By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
I was in a film noir blah. There I sat once again, alone at my desk in the dim basement. It was Oscar picking time, that annual humbling when the critic is muscled into shedding all pretense of dignity and assumes the role of common handicapper. The Yanks were in the Florida sun, readying for the show. Me? I was making like a gambler, hoping to be a lucky so and so.
So I didn’t get all out of whack when the Ameche rang. Maybe it was the voice of reason. Anything to put off the inevitable. When he spoke, I figured him for a gumshoe, only with more stripes. “Mr. Goldberger? Michael Goldberger, film critic?”
“Yes that’s me, what’s it to yuh, chief?”
“We’re going to put you through, Mr. Goldberger, as soon as we secure the lines.”
Huh? Secure lines? What? Some buzzing followed, and then it sounded like the high class bull said, “…go ahead, Mr. President.”
Yipes! The voice was unmistakable. I responded, “If it’s about that library book…I’ve been meaning to return it.”
He laughed. “I hear you’re having a problem with your Oscar picks. Can I lend a hand?”
“Yeah, but I’m afraid it’s a lost cause. More to the point, do you have the time?”
“Well, if you remember Jefferson Smith quoting his martyred Dad in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ the lost causes are the ones most worth fighting for, right? Insofar as the time, haven’t you heard? I’m supposed to be able to do everything, and right away, too.”
“Hmm, I guess saving the financial system from total collapse isn’t enough accomplishment for one’s first year in office, huh?”
“Well, even real good folks tend to have short memories, except maybe when it comes to what team won what championship in what year. Take your picks last year. Didn’t you get most of ‘em right? Anyone remember that?”
I pondered the faded glory. He continued, “So don’t worry. Get them all wrong this go-round and it’ll be yesterday’s news quicker than you can say loyal opposition. It’ll be on to the next complaint. Take heart. At least you don’t have to convince your readers that everyone in a civilized society should be entitled to health care. So let’s start with Original Song. Where are you leaning, besides to the left?”
“I’m thinking members of the Academy will cast a vote for Randy Newman’s ‘Down in New Orleans’ from ‘The Princess and the Frog’ as a nod of empathy for the title city’s continuing plight, similar to the support the Saints garnered prior to the Super Bowl.”
“Hmm, don’t mind me, but you’re sounding like a politician. OK. Go for it. What’s next in the Big 7? Best Supporting Actress?”
“Yep, this is the one I traditionally get wrong. What’s your take?
“It’ll be Mo’Nique for ‘Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.’ The film is up for Best Picture, Best Direction, etc., and while none of that’s happening, they can’t turn their backs on this portrayal. Now, who do you like for Best Supporting Actor?”
“I figure Christoph Waltz as the Nazi Colonel in ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a shoo-in. He’s the perfect villain. There’s nothing like a Nazi adversary to give you the chills. What do you think?”
“Ahem, uh, no comment. But see, we’re getting there. It’s easy, like convincing Wall Street of its social obligation. What’s the smart money say for Best Actress? Tough one, huh?
“Indeed, La Streep was great in ‘Julie & Julia.’ But you can say that about a Streep performance practically every year. Whereas Sandra Bullock reaches what I think is the absolute top of her game in ‘The Blind Side.’ This is the girl next door’s best shot. It’s probably now or never. Guess I’m leading with my chin.”
“In other words, sometimes you just have to skip what’s popular or easy and pursue the course you feel is right. I think I get the idea. Well then, on to Best Actor.”
“Similar situation, but not as much of a stretch. After being a bridesmaid so many times, Jeff Bridges will finally get his Oscar. Young Jeremy Renner was aces in ‘The Hurt Locker,’ but he’ll have his chances down the line. Sure, the Academy will anoint Bridges for his performance in ‘Crazy Heart,’ but it’ll really be for his entire body of work.”
“Best Director? Best Picture?”
“I’m going against the odds on this one. Eighty-one films have won Best Picture; fifty-nine of those have also won Best Director. But I’m splitting my vote. Narrow it down to the two favorites, “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” and the differences represent a virtual, metaphoric microcosm of America itself.
“James Cameron’s ‘Avatar,’ estimated to have cost $237M, has grossed $2.35Billion at last count. Save for the fact that it isn’t asking for a bailout, it’s big business personified. Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘The Hurt Locker,’ on the other hand, at a cost of $11M but only grossing $17M to date, is that nearly perfect little film with an intrinsic, anti-war message. By the way, no woman has ever won Best Director. And just to add a touch of surreal melodrama, Miss Bigelow and Mr. Cameron are each other’s exes.
“So, making that tragic mistake of wanting everyone to leave the party with a goody bag, I’m picking Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director and James, ‘I’m King of the World’ Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ for Best Picture. Pie-in-the-sky or not, I guess it would be nice if you could get Congress to make some compromises, too.”
“I’m working on it. But it looks like your work is just about done. See, more often than not a tough task isn’t quite so daunting if there’s someone rooting in your corner.”
Before hanging up, we picked the remaining winners. They are as follows:
Animated Feature Film-“Up”; Art Direction- “Avatar”; Cinematography-“Inglourious Basterds”; Costume Design- “Coco before Chanel”; Documentary (Feature)- “Food, Inc.”; Documentary (Short Subject)- “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”; Film Editing-Bob Murawski and Chris Innis for “The Hurt Locker”; Foreign Language Film-“The White Ribbon”; Makeup- “Star Trek”; Music (Original Score)- Hans Zimmer for “Sherlock Holmes”; Short Film (Animated)- “Granny O’ Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty”; Short Film (Live Action)-“The New Tenants”; Sound Editing – “The Hurt Locker”; Sound Mixing- “Avatar”; Visual Effects- “Avatar”; Writing (Adapted Screenplay)-Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for “Up in the Air”; Writing (Original Screenplay)-Mark Boal for “The Hurt Locker.”
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