Two days before the Oscars. What's your opinion?
Join David Edelstein, film critic for Slate and NPR's Fresh Air, online Friday, Feb. 25, at Noon ET, to take your questions and comments on Sunday's Academy Awards.
Read what David has to say about the Oscars: Chatting About the Oscars (Slate, Feb. 25)
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
David Edelstein: Hello from snowy Brooklyn. I'm honored to be the first Slate writeraka idiot guinea pigto participate in an online chat under the auspices of our new owner, the Washington Post Company. I am sitting in a place called Gorilla Coffee, gulping down (free-trade) double espressos, surrounded by studious bohemian types on laptops who have little idea that at this very moment I am in contact with millions, or at least half a dozen.
On Slate, I am embroiled in an e-mail exchange about the Oscars with feisty Hollywood producer Lynda Obst, the scourge of assistants and screenwriters the world over. You can read our exchange here: http://slate.msn.com/id/2114004/entry/0/ . You can also check out my annual anti-Gil Cates rant here: http://slate.msn.com/id/2113360/ . Also, click here for my preliminary thoughts on the nominations: http://slate.msn.com/id/2112695/ .
My I have gassed on about these stupid awards. Maybe you should just ignore all that and live in the present. Fire at will; I'm just going to get another double espresso.
washingtonpost.com: Arthur Miller, 1915-2005
Plus, will Gil Cates ban Oscar acceptance speeches? (Slate, Feb. 11)
washingtonpost.com: Beating Up Baby
Clint Eastwood, in the line of fire; plus, Hide and Seek (Slate, Jan. 28)
Fort Worth, Tex.:
Dear Mr. Edelstein:
To your mind, which Oscar-less director most deserved an award: Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, or Nicholas Meyer?
David Edelstein: Ha ha. I think Nicholas Meyer would even giggle to find himself in such company, although there is no bigger fan of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Why choose among the other three? Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull are among the greatest American movies of the last three decades. I find it unfathomable that Hitchcock was not awarded for my favorite of his films, Notorious, or at very least a huge crowd-pleaser like North By Northwest. (But, of course, the French hadn't gotten ahold of him and he wasn't taken seriously as an artist back then.) Welles was too much of a bad boy to have won an Oscar in his prime, but Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons had a chance. His other undisputed masterpiece, Touch of Evil, was much too abrasive and unsavory.
My family has started a subscription to the Daily Variety in the past few months, and we have been shocked by how political the awards "industry" seems. There are full-page adds urging Academy members to vote for actors/movies, and we have been hearing of opportunities prior to the Oscar nominations being released for candidates to dine with Academy members at charity events. Are the Oscars (and other Hollywood awards) as political as they appear?
David Edelstein: The Oscars are an election. And like any other election, they are, yes, political. And like any other voters, these are highly malleable and easily influenced. You can understand the purpose of politicking: There are a LOT of movies released every year. It's just too bad that so few of the smaller distributors have the money to wage big campaigns. There are no matching funds provided by the Academy. That's why I don't subscribe to the idea that the Oscars are a measure of artistic merit.
That said, this year there hasn't been any scandal involving whispering campaigns. Harvey Weinstein has either chosen to muzzle himself or has been muzzled.
The presence of "the Aviator" threatens to take away from four very fine films nominated for best picture and other categories. I think "Million Dollar Baby" was one of the best films in years and, coupled with "Mystic River", has converted me to being a Clint Eastwood fan. Do you think Eastwood can win the best director award despite the sentiment going for Martin Scorsese for a "make-up" Oscar for an inferior film compared to the masterpieces he has directed. Wouldn't a lifetime achievement award for Scorsese be more appropriate?
David Edelstein: Oh, lifetime achievement awards are either consolation prizes or reserved for the sick in the twilight of their careers. the presumption--accurate, I hope--is that Scorsese has quite a few good movies left in him.
David, I've been a fan of your column for a while now. Do you think there is a legitimate place for the Academy Awards in contemporary film culture, and if so, how/where/what should that place be?
