AND THE WINNER ISN'T As you know, the 75th Academy Awards are this Sunday, March 23. The ceremony doesn't just reward movie folk, however; ABC

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Quick Oscar Reads

AND THE WINNER ISN'T As you know, the 75th Academy Awards are this Sunday, March 23. The ceremony doesn't just reward movie folk, however; ABC profits handsomely from the ads, advertisers hawk their products, and publishers have plenty of Oscar-related books to sell. Among them is All About Oscar (Continuum, $29.95) by Emanuel Levy, a former Variety critic who has also often attended and judged at SIFF. Levy is a numbers guy, like one of those obsessive baseball fans who thinks a batting average does justice to the beauty of Ted Williams' swing. All About is an accordingly wonky, detail-oriented tome in which Levy burrows deep into "the history and politics of the Academy Awards" (the book's subtitle) without getting to the essence of the eventwhich is glamorous, empty spectacle. The Oscars don't mean anything. Otherwise, you'd have Jacques Derrida instead of Joan Rivers cracking wise on the red carpet. Idiocy is the very essence of Oscar's enduring charm: Attractive performers manage to look awful; articulate actors get tongue-tied; those without talent behave as if they have it; those with talent are generally overlooked; and you can always, always expect the press to cover the thing as if it mattered. People say the Golden Globes are more fun because everyone drinks; I say, Are you crazy? Everyone at the Oscars is absolutely blotto with the most powerful drug there isthe fleeting, insecure, giddy rush of fame. You wouldn't know it from Levy's book. He's a critic of generally abysmal judgment (the man liked Finding Forrester! Not even Gus Van Sant likes Finding Forrester!), and All About reads like a vanity-press jobor maybe he has a cousin at the publisher. But you can add it to your growing stack of Oscar reference materials. It does contain some facts (though without an index), and it's got some tables at the end. Here's my favorite: Best Picture Winners by Year and Running Time. The shortest? 1955's Marty, at 91 minutes. That's entertainment. Brian Miller DISH AND DASH Even after receiving two Oscars, Milos Forman commented, "The Academy Awards are a wonderful game, but if you take them seriously, you're in trouble." As we learn in the 10th-anniversary edition of Inside Oscar (Ballantine, $25) and Inside Oscar 2 (Ballantine, $16), only one player really took Forman to heart: Cher, bless her. In 1986, she appeared in that black beaded affair with yards of tanned midriff and a black rooster-feather headdress capable of drawing blood within a 3-foot radius. It was her answer to the Academy's tut-tutting booklet about dressing as befits a serious actress, and they deserved what they got. Bj´┐Żaside, those were the days, and these are the books. Serious tomes on the Oscars are a crock. Accuracy is comforting, but I want dish and attitude and a lethal eye, which authors Mason Wylie and Damien Bono share. (Wylie has since died; Bono does fine solo with IO2.) They cherish wit: Emma Thompson on her Sense and Sensibility Best Adaptation Oscar: "I went to visit Jane Austen's grave . . . to pay my respects and tell her about the grosses." They can puncture overdone fashion with a three-word clause: "Susan Sarandon came on, dragging a train." And their targets are mine, including Debbie Allen's vacuous choreography and Joan Rivers' bubble-headedness (e.g., asking Amistad's non-nominated Djimon Hounsou if he has his acceptance speech ready). The writers miss no (im)pertinent political or social detail, pre- and post-Oscar night: Hugh Grant, winning a Golden Globe before losing at the Oscars, said, "It's tragic how much I'm enjoying this." The same year, Out's critic tagged Forrest Gump as "A Whitman's sampler of poisonous homilies." And you gotta love their chapter heading for the 1995 awards: "Suppose they gave Best Picture to a movie nobody cared about? (Braveheart)." Or Vincent Canby's bemused reflection that what particularly galled Hollywood when Miramax's Oscar campaign for Shakespeare in Love bested Saving Private Ryan was "the unfashionable Harvey Weinstein from Brooklyn and Queens. . . . Even when dressed in designer suits, he gives the impression of having sat up all night in a stalled commuter train." And yes, a clutch of IO's other quotes are mine. Didn't I say they had great taste? Sheila Benson THE BIG PARADE The year Glenda Jackson won Best Actress for A Touch of Class, she said nobody should watch the Oscars: "No one should have a chance to see so much desire, so much need for a prize, and so much pain when it was not given." Wrong, Glenda! We all should see the Oscars, precisely because they parade all the primal emotions, all gussied up in the best and worst clothes you ever saw. And we should all get to read The Academy Awards: The Complete History of the Oscars (Black Dog & Leventhal, $34.98), by Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza. Inside its hardback cover, decorated with an actual envelope and glitter evocative of more stars than there are in heaven, the book is coffee-table glossy yet humbly matter-of-fact. Instead of learned essays or labored chronicles, there are just a couple of magazinelike spreads for each year; a little recap of the ceremony; pictures of the big winners; a notable quote or two from critics and stars; a list of nominees; and one column of trivia. From the page on 1961: Did you know Rita Moreno was the first person to win an Oscar, Tony, Emmy, and Grammy? That she said of her boyfriend and fellow West Side Story Best Supporting Oscar winner, George Chakiris, "His skin isn't nearly as dark in real life as it looks on the motion-picture screen"? There's also a gratifying feature, "Sins of Omission," honoring winners who should have been, like 2001's Ghost World, Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive), and Jude Law (A.I.). But the book is essentially a Chiclets box of gossip tidbits. Marlon Brando told Sophia Loren during a love scene, "Do you know you have hair up your nostrils?" Dustin Hoffman inadvertently prepared Meryl Streep for their Kramer vs. Kramer roles by introducing himself to her at a party, belching in her face, and grabbing her breast. Olivia de Havilland is feuding with sister Joan Fontaine in 1941 (when Joan stole Best Actress) and again in 1977. Like the event itself, the book is so bad it's good. Tim Appelo info@seattleweekly.com

 
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