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Winners and Losers
Oscars predictions and distractions.


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It’s Oscar weekend. Before Jon Stewart makes his first Dick Cheney shooting joke, NRO asked some moviegoers three questions: 1) Predict Best Picture winner. 2) In an ideal world, what would be Best Picture? 3) How annoying is George Clooney. Here goes…

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WARREN BELL

Oscar will do more than fish up on that mountain, as Best Picture goes to Brokeback. Because what does Oscar love more than love? A movie that mainstream audiences have absolutely no interest in. (e.g., The English Patient or The Last Emperor.)

In an ideal world, Oscar would be saluting something, anything that was a comedy. None of the nominated films, performances, or screenplays are from that most difficult and satisfying of genres. Oscar takes himself too seriously and needs to Netflix The 40 Year Old Virgin .

As for George Clooney, there was a time when he was widely admired throughout the business of show as a modern Sinatra, cool incarnate, a love-’em-and-leave-’em playboy with an artist’s soul. He made challenging career choices, took on interesting projects, supported his friends and did it all with a wink and a smile.

Then he started to talk.

Warren Bell is a 16-year veteran of the sitcom business (currently executive producer of ABC’s According to Jim) and a not-so-secret conservative.

ANDREW BREITBART

Given Oscar’s recent tendency to pat himself on his back for venerating his progressive ideals, Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s celebration of life on the cowboy down-low, should win the prized golden phallic symbol.

I didn’t see the film but the reviews are tediously unanimous: It is a slow-paced, nuanced, and skillfully crafted piece of art that uniquely captures the sweeping majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Oh yeah, and two married sheepherders do it in a tent. I never understood the lure of IMAX–until Brokeback Mountain!

Problem is that infidelity is infidelity and if I can’t sit through the awkwardness of Diane Lane sneaking around on Richard Gere (Unfaithful), I know I’m going to have trouble stomaching Jake Gyllenhaal cheating on Anne Hathaway with a dude.

Am I boycotting Brokeback? No. I’ll NetFlix it–and likely enjoy it. I’d just prefer not to be sent an overt message from the Academy on Oscar night that Brokeback’s acclaim is somehow a valid rebuke of her political enemies.

Crash, up for Best Picture, wowed me in how politically incorrect it was despite using a minefield of PC devices. I would be pleased if it or Capote won. But The 40 Year Old Virgin is my dream pick for Best Picture. Unfortunately, though, it is only on the rare occasion that the Academy Awards deigns to acknowledge comedy. This year would have been the perfect opportunity, considering the especially weak field of movie choices. There’s always next year, I suppose. Once Hollywood reclaims her sense of humor perhaps other positive human traits will follow.

The only excuse George Clooney has for his current behavior is that he inherited Aunt Rosemary’s time machine and thinks he is in 1961 as a member of a vanguard artistic movement. His sanctimony over beaten-to-death issues like McCarthyism and his insistence that his continued partisan platitudes put his career at risk defy logic. The tragedy is that he seemed more approachable when he played George Burnett on the Facts of Life.

On a side note, I hear a lot of talk about Jon Stewart, only a cable television star, not bringing enough star power. Let me remind people Whoopi Goldberg was the center square on the “new” Hollywood Squares the last time she hosted.

Andrew Breitbart is the publisher of breitbart.com, co-author of Hollywood Interrupted, and longtime Drudge Report contributor.

Ross Douthat

What Will Win: Brokeback Mountain–because it’s the favorite and the favorite usually wins; because the Academy won’t be able to resist striking a “brave” blow in the culture wars; and because it’s a far, far better movie than the execrable Crash, which is shaping up to be its main competition.

What Should Win: Out of the nominees, Capote–it’s intimate and gripping, a mix of virtuosic acting and directorial restraint. But Terence Malick’s The New World is by far the most original, ambitious and astonishing work of art committed to film this year, and it’s the only 2005 movie that critics (even the ones who find it slow-moving and pretentious) will still be reckoning with 50 years from now.

How Annoying is George Clooney?: Well, at least he wasn’t responsible for Crash . . .

Ross Douthat is an associate editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the author of Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class.

DANA GIOIA

Let me just answer #2: Cinderella Man.

Dana Gioia is chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

THOMAS HIBBS

Like many others in recent weeks, I’m betting that for Best Picture Brokeback Mountain will get edged out by Crash, Paul Haggis’s sprawling take on race and familial angst that goes nowhere and in the end has little to say.

Not having seen everything, I can’t supply a best movie list but I do have five favorites:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe The huge box-office hit may not be as lush or as magical as Peter Jackson’s LOTR films but it far exceeded Jackson’s heavily hyped, King Kong. Kudos to Walden Media for bringing Lewis’s book to the screen in such a faithful version.