David Edelstein: Interesting question. It generates a lot of interest in movies, although it's a shame that Americans don't seem to get worked up by anything but competition. It's a chance for artists to recognize other artists--which is important. (The rest of the time the recognition is from critics.) And of course it gives me a platform to hold forth here, on radio, and in movies. What greater contribution to the culture could there be? (Don't answer that.)
Cap Hill Manager:
I am really torn on who I think should get the Best Supporting Actress award. I really enjoyed Cate Blanchett, but it was hard to look past whether it was a caricature, but I can appreciate how difficult it must be for an actor to channel a person that millions are already familiar with or feel that they know like Katharine Hepburn. Seemed like a drag show a few times. On the other hand, I have always liked Virginia Madsen since my high school days when she was touted as the next Monroe but never really panned out. She gave a really moving performance that showed a believable mix of damage and resolve. What are your predictions? And Darryl Hannah should have been nominated for Kill Bill 2!
David Edelstein: I loved Darryl Hannah! Blanchett's Hepburn was a caricature, but I thought it was a brilliant one that captured something of Hepburn the way Al Hirshfeld cartoons used to capture something of Broadway performers. But yeah, I loved Madsen, too. She made it believable that she could fall for a schlub like Paul Giamatti--no mean acting feat. This is why it's so heartbreaking: In some categories, I think everyone should win.
Jinan, Shandong, China:
Do you think award recipients are acknowledged solely for the artistic merits of their abilities to bring a character to life? Do movies receive the award based upon a fixed Hollywood value system or does Hollywood allow the values of the nation's audiences determine which film should receive a reward? Why did the film The Passion of the Christ get passed over? It made and broke box office records. Is it possible that Hollywood is just another kind of elitist clique, congratulating themselves in front of the rest of us?
David Edelstein: I respect that a lot--A LOT--of people were moved by The Passion of the Christ. But it was and is too divisive to win Best Picture, which is, after all, a consensus category. Hollywood does like to congratulate itself, but I'm suspicious of that "elitist" label, which is too often a cudgel used against thoughtful skeptics.
We have an Academy Awards trivia contest at work: Name the only romantically linked couple in which one Oscar-winning partner presented the award to their partner?
David Edelstein: I'm going top open this one up to the folks at home. Tracy to Hepburn? Randolph Scott to Cary Grant? Kevin Spacey to Kevin Spacey?
What's all the critical hype about MILLION DOLLAR BABY being a masterpiece, one of the best picture in years and could win this year's best picture? I can understand the ol' timer East vs. West Academy members wanting to give ol' Clint the big prize, (is he dying or something?), but the critics? And some I even trust, respect and identify with. I mean it was a good movie, but not a masterpiece. Certainly doesn't hold a candle to other boxing films like RAGING BULL. Or is as good as Clint's last one MYSTIC RIVER. Am I missing something? Wasn't it just mediocre at best?
AVIATOR is clearly this year's best crafted film and must find its way into the record books! I usually don't really care, or buy into the Oscar hype, but if MDB wins I will completely lose the teeny tiny ounce of faith I have in movies ...
David Edelstein: I'll have to refer you to my Slate review of Million Dollar Baby; I thought it was a mass of cliches and I hated it. But it has many, many champions, and a lot of people respect Eastwood for making risky movies at place like Warners. I really like The Aviator (I made the case for it in Variety last week)--and it could very well win. But no one LOVES it. It's dazzling but cool (by design). I think thelma Schoonmaker will take home an Oscar for her sensational editing, though. And I've heard a theory that Scorsese will get Best Director and MDB Best Picture. Maybe. It is sad that Scorsese would be recognized for a relatively impersonal film.
Leaving aside his comments to EW about the composition of the Oscar audience, what kind of performance do you expect from Chris Rock as host? More in the Letterman camp or sheer entertainment a la Crystal?
David Edelstein: There's actually A GREAT piece up on Slate right now suggesting that Chris Rock is less of a wild man and more of a calculated, even conservative comic than most people think. I think he'll gesture in the direction of being outrageous but no just when to pull back. He will be incrementally more subversive than most--although maybe not as bracing (or as smutty) as Whoopi.
You're one of the few film critics I've read that has indicated a degree of relish for the art of film scoring. What do you think of the nominees for Best Score this year? And do you think the Academy might honor the late Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and David Raksin with tributes?
