Oscar Party 2008: Blood on the Tracks

Kevin Killian


Few days back, looked like our English cousins had the race all sewn up, which always takes the fun out of it, for who can argue with British craftsmanship or whatever. We used to have a “Yarn from England” store in the middle of town when I was a boy, and colonial-minded moms and widows flocked there, continually, learning the loom and packing Union Jack style shopping bags to the very brim—and tight—with yarn made in Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, all fleecy colors and fuzzy. These shoppers scorned the slick, shoelacelike yarn made indigenously by Americans and I think they all moved to Hollywood and became members of the Academy, for every year it’s “Daniel Day Lewis is a shoo-in.” Well, the Oscar races usually heat up about a week before when people realize—or is it hope, hope beyond reason—that maybe Daniel Day Lewis doesn’t have it all sewn up necessarily. People begin thinking about that milkshake speech he gives in There Will Be Blood and rethinking and mumbling, take away that titanic Cotton Mather bluster and it’s sort of thin.

Besides which, I’ve never really thought out my policy for whether or not stars should be allowed to get more than one Academy Award. I don’t know, what’s your opinion? Commonsense says that, if Daniel Day Lewis (DDL) gives the best performance every year, then he should be entitled to as many Oscars as he can carry home. And yet don’t they have a hall of fame rule for just this sort of case when one brilliant ham ties up the competition year after year after year? Apparently not or they wouldn’t keep nominating Jack Nicholson I guess. Maybe I’m thinking of the Best Dressed List, a far more cleverly constituted organization, which after you win three or four times, like I would know, you get kicked upstairs and enshrined in a beam of permanent glamour—like the old Barbie costume “Solo in the Spotlight.” But then again I hate when they “waste” an Oscar by giving it to someone who’s not a star, who got it just by a fluke. Giving it to Louise Fletcher was an early lesson for me. It’s almost as if the academy resents stars and wants their precious awards to go only to Brits and flukes.

They proved that this year, when, a few months back, I was washing dishes with the pre-Oscar issue of Entertainment Weekly propped up in front of me in the dish drainer, if that’s what that thing is called. EW was discussing, no, predicting the best actress nominees. A classy bunch all in all, and leading the pack, head and shoulders above all the rest, was America’s best actress, Angelina Jolie. I sort of felt sorry for the other women in the category, so utterly outflanked, and some of them were probably pretty good in little theater productions and rep. Imagine my surprise when, the next morning, the announcement came in that the best actress nominees did not include Angelina Jolie. Instantly—my hands still wet and soapy—I had a flash of a vision into the back rooms of Hollywood and you could feel the resentment bubbling over like you can feel the heat coming up from the desert sands. “Robbed!” screamed the fan sites, and really there’s no other way to put it. Why do the studios even put American stars into nomination, they must know by now it’s a losing battle.

Let me think if I know anything about the winners! Marion Cotillard I never heard of before tonight, but the guests at our Oscar party clued me in that she plays Edith Piaf in a French biopic called La Vie en Rose. Well, if I had known it was a biopic I wouldn’t have wasted precious energy voting for sentimental favorite Julie Christie while voting against too cute to be true Ellen Page. I would have just asked, well, who was in a biopic? and voted for that person. Drew said she was excellent and also went through many complex makeup changes, so he voted for her as well in the makeup corner, while I was marking my ballots for Transformers or something. Maybe Norbit with Eddie Murphy. Embittered, our guests deduced that Hollywood gave black actors the nod last year, they’re not going to honor the makeup crew that made Eddie Murphy white, not this year. Javier Bardem, you can win every year as long as you bring your mother as your date with her hundred rings and her forty-five bracelets of bright bone on each arm. We all gasped when you turned up in a regular haircut, instead of that Three Stooges look you sported in No Country for Old Men, and a ripple rang round the room from Emily on the far left to Stephen all the way over on the right, “He is so handsome!” Daniel Day Lewis, you’re always the best at whatever you do, and the movies were the poorer for it during that stretch you gave up acting and took up shoemaking at that cobblers in Sardinia, and in There Will Be Blood you eat up the screen with the passion of Norbit. And I did vote for you, DDL!

I remember when you were playing Hamlet in London one evening and you just couldn’t go on because of all your complex feelings about fathers and sons, so you walked out on the play, inspiring the subsequent Canadian TV show Slings and Arrows—that was a classic. We all feel like walking away sometimes, Daniel Day… but only you have the balls to do it. I’m hoping that with your second Oscar and your touching speech about “fathers and sons” you have gotten over your fathers and sons complex.

Finally, there is Tilda Swinton, completing the quartet of larger than life European actors. Few years back I was walking to my car here on Natoma Street, a crack-ridden alley of San Francisco, and to my surprise Tilda Swinton was sitting in one of those canvas directors chairs mounted right on the urine-soaked pavement. I’m like, Tilda Swinton, I remember you from all those Derek Jarman movies! And from Orlando! What the devil are you doing on Natoma Street! She had found, she whispered, another muse like Derek Jarman she planned to collaborate with from now on, and this was our own Lynn Hershman Leeson! And she, Tilda, was just waiting for Lynn to decide what she wanted her, Tilda, to do, and in the meantime she was passing time reading The Nation! We later rented the movie and we screamed when we saw Natoma Street! And our car was in it too! And years later, during the run of WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in LA, I told Lynn Hershman how my car—an ‘87 Dodge Aries wagon—had made it into Teknolust—for that was the name of the film—and she was far from being impressed, though not absolutely rude. Anyhow Tilda, do you remember me, on Natoma Street, your fan? We got a $100 ticket for parking there in a perfectly legal space, because they were making a movie there. Humph, we should have charged the production company $100 for use of a period vehicle.