Saraband: Ingmar Bergman’s latest and likely last film reminds us what great filmmaking once was and how much it depended, in Bergman’s case, on training in the theater. Bergman’s film revisits old themes–age, loneliness, the apparent absence of God, lust, humiliation, and the miracle of belonging–but it does so in fresh ways, something Woody Allen could not accomplish with his overrated Match Point.

Corpse Bride: Tim Burton’s Gothic romance, which aligns marriage with death rather than life, is mesmerizing, funny, and surprisingly profound on the question of the gravity and purpose of marital vows.

History of Violence: A gripping tale about the quest for new beginnings and the impossibility of completely escaping the past, with an ending that leaves us with the same question that was posed in the concluding scenes of In the Bedroom a few years back: Can violence be purged through violence?

Batman Begins: Christopher Nolan took huge risks in attempting to invest the Batman story with greater philosophical depth and ended up with another fantastic film, equal in quality to Memento and Insomnia. The batman is my pick for best picture (of those I’ve seen).

What about the Oscar show itself, that evening of jittery vanity, narcissism, and airhead political sermonizing? Fortunately, I have a previous engagement. Come Oscar night, I’ll be introducing to Baylor honors students a screening of the film, Vertigo. Now, that’s a movie.

Thomas Hibbs, and NRO contributor, is author of Show About Nothing. He is dean of the Honors College at Baylor University.

JAMES HIRSEN

Brokeback will creep ahead of the more deserving Crash. The lemming of Hollywood will be the deciding factor.

In the interest of a bit of Passion penance, the Best Picture in an ideal world would go to Mel Gibson’s recut version of The Passion of the Christ, which incidentally would qualify since it was released in 2005.

Clooney was merely annoying when he tried his hand at second-rate comedy by making fun of Charlton Heston’s medical condition, but his transparent pursuit of prestige has morphed him into a slimmer, better-looking version of Michael Moore.

James Hirsen is author of Hollywood Nation : Left Coast Lies, Old Media Spin, and the New Media Revolution.

BRIDGET JOHNSON

The Best Picture category is a race between two films: Brokeback Mountain and Crash. I thought Brokeback had it in the bag until a liberal told me the other day that she walked out of the film. The revelation spun my Oscar-prediction universe out of whack, and even Roger Ebert is predicting a win for Crash. Could a film not released after Dec. 15 actually pull it off? Crash does deserve it–it resembled Magnolia without the raining frogs and bouncing Tom Cruise.

Suffice to say that Senator McCain’s half-second hand-shaking cameo didn’t push Wedding Crashers over the top. However, I think we were all amazed by The 40 Year Old Virgin . I mean, who knew there were any virgins left in Hollywood? But really, did Heath Ledger or David Strathairn undergo onscreen chest waxing in the name of their craft, as Steve Carell did? If Virgin added some Bush bashing, transsexual road trips, emotionally tortured gay shepherds or paradise-seeking suicide bombers, it would be an Oscar-voter’s dream!

When considering how annoying George Clooney is, I believe it’s only fair to consider the good he has contributed to Hollywood. I am, of course, talking about his groundbreaking turn in From Dusk Till Dawn. Killing vampires was the last useful thing Clooney’s done. Plus, the next time he slams Charlton Heston for heading up the National Rifle Association, we can roll the film to remind the world how he ran around liberally blasting living and undead alike with hand cannons!

Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She blogs at GOP Vixen.

ANDREW LEIGH

Best Picture prediction? It doesn’t matter, nobody’s going to be watching. The average box office for the Best Picture nominees is the lowest since 1984. And Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show has half the ratings of Conan O’Brien. So we have an Oscar broadcast celebrating movies nobody saw, hosted by a TV host nobody watches. My prediction: The lowest ratings in 20 years.

In an ideal world, the Best Picture would alternate between Rio Bravo and Caddyshack every year. But if we’re talking movies only from 2005, I think it’s a crying shame that the Academy snubbed Cinderella Man and, especially, The Chronicles of Narnia. Grizzly Man should have been nominated for best documentary; it would have given those little penguins a run for their money. But probably my favorite movie of the year was The World’s Fastest Indian. Aside from having the world’s worst title (and marketing campaign), it’s a thrilling, funny, uplifting charmer, featuring Anthony Hopkins’s best performance ever (see it before you scoff).

How annoying is George Clooney? Almost but not quite as annoying as Billy Zane and Gary Busey, who recently starred in a rabidly anti-American film made in Turkey that reportedly (alas, it’s still not available stateside) depicts U.S. soldiers wantonly slaughtering innocent Iraqi civilians. Syriana II: The Empire Strikes Back might have some competition.

Andrew Leigh is a screenwriter and serves on the board of directors for the American Film Renaissance.