David Edelstein: Thanks; I wish I were even more knowledgeable about music. NPR's Weekend Edition does a marvelous dissection every year of the nominated scores. I'd love to see a medley of those composers with footage of their films. I'm not sure Gil Cates would allow it.
Please, please, please tell me that "Sideways" will at least win a Best Adapated Screenplay award!
David Edelstein: Sideways will win a best adapted screenplay award. It's the least they deserve.
Will Judy Dench and Vin Diesel be presenting an award together?
David Edelstein: Let us pray. Although I was sort of hoping to see Vin and "Jeff Gannon."
Is any of the award ceremony or the red carpet part going to be live on Internet?
Question from a small village in the Andes. But not too small as we have Internet.
David Edelstein: You need a satellite dish, my friend. The awards will be posted on the Internet as they are given, but I'm not sure about an Internet feed. Do you get any TV, or are we your only life-line?
Why does the academy feel the need to reward animated movies (generally puff pieces) while overlooking the performances of wonderful comedic actors year after year?
David Edelstein: I wrote a piece in the NY Times two years ago about Oscar's ritual snubbing of comedy. It's not ennobling enough. i actually proposed an award for Best Comic Performance--something to recognize Bridges in The Big Lebowski or Keaton in beetlejuice or Hoffman in Tootsie or Steve Martin in All of Me, etc. etc. That went exactly nowhere.
New York, N.Y.:
Today's New York Times described
Sophie Okonedo as the "rising favorite"
for Best Supporting Actress. How do you
feel about that? And is there any chance
of Portman pulling it out?
Thanks; and keep up the great work on
Slate, the best magazine in America!
David Edelstein: Ah, my editor speaks. Sophie Okenedo could be part of an African-American sweep this year, and that would suit me fine--especially with Chris Rock hosting. I didn't respond to her performance as much as I did to Madsen's or Blanchett's, though. As for Natalie Portman, she certainly proved that she wasn't the drone from those Star Wars pictures--and that might be enough for this year.
Shaw, Washington, D.C.:
I have only one simple question: my girlfriend, the Oscar-lover is out of town, so I'm off the hook. Can you honestly give me one good reason I should watch the show this year? Yes, I've seen all the major award nominees, but besides the betting aspect, why should I bother?
David Edelstein: Glamour. Clothes. Cleavage. Drinking games (one shot everytime someone gets the orchestral hook). And really, how valuable is your time?
The Emperor Has No Clothes:
I really enjoy your reviews; of all the reviewers out there, you're the one I agree with most often, and you're a clever, entertaining writer. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on why "Million Dollar Baby" has won such overwhelming praise. I thought it was dreadful -- slow, dull, sappy, and filled with the broadest, most cliched stereotypes you'll see in a movie putatively made for adults. Clint Eastwood gives a terrible performance; Morgan Freeman is just doing his patented worldly-wise act that's getting pretty threadbare. The "villains" couldn't have been more cartoonish if they'd been drawn by Disney -- I mean, a former East German prostitute?!; It was almost as trite and manufactured as "Seabiscuit," another story about three misfits who come together to defy everyone's expectations.
But it's winning awards left and right, most critics fawn over it -- what's the deal? What I am missing? Did they hand out mind-altering substances at the press screenings?
David Edelstein: I've answered this question about MDB above, but I just wanted to publish your compliments. A gay prostitute could not have said it better. In addition to what you said below, I've seen combat, I was a champion football player, and I won a Peabody award.
Dear Mr Edelstein
Do you think there is a case for the qualifications for voting members of the Academy to be reformed in some way, perhaps to people actively engaged in contemporary filmmaking? A more select jury might encourage more adventurous choices than the sentimental favorites which often predominate, and may reduce the tedious tendency for the same handful of films to be nominated across every category.
David Edelstein: Do you really want to throw Mickey Rooney out of the Academy? I'm more concerned with getting him off the road.
That's a REALLY tough question and I don't want to earn the wrath of the AARP. (This country's senior citizen lobby.) I'd rather try to educate older voters, or, barring that, shame them.
