"How did you know?" they'll say.
Or: "It's getting late -- let's watch Best Picture at my place."
Claim you got it by divining the entrails of a dwarf pig; say anything but never admit that what you've undertaken is a little exercise in creative anthropology. The Academy is a small, inbred community of 4,144 voting members, and their taste obeys a logic as inexorably archetypal as the totems and taboos of the Watusi. Consider merely the obvious: Whatever wins Best Picture has a built-in edge in all categories. Nominees in lesser categories have a leg up if their movie was nominated for Best Picture. Last hurrahs over first-timers. Weighty themes over entertainment. Sentimental leftism u ber alles. And Britannia rules the waves.
These are the givens. Now, the envelopes, please.
The big winner, according to almost everyone who knows how the game is played, will be "Amadeus." The inexorable logic aside, it's big, it's classy, great music, great costumes, and a view of the world that's simpatico to the world capital of professional jealousy. Unwittingly, "Amadeus" is a parable of life in Hollywood. For God, substitute the studio executive who says some will work, others won't, according to a scheme that's hidden from mortals.
"Amadeus" enters the fray with the blessings of the Los Angeles critics, the handicappers at Film Comment, and most important, the Directors Guild, which anointed Milos Forman Best Director. Only twice in almost four decades has the Guild's choice been contradicted by the Academy, and Best Picture has generally followed Best Director. Then again, the Guild nominated Norman Jewison for "A Soldier's Story," and the Academy didn't -- they obviously don't agree on everything. Still, if you're betting in the office pool, ink in "Amadeus" and Forman.
There is an outside chance that David Lean, director of "A Passage to India," will take Best Director. The ethic this year is to share the wealth. And the 76-year-old Lean, a former Oscar winner making the Big Comeback and the Swan Song at once, is the sentimental favorite. The cagey bettor might choose Lean, figuring everyone else in the pool will pick Forman -- if Forman wins, the dough will be split too many ways to amount to much. But the inside skinny from Hollywood says otherwise. "Forman," hisses the Confidential Source. "Forman."
F. Murray Abraham, who played Salieri in "Amadeus," is a good bet for Best Actor. He's an old craftsman, he's worked on the Legitimate Stage, and he's obscure (which is the next best thing to being a huge star). A lot of people are talking about Jeff Bridges -- he's extremely well-liked in Hollywood, and there's a chance that Abraham and Tom Hulce, as stars of the same movie, will cancel each other out. Go with Bridges as a long shot. The rest of the field is unlikely. Sam Waterston's character in "The Killing Fields" was hard to like. Albert Finney appeared in "Under the Volcano," a big bomb; and Tom Hulce, also of "Amadeus," isn't the character Hollywood identifies with (in Amadeus-as-Hollywood-parable, he's Steven Spielberg -- the guy they're all jealous of).
Sally Field is the odds-on favorite for Best Actress. She's got loads of integrity (no more Flying Nun for this lady), and she's won before (for "Norma Rae"). Most important, she starred in "Places in the Heart," which was nominated for Best Picture. She is well-liked in Hollywood. Judy Davis would have a shot if "Passage" wins Best Picture -- otherwise, no soap (who's Judy Davis?). Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek starred in films that everyone has forgotten ("Country" and "The River" respectively). And Vanessa Redgrave, an outspoken Palestine Liberation Organization sympathizer, has the prospects of, well, the PLO.
Dr. Haing S. Ngor will win Best Supporting Actor for his fine work in "The Killing Fields." They want to give "The Killing Fields" something. And in the category that has become the repository of La La Land's liberal piety, Ngor is an authentic liberal cause -- a real-life refugee, he actually suffered. Pat Morita (of "The Karate Kid"), Adolph Caesar (of "A Soldier's Story), John Malkovich (of "Places in the Heart") are only pretending they suffered -- they can't compete. And Sir Ralph Richardson (of "Greystoke") is dead -- what's the point if he can't come to Swifty Lazar's party? At a luncheon given for the nominees, Ngor was greeted with a deafening round of applause. The luncheon was mostly members of the press, but still, this smells like a sure thing.
If Dame Peggy Ashcroft doesn't win Best Supporting Actress, my name isn't David O. Selznick. She has it all -- she's a Dame (and, at 78, a Grande Dame), she's British, she works in the theater, blah, blah, blah. Other nominees, Christine Lahti and Geraldine Page, appeared in dogs ("Swing Shift" and "The Pope of Greenwich Village"). Lindsay Crouse was wonderful in "Places in the Heart," but she's young -- they'll get her the next time around. Glenn Close is young, too -- she'll get another chance.
Robert Benton will win Best Screenplay for "Places in the Heart," as a sort of consolation prize, because everyone in Hollywood loves Bob Benton. Lean might get Best Screenplay Adaptation as a consolation prize, but the best bet is to go with the winner: Peter Shaffer for "Amadeus."
Because the biggies are more or less obvious, pools can be won or lost in the fringe categories. Chris Menges should win Best Cinematography for "The Killing Fields" (he was so honored by the New York and National critics), but don't be surprised by Miroslav Ondricek for "Amadeus." Best Foreign Film is considered a tossup. The Argentinean entry, "Camila," is the kind of melodramatic costume drama that will please elderly Academy members (the only ones with enough time on their hands to see all five, and thus qualify for voting). Then again, it has some steamy sex that might scandalize the same people. "Dangerous Moves" is the only one with recognized stars (Liv Ullman, Leslie Caron) and a producer with a track record (Arthur Cohn, who brought us "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis"). Go with "Dangerous Moves," by a nose.
Best Original Song has Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (from "The Woman in Red") vying with Ray Parker's "Ghostbusters" theme. Go with Wonder. "Amadeus" should win Costume Design, Sound, and Art Direction. "A Passage to India" should take Best Editing and Best Score. "The Times of Harvey Milk" should win Best Documentary. "Greystoke" should take Best Makeup; "Ghostbusters" Best Visual Effects. All of these piddling categories, though, are tossups, and the designer of an office pool that includes them should be furiously scolded and made to eat all the unpopped kernels in the bottom of the bowl.
Any good office pool, though, should include a guess as to when the show will end. Every year, the Academy promises it will be over by midnight, and every year they renege. This year, they're even using a "Beat the Clock"-type apparatus, and according to some, Academy officials have threatened to use a vaudevillian hook to drag off long-winded speakers. Don't believe a word of it. The best guess is 12:50 a.m., which, according to Academy officials, is how long the show will last if everything goes right.
What's odd about the Oscars this year is that there won't be disappointments, because the disappointments came more than a month ago, with the appalling omissions of the nominations. No Steve Martin. No Kathleen Turner. No Melanie Griffith -- the list goes on and on. Taken seriously, the Oscars would lead to much gnashing of teeth, but that's beside the point. The drama of it! Today, only two accountants from the firm of Price Waterhouse know who will win this year's Oscars. Tomorrow night will make accountants of us all!
Appreciate them for what they are. Watch Jack Lemmon get choked up. Groove on the gowns. Visualize Academy prexie Gene Allen ramming his head into a wall as the show goes overtime. Try to imagine what on earth they will make of all this in the People's Republic of China. Burn with a hard, gemlike flame. You get the idea.