Evan Coyne Maloney

Brokeback Mountain will win the Oscar for Best Picture. I think that a number of Hollywood insiders see a vote for Brokeback as a vote against red-state America. Hollywood seems to view middle America as populated by homophobic bigots–especially those evil red-state Republicans–and after years of electoral disappointment at the ballot box, the Academy Awards are pretty much the only elections where the votes of the Hollywood elite still have any impact. So, they’ll cast their votes for Brokeback, thinking that it is the cultural equivalent of flipping the bird to middle America. And middle America, which Hollywood doesn’t seem to understand, will respond with a muffled yawn.

What should win for best movie? Well, the question did include the phrase “sky’s the limit,” so I humbly suggest my film Indoctrinate U. Of course, that film won’t be coming out for about six months, and for political reasons, a film on the death of free thought on American campuses probably wouldn’t catch the attention of Hollywood. But a guy can dream, right?

For a more realistic selection, I’d say King Kong. It might be the most underrated film of the year. It had heart, it had tremendous effects, and even though it clocked in at some three hours, it seemed to zip by. Plus, it’s set in the greatest city in the world. What’s not to like?

I think George Clooney is great for Hollywood. For years, Hollywood churned out films with embedded political messages, but nobody wanted to admit it. Now, George Clooney and affiliated production company Participant Productions are quite explicit that their goal is to produce films that encourage left-wing activism. So, going from denying bias to admitting it is a step in the right direction.

My only problem with Clooney is that he seems to be a bit delusional about the role of Hollywood. He recently told the Hollywood Reporter that his films fit into some sort of national debate. “We as a society since 9/11 have, for the first time since Watergate, sat around and had outrage, discussion, polarization and arguments from both sides of the aisle. Questions are being asked. And that is good.”

Except that the Hollywood establishment has quite clearly not entertained arguments from both sides of the aisle. There was Fahrenheit 9/11, but no film countering it found mainstream distribution. Meanwhile, Clooney and Participant Productions churn out films with a Michael Moore worldview. Lesser-known filmmakers like Morgan Spurlock and Robert Greenwald reliably produce films from a similar perspective. Discussions require more than one side. Otherwise, it’s a monologue. Or in the case of Hollywood, a relentless harangue.

Still, in the long-run, I think the Clooney effect will be positive. Now that many in Hollywood are willing to admit that they are in the business of producing political films, the market will eventually demand that similar films be made for other constituencies. Not every distributor in Hollywood is a complete buffoon; some of them must recognize that they are businessmen first and not political operatives. There have to be some people around willing to take a chance and serve a market that Hollywood is currently ignoring. Clooney’s explicit activism may actually help open doors for filmmakers on the other side.

If you look at the bestseller lists, the talk radio market, cable news ratings, etc., it is quite clear that there is a market for content that differs from the typical fare served up by Hollywood. Someone in the business has to realize this. Someone will have the guts to distribute films from another perspective. And when they do, the pent-up demand in the market will reward them quite handsomely.

Evan Coyne Maloney blogs at brain-terminal.com.

JOHN PODHORETZ

I have lost almost every Oscar pool I’ve ever entered because I always figure things are going to be surprising or complicated or tricky. They almost never are. Which means: Brokeback Mountain, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Reese Witherspoon, Rachel Weisz, and George Clooney will win. Of course, I’m usually wrong, which means Crash, Heath Ledger, Felicity Huffman, Amy Adams, and Paul Giamatti will win. But I tell you, this year, go with the boring front-runners. There’s been no backlash against anything or anybody during this Oscar race, so there’s no reason to believe there will be any surprises. And, pace Mark Steyn, but for George Clooney to be truly annoying, he would have to be interesting. And he isn’t. Not in any way. Good looking, yes. Interesting, no.

John Podhoretz, a regular contributor to NRO’s “The Corner,” is a columnist for the New York Post and author of Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane.

CHERYL FELICIA RHOADS

In an ideal world either Cinderella Man or The Great Raid would win. They are both films with values straight out of the Golden Age of Hollywood. They exemplify those virtues of courage and character. Dare I say it? They are both examples of those kinds of films that made old Hollywood great. There was also another film that starred Sunday’s near certain Best Actress winner for Walk The Line. However, Reese Witherspoon also starred in the wonderful romantic comedy Just Like Heaven–with a pro-life message so shortly after the Terri Schiavo case (and after the best pic win of last year’s bleak Million Dollar Baby). All three of these films make me think of the adage “tis better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” I actually felt a white light of inspiration when I came out of the darkened theatres after those films. In fact they each reminded me why I wanted to come to Hollywood in the first place! John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Frank Capra would have applauded these films.

Cheryl Rhoads is an actress and writer in Hollywood.

