How To Watch the Oscars

Year of the Upset?
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
March 3 2006 12:09 PM

How To Watch the Oscars

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Bryan and Dana:

I'm very excited to get this on and uncommonly delighted to get the Academy Awards over with. A significant percentage of the pleasure I enjoy while watching Sunday's ceremony will accrue to knowing that our long national nightmare is over. Hollywood's awards season often seems interminable, and this year's feels about twice as long as that. Is it because Brokeback Mountain has achieved complete cultural saturation? Because Crash came out 10 months ago? Because there's been not just more coverage, but an unprecedented depth of coverage (Exhibit A: David Carr's superbly obsessive Carpetbagger blog) in a few of those normally august media outlets? And I cannot be the only viewer who's grown a trifle bored with seeing Hoffman (with one hand on a trophy and the other squeezing his furrowed brow, as if he is the prince of Denmark and needs three Tylenol with codeine) and Witherspoon (a cool professional in life, a polar professional at the podium) give their thanks.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson
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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It's precisely this Oscar fatigue that's got me hoping the show will be remembered as the year of the upset. Though I am not foolish enough to bet against Lee or Hoffman or Witherspoon, I am sometimes foolish enough to prefer honest astonishment to hard-earned money. (Also, matched wins by Hoffman and Huffman could make for some good display type.) No way am I foolish enough to bet against George Clooney for best supporting actor, rumors of Paul Giamatti's momentum be damned. Forget about the poundage Clooney packed on for Syriana. Set aside the idea that this statuette would also serve as acknowledgement for making Good Night, and Good Luck. Please remember that, while filming Syriana's torture scene, he injured himself seriously; even the most diligent Oscar strategist would coast on the factoid that his client's spinal column had leaked fluid.

(Speaking of Oscar strategists, Dana, Gyllenhaal is a supporting actor in Brokeback simply because Focus Features says he is. The studio, presumably seeking to maximize its opportunities to win, asked that he be considered a supporting actor in its for-your-consideration ads, and a sufficient segment of the academy played along.)

I like the notion of Jon Stewart as Sunday night's bar mitzvah boy, and the idea that the ceremony will represent a milestone. Stewart has made it to the cover of Newsweek and to the top of the New York Times best-seller list and is still somehow a niche figure. Four of the five best-actor nominees—everyone but Joaquin Phoenix—are also up for the Independent Spirit Award. Wonderfully, the Three 6 Mafia will be gracing the same stage as Dolly Parton. The appearance of Rachel Weisz will inspire a "Her again?" in some living rooms and a "Who the hell?" in many more. All of which is to say that the fragmentation of the masscult is in effect as never before. You want a prediction, Bryan? In 2037, some media studies major will write an undergraduate thesis on the 78th Annual Academy Awards as a tipping point in 21st-century pop culture, a critical text of the iPod era, and she will get a B+. That, and Chronicles of Narnia wins best makeup.

Which still leaves us with the issue of the Oscars in general, and this year's films in particular, being perhaps too liberal and schmancy. To shed some light on the matter, I will undertake a bit of participatory journalism and watch the show at an Oscar party in the sanctum sanctorum of liberal America—the Upper West Side, 10024—to see how things play in that anti-Peoria. Wish me luck.

Yrs,

Troy