Nothing wrong with a few beers as you watch the Oscars. An ensemble of unprofessional prognosticators hashes out the likely Academy Award winners.
The champagne has been chilled, the red carpet has been rolled out and the anticipation is almost palpable. You know what that means. No, not my next date. But something almost as exciting: Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony.
And, no, my dates and the awards have nothing in common, with the exception that, during both, at some point in the evening a woman is likely to burst into tears.
Of course, what with the ongoing writers’ strike, it appeared for a while we might not have a traditional Academy Awards broadcast this year. Think of it: No explanations of the difference between sound mixing and sound editing. No droning on from PriceWaterhouse executives about how they’re the only company in the world who can count and keep a secret. No film-clipped parade of movie folk of yore who met their demise in the past year (and the attendant game of “Who Gets the Biggest Applause?”).
Happily, the writers are back. They’ve been behind their keyboards for the past week, feverishly crafting Oscar-worthy patter like: “He won an Academy Award for playing Idi Amin. And she won one for playing someone mean and needy: Please welcome Forest Whitaker and Charlize Theron!” (Hey — give them a break. They’ve been off for three months; they’re rusty.)
But while inane chatter may be an Oscar constant, there have been some changes in recent years. For example, Joan Rivers and her doppelgänger of a daughter no longer accost guests on the red carpet (or, for all I know, perhaps they still do, but on a cable channel so obscure you need two satellite dishes, fiber-optic cable and underpants made of aluminum foil to pick it up).
And Billy Crystal is giving us another break from his corny musical salute to the Oscar-nominated movies.
The kids don’t show us no respect/The breakfast special ends at 10.
They honk if I drive 55/This is No Country for Old Men!
There are some changes, as well, in this year’s makeup of the Column Central Review Crew.
The crew, as faithful readers — all six of them — will recall, is made up of a bunch of casual (or, in my case, downright slovenly) movie fans. No professional critics. No scurrying around to see the nominated movies and performances. No lying in bed awake all night because we drank a soda the size of a silo.
And, last year at least, no incorrect predictions. This is because, while the Academy Awards are long on prestige, décolletage and several other French words, they’re short on unpredictability. So even a pick-up group of off-the-cuff prognosticators stands a pretty good shot at predicting the top winners. And speaking of off-the-cuff prognosticators ...
• Among the new faces joining the Review Crew this year is veteran news anchor Janet Lomax of WHEC-TV (News 10NBC). Janet moved to the Rochester market in 1980 after five years working in her hometown of Louisville, Ky. She’s a virtual institution in Rochester news, having been on the anchor desk at the station since 1982.
She’s also a woman after my own heart — a fan of classic movies.
“I love old movies from the 1940s, especially Bette Davis movies,” she writes. “I also like ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ (and) ‘White Christmas.’”
Among her more contemporary favorites are “The Pianist” and “The Color Purple.”
• Larry Ann Evans, executive director of the Museum of Wayne County History, has films in her blood. Well, in her background, anyway. The co-president of the Geneva Theatre Guild spent 13 years in the film industry in Spain. She worked behind the scenes on films including “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery,” (1992) starring Marlon Brando, and “Navy Seals,” a 1990 adventure film starring Charlie Sheen.
Such intimate knowledge of the industry came dangerously close to disqualifying Larry Ann, but she’s been out of the business for 10 years now and, like the rest of our crew, hardly ever has the time to find her way to a theater. Among her favorite films are “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Lion in Winter.” (I think she’s a little sweet on Peter O’Toole.)
• We had one of the premiere barkeeps in Canandaigua lined up to help select the winners this year but were unable to locate him by deadline. (You know how bars are, they always tell you whomever you’re looking for isn’t there.)
So stepping into the breach is Messenger Post reporter Hilary Smith (this comes under “other duties as assigned”). Hilary had a dream job for a movie fan: She worked at an art-house theater in Washington, D.C., for several months last year. She’s got an even dreamier job now, or so I like to tell her.
Among her favorite movies are “Life As a House,” a 2001 Kevin Kline drama; “Swingers,” a low-budget 1996 comedy (which led me to several smarmy Web sites as I surfed for information about it online); and “The Shawshank Redemption.”
• Veteran Review Crewer Carol Shama joins us again from Canandaigua’s Wood Library, where she is not only director but screens foreign movies every other Tuesday night. They’ll be running through April, and the next is a Danish film called “After the Wedding,” set for this Tuesday, Feb. 26. The credits begin rolling at 6 p.m., and admission is a donation.
Carol is a longtime movie fan who particularly enjoyed multiple Oscar nominee “There Will Be Blood” this past year.
• Another big movie fan is former Messenger Post reporter Rachel E. Dewey, now events manager at Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua. She used to make a point of seeing every nominated film — she used to make a point of winning our office Oscar pool every year, too. Ask us how much we miss her.
This year, Rachel only caught three of the five nominated best pictures.