ROGER L. SIMON

Brokeback Mountain wins for Best Picture–a no brainer. Many of the Academy members … average age 406 … probably were mildly homophobic in their youth. Now they get to feel proud of themselves for voting for a gay love story.

As an Academy member, I simply did not vote in the Best Picture category (unfortunately there was no “none of the above”). This is not a year when a movie I “would have voted for” comes easily to mind, but if forced I would pick Walk The Line for the performances. Narnia was a decent adaptation.

How annoying is George Clooney? What kind of a question is that?! Suppose I want him to do my next screenplay? Hello, this is a business!

Roger L. Simon is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and novelist who blogs at www.rogerlsimon.com.

MARK STEYN

Best movie: Good Night And Good Luck …because not only is the heartland not as hot for Brokeback as Frank Rich says but neither is Hollywood. I don’t believe they’re in the mood for a gay Best Picture (Philadelphia won as a disease-of-the-week movie–My Left Foot with stick-on lesions). So, in a weak field, the film that best exemplifies both the industry’s sense of its own importance and what faint glamour can be found this season is Good Night And Good Luck.

I’d give a belated Best Picture Oscar to Good Night, Vienna(1932), which is an infinitely better good-night movie than Good Night And Good Luck. Jack Buchanan stars as Captain Maximilian Schletoff romancing Anna Neagle as Viki, a simple girl who works in a flower shop but whom Captain Schletoff loves even though his father the General wants him to marry the Countess Helga. Nice performance by Joyce Bland as the Countess, and a lovely title song by BBC producer Eric Maschwitz (who also wrote These Foolish Things) sung by Jack Buchanan as he bids a wistful farewell to the “enchanted city of Columbine and Pierrot.” I’m making a semi-sorta-serious point here. One reason why film stars were less tediously predictably political a half-century back is because they did things: they sang, they danced, they did rope tricks. Now they don’t do anything much except stand around doing reaction shots for computer effects edited in back at the studio. So one reason they declare themselves great political thinkers is as a form of self-validation.

On the other hand, if you want an Oscar for all-time best Goodnight performance, it has to be Britt Ekland as Bond girl Mary Goodnight in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

I don’t find George Clooney annoying, so much as hilarious. I love it when Hollywood stars do the Serious Thinker routine: George has borrowed Barbra Streisand’s reading specs and dunked his head in that vat of Anti-Grecian instant-graying formula Richard Gere bought after American Gigolo, when he decided he was the Dalai Lama-in-waiting. In their glory days in the Seventies, Oscar night politics at least had two sides: John Wayne and Bob Hope vs. Jane Fonda and Shirley MacLaine. These days the more stultifyingly homogeneous Hollywood’s world view the more they’re convinced they’re part of a dangerous counter-culture, and that the definition of “courage” is restating the received wisdom of every single person you’ve ever had dinner with. In White Christmas, George’s Aunt Rosie sings that lovely ballad “Count Your Blessings (instead of sheep)”. On Oscar night, watching George and co on stage, we can count all the sheep we want, and doze off somewhere round the Best Sound Editing award.

Mark Steyn, among many other things, writes “The Happy Warrior” column for National Review.

ANDREW STUTTAFORD

Best Picture Prediction: I’ve only seen one of the nominated movies, Good Night And Good Luck, so I’m not really in a position to say which contestant ought to win, but, judging by the buzz, it’ll be Brokeback Mountain.

What Ought To Have Been Best Picture? 2005 didn’t strike me as a banner year for films, and while Good Night And Good Luck (as I said, the one nominee I have actually seen) was, despite a decidedly dodgy grasp of history and way too much preaching, a good enough movie (it looked terrific, and, however idealized it may have been, David Strathairn’s Murrow was a compelling performance), I’d ‘nominate’ three alternatives: (1) The Libertine, a dark, disturbing biopic of the Second Earl of Rochester, one of England’s darkest, most disturbing and most brilliant poets, a movie that boasted yet another remarkable performance (is there any other kind?) by Johnny Depp and, as a bonus, a priceless comment about the French (unrepeatable, I fear, on this family-friendly website) from John Malkovich’s splendid Charles II; (2) Match Point, Woody Allen on top form with refreshing no-nonsense nihilism, vintage Caruso on the soundtrack, and a cast that doesn’t put a foot wrong; and (3) Michael Haneke’s clever, troubling and tricky (what did that closing scene mean?) Caché, a movie that should, at the very least, have made the best foreign-language shortlist.

Annoying George: Oh yes, Clooney’s politics are annoying, deeply annoying (check out Mark Steyn’s recent piece in NR just why), but compared with Ocean’s Twelve they are a misdemeanor. Why George, why?

Andrew Stuttaford is an NRO contributor living in New York.



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