This Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast may not earn Super Bowl- or Olympics-size ratings, but so what? The TV audience has been shrinking since long before Ellen DeGeneres was announced as this year’s host. The show is still irresistible as a live, televised spectacle of validation and humiliation for the stars—it’s like the progenitor to American Idol, only with better hair and makeup. Longtime former SW theater critic Steve Wiecking is now our L.A.-based Oscarologist, and we chatted recently about what to expect at this orgy of self-congratulation (4 p.m. Sunday on ABC).
Brian R. Miller First things first: I predict Cate Blanchett will win Best Actress for Blue Jasmine, but what kind of protest will Mia and her angry Farrows stage against Woody?
Steve Wiecking It’s anyone’s guess, but that woman has raised a small, terrifying army. So if I were Cate, I wouldn’t feel complacent. I know I don’t feel safe. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to tell Ronan to hit me up if he’s in town feeling bored and a little buzzed. I don’t think voters care about the Woody/Mia debacle, though. Please—they gave Polanski an Oscar, even though they knew he couldn’t show without getting arrested. Tricky acceptance speech for Cate, though, don’t you think?
BRM She could accept the award on behalf of wronged women everywhere—like her character.
BRM For Best Picture, I think Academy voters will be torn. Everyone loves America’s Sweetheart™ Sandra Bullock in Gravity, but mustn’t we again affirm that slavery was very, very wrong? And that we Americans are still so deeply, sincerely sorry about that (even though we don’t need a bunch of Brits to remind us)? So 12 Years a Slave takes it?
SW I thought 12 Years A Slave was astonishing—the story of people battling for control over their own souls. That said, I know an awful lot of voters down here who haven’t come anywhere near watching their 12 Years a Slave Academy screeners because they’re afraid it’s going to feel like 12 Years of Buzzkill. I still think it’ll win, but Gravity isn’t a bad bet, either.
BRM You know what the perfect solution would be? 12 Years a Slave in Space.
SW Or The Gravity of Slavery. I enjoyed American Hustle the most this year, but there seems to be a backlash building.
BRM No love for The Wolf of Wall Street?
SW Wolf is the only Best Picture nominee I haven’t seen. Life is too precious to me. I already think Leo and everyone else involved with The Great Gatsby should get life without parole. That’s what it felt like watching it.
BRM What’s the weakest film among the nine nominees?
SW Philomena. There’s nothing I approve of more than an old nun getting shamed—except, of course, for an old priest punished for life as a prison wife—but, please, that was a solid BBC TV movie, nothing more. I don’t even mean that in a bad way.
BRM I kept waiting for Rob Brydon to show up—Steve Coogan’s buddy from The Trip. That would’ve helped.
SW Which film do you want to win?
BRM Her was on top of my 10 Best list, but it’s not the Academy demo. (“You damn kids and your cell phones get off my lawn!”) I’m rooting for Gravity on sheer technical merit.
BRM Here’s what bugs me about Best Actor: I tip Dallas Buyers Club’s Matthew McConaughey, barely, over Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. Both play victims who refuse to be victimized. Everyone talks about McConaughey’s weight loss, but I feel the subtext is more the handsome straight star who dares to play a straight guy with AIDS. Whereas Tom Hanks went full homo, so to speak, and lost a lot of weight, way back in Philadelphia. Ejiofor doesn’t get to be so extreme; his role is more a case of repressed intelligence.
SW Even Tom Hanks didn’t go full homo; get back to me if a deleted scene shows up in which he’s ankles-to-ears under Antonio Banderas. Those Brokeback Mountain boys were both robbed, I’m telling you. And I guess I’m in the minority, but I’d give the gold to Christian Bale for American Hustle. I don’t care how many Terminator techies he’s yelled at—this year he made me care about a loser with a gut and the world’s worst hairpiece. But you’re probably right about it being McConaughey’s award. Labor of love and loss of a six-pack are tough to beat.
BRM Why are age and experience honored in Best Actress—Meryl Streep and Judi Dench, yawn—while in this category, Bruce Dern won’t win for Nebraska, and Robert Redford wasn’t even nominated for All Is Lost.
SW Best Actor had too many contenders. Redford might’ve worked his way in there if he’d managed to deliver his one spoken line convincingly. But I guess “Fuuuuuck!” doesn’t come naturally to him.
BRM You know what’s a given? None of the 6,000 Academy voters have watched all the documentaries and foreign-language films.
SW If they did, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, one of my favorite films this year, would’ve been nominated. And I’ve only seen three of the foreign films. The Great Beauty lived up to its title. But what the hell happened to Blue Is the Warmest Color? I know nobody cares about what wins at Cannes, but that was one helluva three-hour French-lesbians-in-love film.
BRM Great Beauty will win, deserves to win, and Blue just never convinced me of its heroine’s inner life. Also, too much sex for Academy voters.
BRM What a mistake it was to add Best Animated Feature. The Croods ? Seriously? Despicable Me 2 was fun, but so are coloring books.
SW Brian, the Rugrats have a star on the Walk of Fame, OK? Attention must be paid. “Paid” being the operative word here.
BRM For Supporting Actress, I feel like Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) is going to win for being whipped and raped onscreen, and because she’s a fresh-faced ingénue. Yet that category also feels really soft to me this year.
SW Again, I’m a 12 Years fan, so she’s fine by me, even if I’m not sure it’s an Oscar-worthy turn. I don’t know that the term “Oscar-worthy” can be used with a straight face, anyway. Julia Roberts got a nomination for somehow not getting stuck between Streep’s teeth. Her slot should’ve gone to co-star Margo Martindale, who was excellent.
BRM Where is the category for Bale’s heroic comb-over in American Hustle? Or for Amy Adams’ cleavage, for that matter?
SW God, are people still talking about Amy Adams’ side-boobery? It’s like everyone’s threatened by breasts. She gave a phenomenal performance. Do you think anyone from the Hustle cast has a chance, by the way?
BRM Cast, no. Script, yes. But Adams has my vote over Blanchett.
BRM Best Original Song: Could you explain the popularity of that song from Frozen, “Let It Go”?
SW I think we’re back to “Attention must be paid.” Is there a Pandora station you can choose that doesn’t sneak in deep-pockets Disney? Because the channel I was listening to on the stationary bike at the gym went from Madonna’s “Girl Gone Wild” to something off the Tangled soundtrack. I thought I’d pedaled onto the set of Glee, for chrissake. Can you name an Oscar-winning song you actually liked recently?
BRM My God, that is a depressing Wikipedia page. I’d have to reach back to ’71, for Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft.”
BRM Jared Leto will win Best Supporting Actor (see “full homo,” above) for Dallas Buyers Club. But what’s the L.A. take on this guy? Prima donna, asshole, short?
SW I had never seen him act until now. And I’ve seen his movies. But his work in Dallas Buyers Club is something else altogether. He’s so convincing that when he shows up in a suit for that scene with his father, you immediately think, “What’s he doing in that?! He should be wearing something kicky and off-the-shoulder.” I don’t think his professional reputation is golden. I’ve heard he’s a pain. And that Golden Globes speech was tacky. But this brings us back to Woody and Mia: Do you think the majority of voters really care about anything more than the work itself, or even should?
BRM Academy voters care most about upholding the prestige of the Academy, the club to which they’ve gained precious admittance. So they always vote for quality and probity and progressive ideals. I think Cate’s aura wins over Woody’s notoriety.
BRM My final thought: More June Squibb. Yours?
SW You just wanted to say “June Squibb.”