The 2011 Minna Street Oscars Party
Our group was solidly behind the new Oscar hosts being Anne Hathaway and James Franco, even though not all of us, or so I suspect, were sure who they are. I seem to have seen most of Anne Hathaway’s movies, for every time I fly, one’s playing on the little screen built into my neighbor’s tray back on the plane, and Hathaway is standing with hands on hips in a scalloped satin gown, confronting a taller guy with fire in her gaze. Seems like she’s constantly put upon, then something ignites and she has to tell off her tormentor. I do remember her from The Princess Diaries. We saw it at the Metreon and it was one of those San Francisco laid movies all San Franciscans love, if only in order to point out how fast and loose it plays with our geography. Anne Hathaway was a high school girl whose bohemian mother had somehow placed her in a school far out of their financial reach. The dialogue places their cute Victorian home somewhere in the South of Market area, Folsom Street in fact, a block and a half from my apartment—and yet our flat, severe Folsom has been festooned with the crazy hills and chills of Lombard, looking like ribbon candy it’s so curvy and steep, rolling up and down. We just loved her in that, but maybe she’s not so great in her other movies, and I am talking as a man who saw her suffer, a dull aching pain, in both Bride Wars and Valentine’s Day. It’s not like you have to be good to be a star, and whatever she does, people will enjoy having her around the same way they enjoy the charms of Pomeranian poodles or squirrels. James Franco was good as Daniel in Freaks and Geeks, and since then, well, it has been a career of, as everyone knows, a zillion projects, never quite right for any, but people admire his balls I expect, starring on Broadway, becoming an Episcopal priest, going to art school at Yale, laying down tracks with Kalup Linzy—
—but I was thinking of seeing 127 Hours, till I heard it was about him sawing his arm off and I realized you’d have to be crazy to see that! Did it do well? If so, it’s a bitter little world. What a title, did they use up every other title and had to resort to that? OK, so the two young stars hosting the Oscars did quite well, but if they ever come on again I hope it’s as elderly people, because I’ve had enough of their shtick. Hathaway joked about it being the “young, hip Oscars,” after Kirk Douglas was unleashed early on in the proceedings. When I survive seven strokes I hope I look half as shiny as Kirk Douglas, but asking him to present the Best Supporting Actress award guarantees a continuation of the notorious Jack Palance/Marisa Tomei affair of 1993, when Palance, high as a kite and doing one-handed pushups, is commonly thought to have given out the award to the wrong person—and later a janitor sweeping up found the real card that gave the award to Vanessa Redgrave. Poor Marisa Tomei’s been battling this rumor for near 20 years, and I expect Melissa Leo still has a few years on her to protest that by God, that award was mine, fuck you!
It was an Oscars without much suspense, and the first one I remember when the touters picked every single major award for me. No surprises whatsoever. But is surprise what we’re looking for when we watch the Academy Awards? My group was in it for the fun of it, expressing surprise when the show honored Gone with the Wind by ushering in a “two-time Academy Award winner”—not Olivia de Havilland as we hoped, but instead Tom Hanks—for some reason. We sighed when Matthew McConaghey appeared with Scarlett Johansson, for one had gotten most of the spray tan and the other just had it in spots. And here we had tried to see so many of the most nominated pictures!
The Social Network—loved it especially how every character, rich or poor, young or old, mean or nice, talked like Seth Cohen from The O.C. Entering the densely packed world of The Social Network is like watching one of the O.C. “Chrismukkah” episodes where they really let Seth Cohen rip. The King’s Speech really lets the moviegoing public see what a wonderful thing speech therapists are doing for people, and at the MLA I heard two speech therapists debate whether or not speech therapy really helps, you know, as much as the movie makes out. I’m sure I’m not the only one to prefer the selfish, pleasure-mad Mrs. Simpson and crazy Eddy to their more sober counterparts Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter. Really, if speech therapy helps the monarchy coast on for another thirty years or whatever, what good is it? I speak as one who, in childhood, was often advised by therapists to sleep with a little potato in my mouth to improve a condition vulgarly referred to as adenoids. Those little potatoes, just enough to open the mouth of a young boy and let him drool all night dreaming of Tony Dow. Speaking of dreams, The Kids Are All Right gave us yet another helping of Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo only hours after I had finally forgotten the horror of their teaming in that movie of Saramago’s Blindness. I felt for Annette Bening during the whole thing. Sure, she was controlling, but she was probably worried about Julianne Moore leaving parts of her hair on the hairbrush, the shower drain, the pillowcase, really anywhere the plot needed for her to do so. They should have been questioning, instead of why a lesbian leaps into the arms of a hunky sperm donor gardener with such alacrity, why instead she’s losing her hair with such frequency—like the Agatha Christie novel The Pale Horse which I’m sure you remember. I thought it would turn out that Annette Bening—a doctor if you recall—was going to diagnose that Julianne Moore was being slowly poisoned with thallium! Environmental illness—like Safe? Or continued fallout from that hideous Blindness movie? Environmental illness also plagues the women of Black Swan, who suffer from eczema-like patches of feathers brought on by the Mulleavy sisters, or scissors to the face, poor Winona Ryder looking pretty good despite the insult to her dignity. You wanted to scream when Natalie Portman peels off her back in the mirror and extracts those little feather nibs from some subdermal region. If it was the 14th century, she might have invented the quill pen, but instead, she is left to seethe in repression without a single side benefit for having invented nothing. Yes, we kept seeing the effects of a lousy environment all year, never more so than in the sphinxlike smiles of addlepated country women in Winters’ Bone. The one who played the mother of Jennifer Lawrence, smiling all the time and still looking tragic as the kids washed her hair and rubbed lard into her hands to keep them supple? She deserved a special Oscar all her own for bringing back the noble art of silent film acting. I kept asking Dodie, “What’s wrong with her?” In her Appalachian twang, Dodie just shook her head somberly and commented, “I cain’t reckon that I knows, Kevin.” I hope the fact checkers at Fanzine are on their toes because I’m seized with sudden panic—Was Winter’s Bone the name of it, or just its own porn name?
