Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I've always been a fairweather moviegoer, so I have no horse in this year's Oscar race. I saw The Departed (entertaining despite the fact that Leo has such an irritating case of the sniffles the entire time I wanted to throw cough drops at the screen) and that's about it. I enjoyed Dreamgirls a lot, though Joshua Clover's recent post gives me pause, the first negative thing I've seen on it that's done so. Etc. So I come to Oscar coverage pretty much cold. That's one reason I got so much from Entertainment Weekly's new preview issue. I'll admit, I only bought the issue because I'm in it (giving the Frames album the C- it deserves)--but even given my own proclivity for polls and year-end awards, I do forget how much fun it can be to read up on stuff like this outside my particular bubble.

Specifically, I was richly entertained by "Oscar's Secret Ballots," in which three anonymous MPAA members, a screenwriter, an actor, and a producer, divulge their votes in the big categories. This stuff is hilarious, because each participant plays almost exactly to type.

Unsurprisingly, the screenwriter comes across as the smartest of the lot. He (all three are identified as men) gets off the best lines: "The Queen is okay if you want to see a movie about a dull woman." Or, "Borat 'was not a triumph of movie writing. It was a triumph of performance art that somebody stoof off to the side and filmed,' he says." And he seems to like movies as things to watch rather than as things to give him prestige.

The actor, on the other hand, says wonderfully pompous things like, "If a film accomplishes what it sets out to do, then it's a great film. Then there are varying degrees of things that contribute to whether it's a masterpiece" and "To me, the best picture is a movie that you can look at in 50 years and say, 'Wow, that's a great film'" (thanks, Sherlock) and "When actors are in a sudsy film of mediocre subject matter, it's not their fault, but I discount the work." I love Uplift Humanity types. They're so much fun to talk to, and they're so convincing when it comes to their standards of the Great and Good applying universally.

The actor does nail The Departed, though: "A TV movie with a great cast"; "Jack was miscast, Leo was miscast, and I don't know what Matt Damon was doing." Harsh, maybe--I did enjoy the movie--but not inaccurately so. (He's also right that Mark Wahlberg was the best thing in it, though that's hardly news.)

The producer, though--wow. His favorite movie is Babel, which no one whose opinion I respect liked (in fact, one person whose tastes are almost a negative litmus test for me hated it too, even more convincingly than everyone else), which looks awful from preview to positive reviews to Message Movie Oscar Nominee status, and which he "found thought-provoking, brilliant filmmaking. . . . When I saw it, like when I saw Crash last year, I said, 'This is the best picture I've seen.'" The ghost of Stanley Kramer surely haunts him.* Even better are his comments below Best Actress, for whom he chooses Helen Mirren. "Meryl Streep was really, really good, but to single out somebody from a comedy as Best Actress isn't something I would do. There is a depth of characterization in a drama that more typifies what an Academy Award performance should be." Ah, the ol' "quality and prestige have always been and will always be the exact same thing" fallacy. Good to know people are still falling for it.

*Actually this is kind of bullshit because the sum total of my Stanley Kramer knowledge is stray clips from TV as a kid that I barely remember and the various trouncings he got at the hands of Pauline Kael. There's a reason the subhead of this blog is "schmusic" and not "schmovies."