Holiest Night

Praise Be to the Oscars

by John A. Klein

cate_blanchett_brad_pitt.jpgFrom Veterans Day to Valentine’s, Oscar
prognostication is a bustling cottage industry indulging our primal
need to gush, fawn, snipe, snub, and ultimately choke on droves of
Oscar-related drool and drivel in a season longer than the NBA and
loftier than a Kobe buzzer-beater. We buy into the hype because, as
we know all too well, Hollywood is high school and we are so not in
the cool clique. Either that or, as I like to think, the Oscars are
a window into a deeper spiritual realm, a profound connection to
something bigger than our dreary little to-do-list lives.

Hence, the holiest night of the year in my mixed marriage,
between a somewhat Jewish male screenwriter and a hardly Christian
female magazine editor, is Oscar night. We preen, we party, and
most of all, we pray. We pray the camera will find a familiar face
among the anointed  —  somebody’s ex, perhaps. We pray somebody
we’ve actually worked with, or for, or in spite of, is somehow
referred to. We pray for the impossible: that our names be
mentioned from the podium, preferably followed by “without whom I
never would have even been born.” It could happen.

Feeling holier than our dinner guests with real jobs, we ask
that they show proper respect for the red carpet, that they
willingly submit to punitive muzzling during acceptance speeches.
We pop corks only after the editors and cinematographers are
dispensed with. We covet in silence, keeping our murderous thoughts
to ourselves (in my case, divining until the feelings pass). When
the academy blesses one of our false idols, we rise and confess,
unashamedly. “He/she is totally hot!” We do not blurt out, “But I
thought best actor came before best director!” or, “How can they
call that an original and not an adapted screenplay?” or, “Why
isn’t there an Oscar for choreography?” We laugh in unison at every
shticky ad-lib. “What a klutz — her shpilkes are shpilling out all
over the place!”

We refrain from gambling. It’s distracting. Besides, it would be
unfair for the host to always take home the pot. Ever since I
worked on a film that, believe it or not, swept the Oscars, I have
been able to call best picture as early as December. In ’81, for
instance, I noticed a lot of jogging going on, especially on the
beach, and I had an epiphany that Chariots of Fire would
win the night. In ’82, during all those crazy diet crazes, juice
fasts, and fiber cleanses (I, myself, was loading up on carbs), a
vision popped into my head of Ben Kingsley in
Gandhi — svelte, bald, and gold-plated. And that sweep
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest enjoyed in ’76 (if the
truth be known, I was in charge of the extras, the designated loony
wrangler) was clearly due to the fact that it opened just as a
group therapy vogue was hitting West L.A. — fold-up chairs,
touchy-feely exercises, the whole bit. I was hooked on tough love
and eventually signed up for laughter therapy. It saved my

Picking best picture, like knowing the unknowable, involves an
intuitive grasp of what’s hot and what’s not: on the ground, in the
trenches, belly up at the Westside soy bars, and laid back at the
Eastside chai houses. An invisible wave of personal styles and
issues somehow seeps into the smoggy fabric of Los Angeles and,
subliminally, causes votes to be cast.

The mistake people make when touting such attributes as
“consummate craft” and “contemporary relevance” is the assumption
that John Q. Academy Voter is a rational being, that he doesn’t
take six-irons to windshield or spew racial slurs at happy hour.
Actually he’s human just like you and me, and he can’t really tell
you why he votes one way or the other. My best guess is that what
we all crave from our movie-makers is something brand new under the
sun — that same something we are on the lookout for every time we
jog on the beach in our designer sweats, or try that new colonic
cleanse while wearing a simple homespun loincloth.

All kibitzing aside, I’m feeling Babel in ’07. Brad and
Cate sport a nouveau look for the in-crowd — the
all-night-on-a-third-world-bus look — and they way transcend prom
king and queen status with their method pillow-talking over a
steamy bedpan through a haze of grade-A opium (muy caliente, muy
kinkiente). I confess I may be somewhat skewed by my Cinema Society
pass. I bumped into Señor Iñárritu (Babel’s director) at
his Santa Barbara Q&A, fresh from his triumph at Cannes. We
chatted and unzipped at adjacent urinals. I asked him why Mexico
had the best actors, writers, and directors on the planet. He
claimed all of Latin America was artistically on fire (it’s hard
not to be humble in the john).

But Babel’s potent emotional strains and pan-global images are
wafting directly across the border. I’m seeing “international”
stuff everywhere. In fact, if you aren’t toting another country
around like an accessory, you’re missing all the fun (luv those
Irish soccer hoodies). And Spanish is clearly the new Yiddish, the
new show-biz lingo. Oy vay has morphed into oye como va. Not to
gush, but Babel’s genuine respect for other cultures
includes generous doses of the mysterious, the private, the sacred,
and the unlearnable.

Entonces, if you ask me, Mexican cinema has the hot hand and the
Academy should lob them a pass over the fence. A big win for
Mexico’s artistic genius will trigger a gasp, and a great exhale in
the auditorium (and in my living room): “Yes! Yes! ¡Claro que sí!
Gracias, Alejandro. Muchas gracias, mi close personal amigo. Now
let us all pray: Blessed be, O Golden One, guardian of the great
mystery of cinematic success. Accept our burnt offering of noodle
kugel, but spare us, we implore you, the buzz-killing coverage of
the after-parties.”

Writer/producer John A. Klein received a Writers Guild
nomination for Taking Off.


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