Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Handicapping the Oscars®

Who the heck is responsible for the Academy Award® nominations anyway?!

That is actually a very interesting question, and one to which most people don’t actually know the answer. In fact, the entire Oscar nominating process is only dimly understood by people in the film industry, let alone by the masses who watch movies in their local cineams. Given that fact, as a public service, I will now attempt to give the clearest, most straightforward explanation I can of how the Academy Award nominations come about.

The elaborate procedure begins with an entire warehouse full of monkeys sitting at typewriters. Government bureaucrats stand at the ready, 24 hours a day (in shifts of three hours each, not including lunch and coffee breaks) ready to pick up any paper on which a monkey has actually typed the name of a movie. These papers are carefully collected and then shipped to Palm Beach County, Florida, where members of the election board hold each one up to the light and try to determine exactly what the monkey was thinking when he or she was banging on the keys. Papers deemed to contain actual award nominations are then delivered to Enron headquarters in Houston, Texas, where the bookkeeping department carefully tabulates the numbers, taking into account any side deals negotiated with the various studios. Afterwards, accountants from the firm of Arthur Andersen come over to Enron headquarters with a crate full of rubber stamps and meticulously double-check the tabulations for accuracy. Next, all the results are sent by express air to Paris, France, where a crack team of Olympic figure skating judges weigh the results and make the final decisions. These are printed on bits of paper, along with small cue cards containing witty one-liners, and stuffed into envelopes, which are then hand delivered to the security area of Heathrow airport, outside London, and guarded until days before the big Oscar telecast. At that time, the envelopes are deposited with the firm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which holds an internal competition to find the two geekiest looking guys in the whole corporation and assigns them the task of bringing them to the auditorium on Oscar night.

Okay, some of you more astute readers may have detected a bit of sarcasm in that summary. And you are right. I admit that I made up the bit about the French skating judges.

Wait a minute! What am I doing?! How come I am trashing the Oscar nominations when, for once, they have actually given the biggest number of nominations to my favorite movie of the entire year? What are these people trying to do? Take all the fun out of writing columns?

I still can’t get over the fact that The Lord of the Rings got so many nominations. It feels like one of those Peanuts comic strips, where at the last minute Lucy grabs away the football the Charlie Brown is trying to kick. How can this possibly play out? Will Peter Jackson’s masterpiece somehow manage not to win any of the awards? I am not the only one who is in shock about this. A close personal friend of mine can’t believe it either. You may have heard of him. He writes a column for Newsweek magazine. He is Conventional Wisdom, but his friends call him C.W.

C.W. says that science fiction and fantasy movies never get major awards at the Oscars. They might get some awards in technical areas (like, Best Kick-Ass Space Battle In Which Lots Of Space Ships And Meteors Get Blown Up) or maybe for a musical score (but usually only if John Williams composed it). But they don’t get acting awards or Best Picture. Oh, once in a while one might get nominated for Best Picture, but it’s only a tease. The sci-fi/fantasy flick never wins.

So, what happened this year? I don’t know. And C.W. doesn’t know either. Unless, just maybe, well, it’s a long shot and not very likely, in fact it’s a really crazy idea, but here it goes. Maybe, just maybe, everybody who votes for the awards simply realized that (and I know this sounds silly) The Lord of the Rings was far and away the best movie and so they voted that way. (Pause.) Nah!!!

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens on Oscar night. C.W. says the race is really between A Beautiful Mind and In the Bedroom, which is to say that it is really between Dreamworks SKG and Miramax, the respective studios behind the two films. C.W. further explains that this is essentially a replay of the 1998 Oscar race, which pitted Dreamworks’s Saving Private Ryan against Miramax’s Shakespeare in Love. Miramax wound up spending piles of money of Enron proportions to persuade voters to give them the largest share of awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and even a Best Supporting Actress award for Judi Dench who spent a total of 13 seconds onscreen. Not only did they spend a ton of money, but Miramax allegedly staged a “whispering campaign” in which they scared voters away from Saving Private Ryan with the malicious rumor that it was a war movie.

Now Miramax is at it again. This time they are waging another big money campaign for In the Bedroom vis-à-vis A Beautiful Mind—a dastardly plot, the ethics of which are mitigated only slightly by the incidental fact that In the Bedroom actually is the better movie. This year, the whispering campaign is about the alleged rumor that A Beautiful Mind is about a mathematician. Okay, there’s more to it than that. Apparently, the film deliberately omits the fact that the subject of the film, John Nash, was a mathematician who formulates on either side of the equal sign, if you know what I mean. Personally, I find this pretty funny, considering that Miramax’s Shakespeare in Love tactfully omitted the fact its subject wrote at least some of his love poems for young men. (The film’s extremely talented writers amusingly winked at this detail of literary history by incorporating the classic Shakespearean device of having a woman disguise herself as a man.)

As for the acting awards, C.W. isn’t sure who will get Best Actor. On one hand, he thinks Russell Crowe might pull a Tom Hanks two-in-a-row trick. On the other hand, he thinks that the Academy might give Denzel Washington the Oscar he should have won for 1999’s The Hurricane. Personally, I’m wagering on Crowe, since I think half the Academy is hot for his body. C.W. is pretty sure that Sissy Spacek will get Best Actress, but I’m betting on Halle Berry. Not only is she a fine and underrated actor, but I have a nagging suspicion that, in a strange, twisted instance of Hollywood white liberal guilt, she will get the Oscar that Denzel Washington was supposed to get.

However, it turns out, I just hope that C.W. is wrong on most of his picks. I hate that smug look on his face when I have to buy him his pint.

-S.L., 21 February 2002

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