Let's Talk Oscars

Floppy, Adorable Puppies
All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 24 2011 11:06 AM

Let's Talk Oscars

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James Franco
Oscar co-host James Franco

Hi, Troy,

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

So how pumped are you for the Oscar ceremony this Sunday night? (Please use this Michelin tire inflation chart to indicate your precise degree of pumpage.) However worked up you may be about the impending revels, I can guarantee that Hollywood itself has you beat. In the final days before the show, as the last votes are sent by express mail or hand-delivered to the academy (where PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants will tally them in an atmosphere of black-ops secrecy), there's always a final extinction burst of entertainingly absurd campaign stories. Remember last year, when that Hurt Locker producer got himself banned from the ceremony for obliquely maligning Avatar in a mass e-mail? Or when Harvey Weinstein was accused of being a "Cold War villain" for his chicanery on behalf of Scorsese's Gangs of New York?

This year, the most fun scandal has to be Melissa Leo's self-financed "Consider" campaign. The normally down-to-earth Leo, already the favorite for best supporting actress for her role in The Fighter, paid out of her own pocket to place splashy glamour shots of herself in major trade magazines, thereby committing the perhaps fatal error of Wanting It Too Much. Leo has since backpedaled, insisting that the publicity blitz was the studio's idea, and that she was just "busting [her] ass trying to get the movie sold and seen … this is what all the girls are doing."

There's a lot going on in this Leo story and the backlash thereto: a glimpse of the actress's personal vanity and hubris, sure, but also an acknowledgement of the grimly incontrovertible fact that younger female performers (the 50-year-old Leo's only real rival for the award, True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld, is 14) have a much better chance at landing the magazine covers and spokesmodel gigs that garner them attention, awards, and future roles to play. Leo may look forlornly needy standing by that swimming pool in her floor-length fur, but a part of me respects that she threw classy discretion to the winds and owned up, Sally Field-style, to her naked desire to be loved.

Prognostication-wise, I don't have much to add to the conventional wisdom. This is not a year when many big categories are in play, though I suppose it's possible that Leo's lock on best supporting actress has been loosened by her self-promotional antics or that Tom Hooper, the director of The King's Speech, will swoop in and deny David Fincher his near-guaranteed win for The Social Network. (Hooper, surprisingly, won the Director's Guild award, which is often a predictor for that category.) Time's Richard Corliss competently runs down the likely winners in all major categories and compares The King's Speech's likely best-picture triumph over The Social Network to How Green Was My Valley's victory over Citizen Kane in 1942: "A widely praised film about a wayward media mogul […] was up against a sentimental, well-wrought family drama set in the U.K. The first movie earned all the respect; the second made people cry." For my money, The Social Network was the more interesting film of the two, but I've resigned myself to the reality that, in A.O. Scott's dead-on formulation, "Hitler + handicap + Shakespeare + $100 million = best picture."

Finally, I'm wondering whether you find this year's whippersnapper hosting duo to be energizing or dreadworthy. ABC has released some mildly funny promotional videos documenting Anne Hathaway's teleprompter training and James Franco's apprenticeship in ballroom dancing. Hathaway has promised in interviews that the hosts' patter won't include any "mean jokes," no doubt in response to Ricky Gervais' snide hosting of the Golden Globes. As the youngest host in Oscar history (Hathaway brags humbly), she's in no position to "[call] anyone out." I'm a fan of both Franco and Hathaway—if any actors their age are capable of pulling off the feat of making this ponderous ceremony less boring, they are. But between the already-established cuteness and the promised niceness … do we really want an Oscars ceremony hosted by two floppy, adorable puppies? Not to mention a ceremony whose planners are trying to increase viewership in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic by placing these two attractive young performers in what's ominously described as "an ever-shifting virtual reality set"?

Franco, in the latest assay of his Wagnerian campaign to turn his life into an all-encompassing work of art, has not only just joined Twitter but announced that he'll show a 12-hour recut version of My Own Private Idaho (which he's cited as one of the films that inspired him to become an actor) at a New York gallery exhibit. Will hosting the Academy Awards, like guesting on General Hospital, be just one more vaguely artful notch in Franco's experience-collecting belt?

And now, Troy, can you take me on a journey through your own private Oscars?

Dana

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