Oscar had me fooled

All right, I admit it. I got cocky. What else can explain my miserable performance? I only predicted 13 of 24 categories correctly last night, and still managed to tie for third place, which I suppose says more about the unpredictable nature of the awards than about the quality of my competition.

The first excuse is that I didn’t see many of the nominated film. But … enh. That’s not really a big deal. I think the better excuse is that it was an upset-filled night.

By my tally, there were at least five major upsets last night, and a couple of unexpected wins.

The upsets: First, “The Pianist’s” three wins were all upsets. Adapted screenplay, Adrien Brody for leading actor, and Roman Polanski for direction. Then there was Eminem’s surprise win in the song category (the consensus pick was “I Move On” from everyone’s best-picture winner, “Chicago”) and “Frida’s” upset in the original score category.

So that’s five categories out the window right there. Had I gotten those I would have been at a respectable 18 out of 25, a very good percentage. Then there was the animated feature win for “Spirited Away,” which I don’t think was an upset but did come as a surprise to me.

“Spirited Away” was a foreign film done in an animated style (anime) unfamiliar to the Academy’s older voters. It’s amazing they picked it over a traditional kid-friendly Disney flick, “Lilo & Stitch.”

The close calls were Renee Zellwegger, who I thought would pull it out on “Chicago’s” strength, her SAG win, and her overall lovability, especially as compared with cold fish Nicole Kidman. Original screenplay was another tough one, since only one of the nominees was up for best picture (“Gangs of New York”), and that movie’s screenplay was not widely admired.

I went for “Far From Heaven” but Almodovar pulled it out. Them’s the breaks. We did pull home a prize — a DVD of “American Beauty.” Perhaps it will remind me next time around to … look closer. Yoish.

What about the telecast itself? Brody’s win was the highlight of the evening. No one expected that. Karen and I just saw “Gangs” and Daniel Day-Lewis was fabulous in that. But I guess Oscar wanted to see a new guy take it. He gave a great speech and he did what every Jewish man in America wants to do — kiss Halle Berry. Good for him.

writes that while she’s lusted after Brody for some time she couldn’t bring herself to see “The Pianist,” seeing as how it was directed by a child rapist. And Karen was especially disturbed at the standing ovation the absent Polanski received for his director win, which is completely understandable.

I don’t know if people forget, or forgive. But at some point we should be able to separate art from the artist who has done a despicable thing. Not to forgive, but to acknowledge that someone who could do something so despicable could also be incredibly talented at his craft. It’s tragic in a sense that people who do evil things so often have some good to offer — it would be so much easier if things were different.

On the political side of things, I tallied five anti-war political statements or gestures. Four in the acceptance speeches of Brody, Almodovar, Chris Cooper and Michael Moore. A little speech from one of the co-stars of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” in the introduction to the song from “Frida,” and Susan Sarandon’s peace sign before introducing a category.

Unless you count the MPAA president’s “We love you, troops” message, in which case it’s six.

Pretty much all were handled with aplomb except for Moore’s, which was greeted with a chorus of boos as well as cheers. Obviously, folks weren’t booing because of his anti-war stance; most of Hollywood shares his views. But he wasn’t as tactful about it, I suppose.

No one should have been surprised. I thought there was a possibility Moore might be denied the Oscar because of his very well known political positions. Indeed, he is at bottom a polemicist who tries to entertain while driving home his message. Whether he’s successful or not depends on your taste, but there’s no secret about where he’s coming from.

So why the boos? Why couldn’t he just say his piece? It’s live TV, folks. Get over it. If the Academy doesn’t like folks making political statements, they should have a minute delay or something. Until then, people are going to use the platform to say whatever they want to say. The thing is that for all the talk about bad form versus good form and being respectful of the troops, etc., the truth is that the Hollywood folks are just afraid of pissing off the paying customers in the fly-over country who shell out bucks week after week for their schlock.

That’s what it’s all about. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with making money. Just spare us the holier than thou attitude. Steve Martin saved the night with his remark, “The Teamsters are putting him in the trunk of a limo.” He was great again. Sharp material, very well delivered.

I’m disappointed Scorsese didn’t pull it out, but he doesn’t really need it. Sure, he’s never won best director, but does anyone doubt that he is the greatest living American director? Is there any question about the scope of his influence and breadth of his genius?

Scorsese should be very secure in the knowledge that, if nothing else, the Academy will come calling with an lifetime award before long.