What will this year's big upset be? I guess Imelda Staunton will win Best Actress.
David Edelstein: I'm going to bore you by saying there will be no upset. But you should check out Zogby for his polling results in this space later this afternoon.
Ann Arbor, Mich.:
I definitely would have given Best Actor to Jamie Foxx until last weekend, when I saw Hotel Rwanda. I was stunned by the quality of Don Cheadle's performance. And, I think in a Foxx-less contest, he might have won. Is there any chance of an upset for Cheadle, in the same way that Marsha Gay Harden pulled a Best-Actress upset a few years back?
Could he take Best Actor and Foxx gets the nod for Best-Supporting? Or is that too much of a long shot?
You also did not mention Clive Owen in your Slate column today. I thought his performance was breakthrough in Closer, an otherwise unappealing movie, and wonder if he could pull a Best-Supporting upset. Or is the Morgan Freeman sentiment too much to overcome?
David Edelstein: The scene in Hotel Rwanda in which Cheadle breaks down in the locker room after seeing all the mutilated bodies of men, women, and children is extraordinary. He weeps, he shakes, and then he straightens up and puts his suck-up politico mask back on to save the lives of his family and hundreds of others.
I just think that Foxx is a lock, that's all. And I doubt he'll get many votes for Collateral, terrific as he was.
Clive Owen and his new teeth were marvelous in Closer, but Freeman is so (deservedly) beloved. The nomination is a big deal for Owen, and he seems to me to be poised for real stardom. (If you haven't seen Croupier, rent it. And Owen was equally good in Gosford Park.)
Why did the Academy never get around to giving a lifetime achievement award to Ronald Reagan? (I mean for the other career he had after leaving the film industry.)
David Edelstein: Those damn liberal elitists who run Hollywood...
Hi David -
OK, I'm watching the O's on Sunday, as most of my movie friends will, and I can pretty much guarantee that in two weeks we will have forgotten all but two or three of the winners. I suspect even hardcore fans who think the awards are important also sense that they are caught up in a tide of marketing and either accept that as standard or just enjoy catching the waves.
But what's the editors' excuse at many publications for going all-O, all the time, in the run-up? There was a particularly egregious example in Salon the other day on Clint Eastwood -- a real apples vs. oranges piece about his standing with the left and the right over the years. Only reason I could see for it was the O's.
David Edelstein: Many of us journalists are paid by the word. Plus, it's easier than writing about movies that matter.
On a happier note, it does allow critics and entertainment writers to compare notes on important movies and achievements. I hate to say it, but I'm not sure that many people would be interested in what I have to say about acting, etc. if it weren't for the Oscars. I wouldn't be doing this now.
Why wasn't Paul Giamatti nominated for an Oscar? I'm not saying he should have won, but a nomination was certainly in order.
Also, what's the biggest snub in Oscar history for not getting nominated (hoop dreams?)
David Edelstein: Who knows? But that category was extraordinary this year. I was much more amazed at the lack of nominations for Jeff Bridges as a vampiric (metaphorically) writer in The Door in the Floor and Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside: a robustly physical actor debody-ized (if that's a word). Other plausible candidates were Liam Neeson and Jim Carrey (seriously). Johnny Depp is the only one who really doesn't belong--a fine, restrained performance under the circumstances, but not as ambitious as the performances above.
As to your biggest snub question: I'd go this year with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I think is a profound mixture of screwball romance and sci-fi paranoid memory play.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
I really like Mariska Hargitay of SVU and I just heard that her dad was an actor. Do you know of any worthwhile movies he was in?
David Edelstein: He was a muscle man who ended his career in some really disgusting torture pictures and was a favorite of your governor. I recommend Bloody Pit of Horror, especially if you want your girlfriend or wife to leave you.
Mr. Edelstein, you are my favorite movie critic in the
country -- I enjoy you both in Slate and on NPR's Fresh
Air. ... Since you're talking about great directors -- well,
at least you were talking about Scorsese -- I wonder if you
think that another all-time great, Francis Coppola, has it
in him to come back to the world of topnotch movie-
making. Or might he just be content making wine in
Marin (and hey, who wouldn't be?).
