At tonight's Oscars, "Babel" has everything it needs to win Best Picture: The audience will be filled with extremely rich people -- many of them Academy voters -- who have entrusted their precious offspring, once again, to the live-in nanny while they go out on the town. Ostensibly a hauntingly circular story about three entirely different yet equally desperate situations around the globe, "Babel" is really just a well-made rumination on the paranoia that comes with having hired help, especially when you're on vay-kay.
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play an attractive, well-to-do Southern California couple who travel to a rubbly part of Morocco and find that it's a lousy place to try to get away from things, especially when you're unhappy in your marriage and you've been shot in the collarbone. At the same time, their nanny, played by Best Supporting Actress nominee Adriana Barraza, takes the couple's children with her to Mexico for a raucous family wedding, getting them all mixed up in a border chase and lost in the scorching desert. (The third narrative is about a lonely Japanese teenager, played by the also-nominated Rinko Kikuchi, who emits that morose, Pacific Rim hipness, giving the film a "Lost in Translation"-esque gloom.)
It's a lovely and sometimes gripping movie, but, as with Best Picture winner "Crash" last year, "Babel" strikes me as one of those films of which my appreciation would be enhanced considerably if only I lived in West L.A. and gave more of my time to improving the world, as the celebs do. There's a very certain concern that washes over it. ("Crash," for those who lauded it, wove together stories of the everyday 21st-century angst over race, language and cynical happenstance in the City of Angels. It was catharsis for the elite, playing off whatever thoughts people may be having by themselves inside $70,000 cars.)
"Babel's" star Pitt (not nominated), who in real life superhumanly illuminates the headlines by visiting trouble spots up close and holding news conferences, is the perfect star for these stylized worryflicks. The Academy, which must increasingly distinguish its awards show from the onslaught of more populist shows, loves a "Babel": a serious movie in which celebrities get to be their most serious. It's a covert Hollywood memo on the state of the planet, a new "Crash," complemented by this year's star-studded affection for globally minded aid work and sporting a (Product) Red proceeds-go-to-Africa-relief Gap hoodie. This unplanned synergy is Hollywood showing you how much it cares.