Then there was Inception, so ill it needs its own paragraph, to isolate it, to quarantine the other films from its illness. OK, I saw the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio mourning his dead wife—but is she alive—or did he kill her?—Or did she just die? She was in it more than most of the regular characters. But wait a second, that was Shutter Island, right? Did Christopher Nolan have this all planned ahead of time, the utter mirror familiarity of Leo’s new role a soothing dose of, “Oh, it’s that movie again, I saw this one.” Only to whisk the rug under your feet and try to convince you that Shutter Island was a dream? My friend Peter called me, said he’d walked out of the theater in disgust. “They should have called it Exposition,” he growled. Dodie and I rented it on Pay Per View, so there was really nowhere to walk out of. She said, “We could always walk out of our living room.” But I would say there isn’t as much at stake about walking out of one’s living room, as leaving a theater in mid-movie. I remember only one time I had done that, and it was a movie with that pale redhead who’s married to Jennifer Connelly, and he played the flagellating monk in The Da Vinci Code. In this movie he’s an angel come down from heaven to stop nuclear war, I think, and at that moment I rose like Ignatius O’Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces, and I shouted out, “Lord in heaven, deliver us from such pap!” Inception I can recommend for the insidious, refined sex appeal of Tom Hardy, and for the presence of young Ellen Page as the world’s youngest genius. Her face a perpetually crumpled punctuation mark, Page gets to pose every question imaginable in the exposition—we wondered if Christopher Nolan had encountered angry focus groups behind one way mirrors, and noted down every question: “Are dreams dangerous?” “Can there be such a thing as a dream within a dream?” “Can the edges of cities curl?” I expected her to ask Leo, “Why is the sky blue,” and that’s a question I can never understand the answer to.
But this wasn’t going to be a column about why Ellen Page is so questioning, it was going to be a hard-hitting expose about Cher not being nominated for best Older Actress in Burlesque. I figured once people started talking about how wonderful Michelle Williams is in Blue Valentine, that Cher was not going to be nominated for Best Actress this year, but come on! Not even her song got nominated? That’s pure anti-Cherism. I kept trying to hum the other nominated songs and got mixed up. Then I realized there were only four nominations. What happened to Cher? Couldn’t they have squeezed her song in? Four + one would have made five. Was her song so negligible that it didn’t even count as a song? Randy Newman, winning the award, asked the same question: why only four? Insiders claim that the murder of publicist Ronni Chasen has made Hollywood leery of even mentioning Burlesque, in case there’s a curse that could be activated around it. For me, all it took was nine words, “Gwyneth Paltrow will perform ‘Coming Home’ from the film Country Strong,” for me to hand back my SAG card, the way that boys my age used to burn their draft cards in the age of Vietnam. That is, for reasons of common decency in shared social space. How did Gwyneth—only a few years ago the epitome of Hollywood washedupness—become so hot again? And to come back as a musical star on top of it? It just isn’t making sense! One day I was in line at Duane Reade and I heard a strange song piped in from speakers above my head. Quick as thought I pulled out my I-Phone, twirled it to Shazam, and pumped my fist into the air in the direction of the ceiling, and oh—my—God—the little words showed up on the mirror: you are listening to Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis performing Cruisin’! Not even a “g” at the end of “Cruisin’,” only a lone apostrophe as if to say, I’m in the vernacular, I’m country strong dammit. A closer look at my Shazam scores is like a real walk of shame: I see I also asked Shazam to tell me who is singing “It’s My Life” (Gwen Stefani) and “All through the Night” (Cyndi Lauper). All of a sudden this salutary slap in the face is doing me some good and I decide to watch the Oscars like the rest of you, glad for what I can get. I’m nobody special, I deserve only four song nominations. Three really when you discount the eternal Randy Newman nomination. One of the nominated songs was from 127 Hours, my favorite movie, with James Franco, and A.R. Rahman wrote it, that makes sense. I’ll vote for that one, it’s quality. Did you know Barack Obama’s favorite movie song is “As Time Goes By”? That Lena Horne paid the price so that Halle Berry could walk in the sun? That Francis Ford Coppola was five years older than everyone else?
I was learning all these new facts and liking them, when Gwyneth came on in that flattened blond hair and mink makeup, sang her song, and Ron said, “Cher meets Sissy Spacek,” so I guess Cher’s influence is being felt somewhere. Well, there’s always next year. I have a friend, the poet Colin Herd in Scotland (author of Too OK) who swore to me a few weeks back that he would destroy his TV if his namesake, Colin Firth, won the Oscar. I had no idea “Sir Colin” was so disliked in his native UK, but they say he’s like Jerry Lewis, except backward, adored in the US and perhaps given to small children as an emetic in his native land. Well, Colin Herd, is your TV still intact or did you throw it out the window onto Edinburgh Market Square?
The message I kept getting is that we’re on the brink of a massive war, but if we do the right thing, we shall prevail. It’s a conceit that takes the possibility of a politics and smashes it into an empty tureen. And it wears acting royalty on its face: Geoffrey, Helena, Colin.