David Edelstein: Thank you for your kind words. I think Coppola blew a gasket during Apocalypse Now and will probably never be the same. That said, he directed two of the greatest movies ever made in this country, one near masterpiece (The Conversation), and a failure with many compensations (Apocalypse Now). that should be plenty for one lifetime. (I like some of his wine, too.)
Silver Spring, Md.:
Any chance Eastwood will slip in for Best Actor over Foxx because this is Eastwood's last chance for an acting Oscar -- remember the award to John Wayne?
David Edelstein: Eastwood is wonderful in MDB--so physically and vocally eloquent (that rasp is very expressive, although it sounds as if there's nothing left of his vocal cords). But he wasn't even nominated for a SAG award, which is a good indication that he's more beloved as a director these days than as an actor. And three of the other four nominees are just brilliant.
St. Louis, Mo.:
Is the answer to the trivia question William Hurt to Marlee (I forgot her last name) for Children of a Lesser God?
David Edelstein: Sounds about right to me.
Tysons Corner, Va.:
Jeffrey Wells takes a cheap shot at you on his site today:
"As Slate critic David Edelstein claims to have written in his hard-hitting book, "When Awards Lie," 'Oscars are not about merit blah blah but how the Hollywood establishment blah blah politics blah blah middlebrow blah guilty liberal blah old blah blah Valenti blah no Citizen Kane blah blah no Hitchcock blah blah Gladiator ...' Couldn't have said it better myself."
-- Why the animosity? Do you two have some sort of history?
David Edelstein: I haven't seen that but it doesn't sound like a slam. I like Jeffrey Wells' stuff.
David Edelstein: An addendum to the above: that was an EXACT quote from Wells. I wrote those blah blah blahs. (I get paid by the word.)
Best Comic Performance -- Those are usually left to the Best Supporting category, i.e., Kevin Kline in "A Fish Called Wanda," Marisa Tomei in "My Cousin Vinnie", ... but, comedians do win the big ones sometimes -- like Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets"
David Edelstein: Yeah, well, they wouldn't have won As Good As It Gets hadn't had a sick child and a mawkish humanist redemption structure. And let's not forget that the only real clown to have won an Oscar in the last few decades--the ghastly Roberto Benigni--needed a concentration camp around him.
New York, N.Y.:
Real quick what are your picks for who WILL win for the top eight categories?
David Edelstein: MDB, Foxx, Swank, Blanchett, Freeman, Eastwood for direction, Sideways and Aviator for screenplay. Those are my predictions, not my choices. I'm especially rooting for Annette Bening and Charlie Kaufman.
My wife and I consider Sideways to be the most overrated movie in years. Is it the power of the Weinsteins or some other force at work? By the way, we are not the usual demographic movie base: we are in our sixties and life-long moviegoers who love indie films such as the Station Agent, Amelie, etc.
David Edelstein: Well, I loved Sideways, and loved that such a small and funny and uninsistent movie could get industry recognition. The critics' awards must have helped, and I suspect there are a lot of Central Coast Pinot Noir drinkers in L.A. Also, the film was a pretty delicate treatment of addiction, both to alcohol and sex. It was about two men reluctant to grow up whose bodies and souls were going to seed. That's a potent theme, especially in Hollywood.
Re: Big Lebowski:
I'm gladdened to see some respect for The Dude. I think when all is said and done, that will be THE defining role of Jeff Bridges career. And I mean that in a good way.
David Edelstein: He is a remarkable and an underappreciated actor. But to say that the Dude defines him is too limiting. He's almost ALWAYS good in a wide variety of roles. (But yeah, the Dude is my favorite.)
Aside from Cheadle's performance in Hotel Rwanda, I thought the movie was horrific (and not because of its content). I don't remember any overall shots, Nick Nolte's character always seemed to be right across the street and the entire thing looked like it was shot on a soundstage. Your thoughts on the film? And what's your quintessential example of a film where an actor gave an incredible performance but the ultimate product was not so spectacular?
David Edelstein: I thought the film WAS a little clunky, but i responded to the passion of the filmmaker to tell that story. And Cheadle's character was an unusual one for that sort of movie. I liked that the film was a series of ever more desperate negotiations. And the story it told WAS vital.
