How To Watch the Oscars

Oscar Pre-Game
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
March 3 2006 11:25 AM

How To Watch the Oscars

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Troy, Dana:

Welcome to Slate's Oscar pre-game show.Writing in the New York Observer the other day, my friend Tom Scocca suggested that normally august media outlets are slobbering over the Oscars "whether there's anything worth saying or not." I'd like to think of our work here as serving a similarly ignoble purpose. That way, at least, we're not required to treat the ceremony as anything but comedy.

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First question: What, exactly, will this show be remembered for? Going back to childhood, I have distinct memories of the Dances With Wolves Oscars (with that ponderous theme playing endlessly), the Schindler's List Oscars (with Spielberg savoring his redemption), even the Driving Miss Daisy Oscars (this is a little fuzzier, granted). The conventional wisdom holds that this will be the Brokeback MountainOscars, and, as you'll see, I think it's a mortal lock for best picture. But for as much press as it has generated, is Brokeback really a memorable Hollywood institution? It feels more like a Trivial Pursuit answer.

There's a better chance that Sunday night will go down as Jon Stewart's Oscars. I have to admit that I was little bummed when I heard he was picked. Nothing against Stewart, but I like it when the host pokes fun at Hollywood and all its foreignness rather than at politics. (In 2001, host Steve Martin got the tone just right: "Every [viewer at home] is thinking exactly the same thought—that we're all gay.") But for this year's Oscars—the Oscars honoring lefty agitprop like Syriana;the Oscars that will briefly interrupt ABC's continuing coverage of the White House scandals—politics feels about right. And there's something brave about hiring Stewart, the first bona fide political satirist the academy has turned loose in years. "I'm not going to do a monologue," he told CNN the other day. "I have written a speech. Just about the state of the union, the state of world … it lays out my legislative agenda for this year."

If we're offering our predictions, then I'm thinking no sane person would bet against Brokeback (best picture), Ang Lee (best director), Philip Seymour Hoffman (best actor), and Reese Witherspoon (best actress). Brokeback and Lee have the momentum, if not the box office. Hoffmann finally got his leading role. Witherspoon is adorable and a wonderful actress and a mom—Hollywood's version of the trifecta. Dana, I'd like to hear your case for the Brokeback boys, or even Dame Judi Dench, because, heck, what's an awards ceremony without Dame Judi Dench? Alas, I fear there's nothing any of us can do about March of the Penguins in the documentary category.

Finally, I'd like to know what you two make of the annual complaint—heard a bit louder this year—that the Oscars are too rarefied, too liberal, too "Hollywood." On the news yesterday, one of the networks sent a correspondent to a senior citizen's home in Kansas. The correspondents got various old-timers, who looked quite peeved about being interrupted, to look into the camera and say they couldn't give a lick about the Oscars. (If you think about it, it's a twist on what Chris Rock did at last year's ceremony, at a Magic Johnson theater.) In this case, though, I wonder if the oldsters don't have a point. Is anyone going to watch this ceremony? Jon Stewart is a niche performer. The nominated movies are really small-scale; there's no big-ticket middlebrow picture like Titanic or Forrest Gump.I can already envision the 32-point, all-caps Drudge Report headline on Monday decrying the low ratings.

Other things: The red-carpet shows (with or without the Riverses) are so totally over, no? How many laborious Brokeback jokes will we have to endure? And am I the only one not looking forward to Three 6 Mafia's lusty rendition of "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"? Hits too close to home, maybe.

Talk to me, guys, and then we'll meet back here Monday to discuss the aftermath.

Yours,
Bryan

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