Oscar Wild!

My Ongoing Love Affair With Those Twisted Awards

My Predictions

Oh, well, let me chime in with my own wrong guesses. Oscar will go out on a light limb, honoring stuff that's ironic and edgy, but not so much so that it couldn't play on a double bill with Braveheart or The English Patient. Best Picture will be American Beauty, a witty enough Hollywood version of an independent movie, with the requisite amount of woman-hating and carefully averted blow jobs to be considered wildly daring. (Sorry, Cider House—if a couple of African Americans had been more visible in your avalanche of ads, it might have helped your credibility. But thanks for putting up enough of a fight that we were actually starting to feel sympathy for poor little gargantuan DreamWorks.) Best Actor is between Denzel Washington for The Hurricane and Kevin Spacey for his "I'm just wild about vagina" campaign; I'm praying for Denzel. Best Actress will probably go to Hilary Swank for her "I don't have a vagina" stunt performance in Boys Don't Cry, though Annette Bening is suddenly a contender, maybe because the Academy's realized Swank is Rob Lowe's sister-in-law.

Best Supporting Actor is between cheery abortionist Michael Caine and Magnolia's oozy "I hate vagina" prick Tom Cruise for a heavy-handed turn in a rotten movie's most nonsensical role, although he's a favorite for "guts," premature lifetime achievement, and his own pudendum expansion. (All right, who wants to tell the kid from The Sixth Sense that it's all over? Boys do cry.) Best Supporting Actress will be Angelina Jolie for her attention-seizing demento in Girl, Interrupted—though this category is usually rather nutty, so let's not rule out the other three broads or the mute. (Interjection: If you're counting, so far that's two actors who've denied gay rumors, one who told a friend not to play gay, a woman playing a woman who's a man, and one bisexual who doesn't talk to her father.) And while Sam Mendes will win for directing American Beauty because he did Cabaret on Broadway, Phil Collins will get Best Song because at least it's not "Sussudio."

illustration: Brian Biggs

Oscar's Glitziest Gaffes

Collins won't be the most bizarre Oscar holder ever—not by a long shot. People have copped Academy Awards for all sorts of reasons, among them longevity (Al Pacino) and the fact that they've finally been forgiven for bad behavior that everyone's decided was sort of hot anyway (Ingrid Bergman). The most cuckoo recipient ever was Loretta Young, a big Swedish meatball as the badly accented maid who runs for Congress in '47's The Farmer's Daughter. Thanks to knowing how to work the press like marionettes, the woman miraculously squeaked by Rosalind Russell, who was such a favorite that the presenter started to say her name before realizing Young actually won!

Other weirdo winners have ranged from How Green Was My Valley (not as green as the boogers I was eating from sheer boredom, but in '41, it seemed important enough to beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture) to Liz Taylor for Butterfield 8 (even she said the flick stank, but her emergency tracheotomy clinched it for her. Maybe Jim Carrey should get one).

There are weird losers, too—like various old-Hollywood types Oscar has uncharacteristically crushed just because he wasn't in a sentimental mood at that moment. Virtual locks like Burt Reynolds, Lauren Bacall, and Gloria Stuart all found themselves kicked into the gutter at the last minute, discarded with nothing but a floral centerpiece and a stack of clippings swearing they were going to win. The barbaric nature of this process is sad yet definitely not boring, and this year it'll be especially fascinating to see whether goodwill toward Cruise supersedes even longer-standing sentiment for Caine or vice versa. Either way, a Hollywood legend gets demolished for our viewing pleasure.

A Lifetime of Highlights

But let's rise above and admit that Oscar's memorable moments have come in droves, even if some of them dazzled only because of their compelling near-awfulness. The most mind-searing of all was the '73 sight of Sacheen Littlefeather fielding the Best Actor trophy on behalf of absentee Marlon Brando (The Godfather), claiming she was president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee and explaining that Brando couldn't possibly accept his award because of "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry." The little phony turned out to be an actress named Maria Cruz and not an Apache at all—talk about the bad treatment of Native Americans!

Similarly, Debby Boone performed that teary '77 Best Song winner, "You Light Up My Life," backed by a chorus of deaf kids who weren't really deaf. ("Their signing [was] mere mumbo jumbo," according to the seminal book Inside Oscar.) Nine years later, we took comfort in Marlee Matlin's more genuine hand gestures, but she could have been faking it, for all I cared. After all, brazen dissembling is integral to the Oscar experience, which is designed as a celebration of people playing extravagant roles. Right?

And Oscar's occasional honest moments are unforgettable too, like Goldie Hawn blurting, "Oh my God! The winner is George C. Scott!" when the Patton actor was named victorious in '71, despite having rejected the ceremony because it's "a two-hour meat parade." (These days, thankfully, it's a three-and-a-half-hour meat parade.) A producer had to accept for Scott, I guess because Sacheen Littlefeather was busy tidying up her reservation.

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