“I guess you could say I’m actually playing by the rules,” she writes. “How we should be sight-unseen cynics who still dare (or would it be deign?) to predict such prestigious awards with no more insight, let alone information, than a sense of the general ‘buzz,’ a handful of old-wives’-tale-style ‘tells’ and a literal roll of the dice.”
By jove, I think she’s got it.
• When we started this feature years ago, an actual senator declined an invitation to join us, if you can imagine such a thing. I suggested that we would replace his picks by rolling dice, and his spokeswoman didn’t tell me not to. Or maybe I suggested this after she hung up.
In any event, Sen. Die (the singular of dice) is back on the panel, making his usual assortment of unpredictable picks. His favorite film, of course, is the 1998 Brian De Palma drama “Snake Eyes.”
• You know the guy on the right in that Review Crew graphic. The less said about him, the better.
The envelope, please ...
One of the few categories where there was a relative consensus among the voters. Janet and Hilary are rooting for the hometown favorite, 1985 Fairport native (and 2005 best actor Academy Award winner) Philip Seymour Hoffman, who’s up for his role in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” “His spitfire delivery was one of the best parts of a really funny, well-done movie,” said Hilary. The other four movie fans and a plastic cube with dots on it selected Javier Bardem for his role in “No Country for Old Men.”
One of three categories this year that went to a tie-breaker. In fact, it was a three-way tie. Hilary and Larry Ann opted for Tilda Swinton of “Michael Clayton.” Janet and Rachel are backing Ruby Dee, who has an Emmy and a Grammy to her credit but earned her first Oscar nomination at age 83 for her role in “American Gangster.” Rachel cites the “elder statesman” tendency of Academy voters to honor a lifetime of work with a late-in-the-career Oscar. Me and the good senator are going with Cate Blanchett, who played Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” (Yeah, I really know how to form a voting faction, don’t I?)
Review Crew rules — adopted in 1999 at the Geneva Convention (actually, it was at a convention center down the road in Geneva) — dictate that all ties are settled by former professional actress Julie Sherwood. Julie not only performed in many local and regional stage productions over the years, she sits just across the office here. Her tie-breaking vote: Cate Blanchett.
If not unanimity, at least a majority. Janet and Sen. Die both like George Clooney as the title character in “Michael Clayton.” Larry Ann likes Johnny Depp for his musical turn in “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” “I have a special affinity for that show,” she said. “I once played Mrs. Lovett.” Hilary, too, was leaning toward Depp but opted for Daniel Day-Lewis for his work in the festively titled “There Will Be Blood.” Carol, Rachel and I joined her. “Daniel Day-Lewis put on one of those knock-out performances,” said Carol.
Talk about a split decision. Every nominee got at least one vote in this category. Getting a single vote were Cate Blanchett for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (Larry Ann), young Ellen Page for “Juno” (Janet) and Laura Linney for “The Savages” (whose idea was it to use a die again?). Hilary and Carol threw their support to Marion Cotillard, who plays Edith Piaf in “Lie Vie En Rose.” Carol thinks Page has a shot for “Juno,” which she calls the “Little Miss Sunshine” of this year, but was impressed with Cotillard’s sweeping performance. Rachel and I like Julie Christie as an Alzheimer’s-afflicted woman in “Away From Her.” “Boy,” said Rachel, “would I like to see Ellen Page steal this one, but instead of the upset, it’s probably safer to go with another ‘elder statesman,’ Julie Christie.” Our official tie-breaker, Julie, returns and renders her verdict — an actress she has admired for decades — Julie Christie.
Would you believe another tie? I purposely gather seven different votes to lower the odds and we had three ties. Maybe I should get rid of Sen. Die? Or maybe use all dice? In any event, Paul Thomas Anderson got the backing of Carol for “There Will Be Blood.”
She’d like to see him start a trend of a younger breed of director being recognized. The remaining six votes were split evenly: Hilary, Rachel and the die all landed on Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Larry Ann, Janet and I gave the nod to the team of Ethan and Joel Coen for “No Country for Old Men.” “The Coens can do no wrong,” said Larry Ann. With a filmography that includes “Fargo,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski,” it’s hard to argue with her.
Fortunately, Julie’s still here, and, just to prove she doesn’t always side with her editor, she casts the deciding vote for Julian Schnabel.
Another close one, but we at least attained a plurality. (Sorry; too many primaries.) Hilary and Janet are betting on “Atonement.” Carol and the good senator like “There Will Be Blood.” Carol cited the “power, scope and enormity” of the film; the senator was his usual taciturn self. That left three votes — Larry Ann, Rachel and me — for “No Country for Old Men,” the Coen brothers’ drama and your winner tonight.
Messenger managing editor Kevin Frisch’s column, Funny Thing ..., appears each week in the Sunday Messenger. Contact him at (585) 394-0770/Ext. 257 or by e-mail at KFrisch@ MPNewspapers.com.