Minette said that the Oscars are the only holiday that honors the dead. We pondered that for a minute then kept gabbing and erasing our ballot marks as surreptitiously as possible. Yes, they honor the dead, and excuse me for complaining, but every year I wait and wait for the “In Memoriam” part of the show, and this year let me down badly! It wasn’t (as in some years) that not enough stars had died… No, no, far from it, and the applause swelled when they showed 60s stills of Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds, and 50s stills of Deborah Kerr, but why on earth have they come to a point where they show pictures of movie producers, or announce the deaths of makeup men, or they’ll have a picture of “Mickey Truman, agent,” or “Freddie Melvin, executive.” Oh please, it was bad enough when the In Memoriam segment started noting the deaths of writers and directors; then it was film composers and cinematographers, now agents and executives! Well naturally you don’t get the flood of salt tears buzzing behind your eyes. The whole tide of human feeling just dries up like an old river channel that toxic waste set into. Even bringing in the one and only Heath Ledger as their final goodbye could not save the show for me. They should have started with Heath Ledger, then shown Betty Hutton, Laraine Day, all right, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni for the intellectuals, had Heath come back again, perhaps in a different part, and then driven it home with the perfect Trifecta of Suzanne Pleshette, Deborah Kerr, and Heath Ledger for the third time. There wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house, not even in the boneless sockets of agents and executives.

Jon Stewart said that Nicole Kidman was the third pregnant actress to hand out an award. Georgette said that now that she was pregnant, she couldn’t do botox, but another gambler replied that there were now Botox protocols for pregnant stars, and in any case when you’re pregnant your face puffs up to Botox proportions anyhow so there’s no need. She (Kidman) looked just the same to me, I could not detect any more or less Botox in her face. She followed Penelope Cruz in presenting and we wondered if the two of them met, backstage in the green room, in an awkward Henry James “donnée,” heads meeting in rapt conversation, both of them remembering the little things Tom Cruise used to do to them. Poor Nicole has that melancholy look to her now of being the woman with more flops than any other performer in Hollywood history, while Penelope must be fairly jumping for joy she was not asked to make The Golden Compass or Invasion or Margot at the Wedding or any other items on Nicole Kidman’s 2007 resume. I am glad she is having those twins or whatever with Keith Urban’s sperm, for there is no room on the screen for Nicole Kidman at this moment. But you understand this is really nothing but fodder for what is sure to become Hollywood’s greatest comeback, eventually, perhaps when the twins are nineteen or twenty and somebody, probably somebody not even born yet, has the bright idea to sober up the retired, penniless, Nicole Kidman from the Australian shanty saloon she’s been hiding up in ever since rehab failed her husband for the nth time, and casting her in a film about the final days of Tilda Swinton, martyr of the Left. It has to happen, it’s only a matter of time.

I haven’t even gotten up yet to the guy who was 100 years old whom Nicole introduced and who spoke very well we all thought. At our little party, composed of the members of my wife’s writing workshop, and thus perhaps a more artistic crowd than most, the arguments were bitter about whether or not Juno is a pro-life film or perhaps only co-opted by the pro-life people in which case it really wasn’t the film’s fault––oh yes it is, oh no it’s not, it’s really not. The winner of our pool turned out to be Maizie, who got to the event half an hour late and who professed to have seen only two of the movies involved, and yet she got fourteen right, far more than anybody else. She’s like one of those characters in a William Gibson novel who can put her hand on the TV and she can read the minds of everyone, including the electorate, who voted for best cinematographer to be Robert Elswit for No Country for Old Men instead of my favorite, Roger Deakins. She reads the zeitgeist, what can I say? Last time I got 14 right about anything, it was a quiz about Lana Turner.

I read an article in the Chronicle that interviewed this one ordinary Joe Schmoe from Marfa Texas, who signed up for the movie No Country for Old Men. They filmed one scene there, in the outskirts of Marfa, that eerie scene right at the beginning when Josh Brolin stumbles into a ring of trucks and sedans stopped dead in their tracks, all the drivers killed, blood everywhere, some kind of drug deal went wrong? Well, this guy was one of the dead. Then as it turns out they also had him in There Will Be Blood, which used the same location, just dressed it a little different. This added to my impression that Blood and Country were sort of the same movie; at any rate kissing cousins as we say down Marfa way. I expect in years to come fans of both movies will be making Marfa a regular port of call when they visit, as fathers and sons visit that Iowa town where they’ve built a real field of dreams to throw a ball back and forth to each other, man to boy, boy to man.

I had a friend who lived in Astoria, Oregon, lovely little seaside town except that obstreperous and devoted fans of The Goonies are always stopping her asking her if she could take their photo in front of this or that Goonies landmark. And the problem got only worse a few years back, when The Ring was filmed right there in Astoria. Remember The Ring, with Naomi Watts, and that horrid little boy? And how if you put a VHS tape into the VCR and watched it, three days later you would die? Well, this movie too attracted cultists who like to come to Astoria and see the places where the movie was made but they’re largely evil, swears my friends, or at any rate they’re into Satanic ritual and it is said that a group of them captured two of the Goonies fans and roasted them alive in their own sweat when the moon was high above the old wishing well. There will be blood! And not the blood of agents and executives either, just of loyal Oscar fans gathering together and cheering like mad when they showed Jane Fonda’s old hairdo.