How To Watch the Oscars

Ledger Over Gyllenhaal?
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March 3 2006 11:53 AM

How To Watch the Oscars

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Hi Troy and Bryan,

What will this year be remembered for? To the extent these things are remembered at all, 2006 will have to go down as the year of the big fat gay Oscars. Look at the three Oscar years Bryan can dredge up in memory: the Driving Miss Daisy year, the Schindler's List year, and the Dances With Wolves year. Do you see a theme emerging? If this is the Brokeback Mountain year, and it's hard to believe it won't be (though I could see George Clooney sneaking off with the best director award), it will be because the academy has decided to pat itself on the back for tolerating gays, just as they did in those years with blacks, Jews, and Indians, respectively.

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens
Bryan Curtis is a Slate staff writer. You can e-mail him at curtisb@slate.com.Troy Patterson andDana Stevens are Slate critics. Write Dana at surfergirl@thehighsign.net.
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This is in no way a comment on Brokeback, which seems to me a more serious and successful film than any of those three (I number myself among those who were repulsed by the smug solemnity of Schindler's List). But handing out honors to dramas about underrepresented minorities seems to be Hollywood's too-little, too-late version of affirmative action. Everyone remembers the Halle-Denzel-Sidney Poitier acceptance speeches of 2001, but how many of us are rushing out to rent the DVD of Monster's Ball or Training Day?

I tend to agree that Reese Witherspoon will take the best actress award, if only because of the relative poverty of this year's field. Both Charlize Theron and Felicity Huffman have been too showered with awards these past few years to be credible Oscar bait right now, and Keira Knightley's nomination for Pride & Prejudice feels almost like filler for the category. Dame Judi Dench is sensational, of course, but Mrs. Henderson Presents, a slight, agreeable British comedy that practically no one in this country saw, hardly provides her the role of her career. The best supporting actress lineup features much sharper competition. If it's going to be a year of recognizing small indies, let's start with Amy Adams' glorious performance as a voluble pregnant bride in Junebug, or Catherine Keener's sly, witty rendering of the novelist Harper Lee in Capote.

As for Jon Stewart: Readers of my column know what a fan I am, but when I heard he'd been chosen to host the ceremony, I wondered cringingly whether this might be the beginning of an anti-Stewart backlash. Remember when he refused to be Tucker Carlson's "monkey" on Crossfire? It's hard to imagine a more simian gig than Oscar host; there's a reason they call a tuxedo a "monkey suit." I'm sure he and his writing team, who have taken this week off from The Daily Show, are holed up at the Chateau Marmont coming up with some sharp material. But can Stewart—can anyone—simply dispense with the sentimental, toastmaster-style duties expected of an Oscar host? Is he going to sing one of those joke medleys at the top of the show, in which a pop standard is rewritten with corny lyrics about the year's big films? Can you imagine him, with a straight face, introducing the inevitable old industry dude who comes up to talk about the mission and purpose of the academy?

Finally, one open question to both of you: Why is Heath Ledger's performance in Brokeback Mountain considered a leading role, while Jake Gyllenhaal's is relegated to the status of "supporting"? They share roughly equivalent portions of screen time, and Gyllenhaal certainly has more lines, if only because his character is far chattier than the taciturn Ennis Del Mar. It's hard to imagine one of the two leads being similarly dissed in a love story between a man and a woman. Is this just because the academy wanted to avoid pitting the two men against one another in the best actor category? Or is Gyllenhaal smiting his forehead right now for agreeing to be cast as the bottom to Ledger's top?

For myself, as I sit at home on maternity leave with my 16-day-old baby, I'm glad to be granted even a supporting role in this conversation. I'll look forward to chatting with both of you on Monday morning after the ceremony.

Yours,
Dana

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