't want to see in the Times, exceptions allowed for lipstick love notes on the mirror.

If producers didn't play dirty—and if that filth did not trickle down—show business could not exist. If I remember correctly, Eve Harrington's career turned out OK, and the story of her viciousness went six for 14. And if I'm reading TCM's schedule right, its Sunday-night counter-programming is delicious, vicious, and witty. Pix include The Oscar, in which "an unscrupulous actor fights his way to the top, destroying everyone in his path"; The Big Knife (1955), where "an unscrupulous movie producer blackmails an unhappy star into signing a new contract"; and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), starring Kirk Douglas as an "unscrupulous movie producer [who] uses everyone around him in his climb to the top."

Which brings me to Harvey Weinstein. I don't mean to imply that Harvey is totally unscrupulous. He definitely has some scruples; indeed, I think that's what's in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Such a distinguished topper as he would never refer negatively to a competitor's movie—no, no, no, no, no. He surely never said an unkind word about Saving Private Ryan the year that Shakespeare in Love left it in the dust.

J/K! I love the Weinstein Company's Inglourious Basterds, and when I predict that it will win best picture, I'm not only voting my conscience but betting on Harvey's lack thereof.

His mastery of campaigning—a dark art explored in an essential Mark Harris piece—is complete, and he further happens to be a sympathetic figure at the current moment, with Miramax dead and his new company struggling. He's down, and the academy loves a comeback story. He's an asshole, but he's their asshole. He's produced and/or distributed some good movies along the way. This one is great, and its artistic greatness overlaps with qualities that the academy respects even more: star power, art-house class, boffo BO across foreign markets. Plus, I never bet against a Holocaust movie, which Basterds is, in its New Wave, revenge-flick way.

As good as The Hurt Locker is, it is small—a modest piece of chamber music set to a time-bomb metronome; Basterds, by contrast, is epic. Meanwhile, Avatar doesn't necessarily even need to be a movie. It wouldn't lose any of its force or meaning if it were an art installation or a drug experience or a theme-park attraction. Basterds is in love with film itself.

I don't follow your point regarding the possibility that the academy will honor Bigelow for best director and Cameron for best picture. In saying that this would "feel like a 'Here you go, honey!' head pat," you attribute the possible splitting of prizes to Hollywood's male-chauvinistic streak. Now, there's sexism in that town, sure, don't get me wrong, toots, but it certainly isn't unheard of for top prizes to split. Cast your mind back to Steven Spielberg and Shakespeare in Love. Or Roman Polanski and Chicago

I agree that Sandra Bullock will pick up the hardware—although I doubt that her recent talk-show appearances have helped her cause. She's showed up everywhere from Letterman to Charlie Rose draped in awful dresses and dribbling stilted Stella Adler-isms. Let's just give her the trophy and get it over with.

So, OK, hotshot: Let's see if you live up to the reputation for intellectual rigor that you generally deserve. Among other things, I'd like you to compose some thoughts on music. Neither Jeff Bridges nor any of the other original-song nominees will chirp at the confab. Rather, they're playing some clips, and a DJ named Joel Madden (who must've just doubled his quote for playing Bel Air bat mitvahs) will be on the wheels of steel, one of several elements meant to engage the young whippersnappers in the home audience.

Thank you for asking who—whom?—I'm wearing. I wish I had the coin to sport one of the suits Colin Firth wears in A Single Man, a film styled so high it makes Mad Men look like a subway-platform floor. That's not necessarily a compliment. I always say that when a character is in a position of mortal danger and the viewer can't stop thinking about how beautiful his bathrobe is, the movie's got problems. ( Pickup on South Street is the exception that proves the rule.) Anyway, I'm probably going to put on a Brooks Bros. no-iron shirt, slim-fit Bad Idea jeans, and an air of superiority.

—Troy

P.S. Hey—didn't you tell me that you have a DVD screener of The Secret of Kells? Can I swing by your place later today and pick it up? Or will you be busy working a shift at the Food Coop, where all the mean hippies remind me of Maggie Gyllenhaal's self-righteous snoot in Away We Go—the perf she should have been nominated for?

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