I'm really confused as to why Jamie Foxx was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Collateral, when he was clearly the star. How do things like that get decided? Virginia Madsen seems like she should be in the best actress category, too.
David Edelstein: Tom Cruise was put up for Best Actor. Maybe it was contractual. But yes, Foxx was the protagonist, if not the STAR.
Madsen's role, though, is a supporting one.
Eternal Sunshine was the best film I saw last year. Was it hurt more by its release so early in the year or its decidedly creative approach to the space/time continuum? Or was it just the Jim Carrey curse?
David Edelstein: A lot of people didn't get it and some didn't like it. It didn't make any money. Maybe Carrey hurt it--maybe a different kind of actor could have turned on the right people (some of whom would *sniff* never see a Jim Carrey film). But I loved that quality Carrey brought to it of a strait jacketed clown.
One drink for every time someone mentions how wonderful The Movies are as an institution.
One drink for every male winner who thanks his wife for being "beautiful", rather than intelligent, loyal or supportive.
One drink for every person named during the Necrology who you forgot was dead.
If booing is audible when Reagan's death is mentioned, chug, because we'll have two weeks of conservative complaints to endure.
One drink for each losing nominee who pretends to look happy as someone else goes up to the stage.
David Edelstein: You'll kill us all.
I have had about all of Joan and Melissa Rivers that I can stand. The brainless chatter of the pre-Oscar stuff has really been pretty disgusting.
David Edelstein: There's a place for that red-carpet stuff. I just wish Joan Rivers wasn't so in love with her own vulgarity.
In re: Coppola -- two of the greatest American films? What about The Godfather I and II?
David Edelstein: that's what I was talking about. Did you think I meant Finian's Rainbow?
I've heard you on Fresh Air criticize Clint Eastwood and in particular Million Dollar Baby (I took your advice and turned down the volume on the radio so as not to hear your spoiler). Nonetheless, even after your criticisms, I still went to see MDB. Boy, was I disappointed. I was not morally outraged by the ending. I just found it dull and predictable. I could foresee what was going to happen and even predicted the dialogue that was going to propel the actions forth. But then I had to wait another 30-40 minutes There didn't seem to be any inner conflict or anything. Why don't I listen to you more?
Anyhow, I hope Million Dollar Baby doesn't win. On the other hand I hope Sideways does. Yet, I realize that won't happen. What do you hope wins vs. what will actually win? What movie would you have hoped would have won not considering those that actually got nominated?
David Edelstein: I don't want everyone to agree with me, only to appreciate my perspective enough to wrestle with it sometimes.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was my favorite movie this year. Sideways was my second favorite but I would not be unhappy to see The Aviator win as a consensus candidate.
I have noticed that the Academy has a habit of awarding less deserving work (or a body of quality work) as compensation for overlooking more deserving work (i.e., off the top of my, head William Holden for Stalag 17 instead of Sunset Blvd., Judi Dench for Shakespeare in Love instead of Mrs. Brown, Return of the King (my least favorite) for the two preceding films, and this year possibly Morgan Freeman for MDB instead of everything else he's ever done). Is this a valid pattern, or merely a result of my own myopia?
David Edelstein: Yeah, there's a time delay factor. It's frustrating. Where were the voters when Scorsese was turning American film upside down with Mean Streets? Too bad they can't give RETROACTIVE Oscars.
How is the Hollywood crowd taking Cates decision to alter how awards are given out? Techs handed to the winner in their seat? Calling up all five nominees to the stage? Sounds like a horrible idea to me!
David Edelstein: I know sound legend Walter Murch is kicking up a fuss. I hope one of the winners says something and the audience rises to its feet as one. cates is pretty arrogant, though.
I dislike Leo DiCaprio so much, I cannot bring myself to see this movie, I really can't. Just how much am I missing out by not seeing it?
David Edelstein: He's a fine, lightweight actor, especially in the rollicking early half of the film.
I see that it is 1 p.m. I am sorry that time has run out and that I couldn't answer so many smart questions. Let's do it again.