Ellen was boyish. Jack was bald. Mel got shut out. Geffen and his Dreamgirls largely got stiffed. Marty finally won his Oscar. And so did Al Gore, on his first try. I’m starting to think it’s an honor not to be nominated.
But I would think that. I’m a screenwriter, working in an industry — the Industry, we call it — erected on the backs of mostly unpaid labor by talented and diligent hacks cranking out free pitches and spec scripts. Above the line but always low man on the totem pole. That’s the price we pay for anonymity… and a whole hell of a lot of money when we score.
And this is your report from the trenches. Everybody thinks he knows something about how “Hollywood” works, but believe me, until you’ve lived and worked here, you don’t have the slightest idea, no matter how much you’ve read about TomKat, the weekly grosses, and the latest celebrity booking at the Lost Hills police station in Malibu. Hey — we’re in the business of selling illusion here — even if we often sell it to ourselves — and if you fall for it, well… that’s exactly what we want.
So let’s start our crash course with the Oscars, shall we?
We don’t call Hollywood “high school with money” for nothing. The cool crowd decides What We Care About, and boy do we care! In the words of Superman Returns, we’re fighting for truth, justice… and the rest of that stuff.
So let’s all welcome the first Green Oscars. Nobody is as concerned about climate change as we are here in southern California. You know why? Because we pay top dollar for our houses in Malibu and Beverly Hills, and the thought that the climate, which never changes, could actually, you know, change, makes us crazy. And we’re determined to do something about it — even if it means the rest of you take the D train for the rest of your lives.
For the first time, the fleet of limos outside the Kodak Theater were… hybrids! Priuses. At 60-plus bucks a hour. To chauffeur the stars to the parties and thence to the area’s airports, where some 80 private jets were fueled and ready for takeoff. You might call it hypocrisy; we call it doing well by doing good.
Which meant that if there was one film that was a dead, solid, bet-the-farm lock, it was the Goreacle’s earnest classroom lecture, An Inconvenient Truth. Now, you’d think that a science-based, call-to-action film from a guy who flunked out of divinity school and blew a slam-dunk election would be received with a certain amount of skepticism, but in officially atheist Hollywood, Albert Arnold Gore Jr., is the second coming of Moses, Maimonides, and Martin Luther, all rolled into one. This year, anyway.
These were also the Most. International. Oscars. Ever. Yes, in a town where not only is everybody’s fourth car a Prius — after the stretch Humvee, the BMW Roadster, and the Cadillac Escalade — everybody’s maid, nanny, and gardener is an undocumented worker. The Oscars had to get into the act, and what better way to do it than to nominate for best picture Babel, a multilingual knockoff of last year’s winner, Crash, which featured heartwarming Arab riflemen, a lovable “immigrant” nanny from Mexico who gets her two gringo charges lost in the desert, and a Japanese deaf-mute exhibitionist who play her last scenes entirely naked.
Getting foreign directors, actors, and screenwriters to do the work Americans are perfectly willing to do — top that!
Also continuing a trend from last year, Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker won the Best Impersonation Award — it used to be called the Best Actor and Best Actress Award — for their spitting images of Q. E. II and Idi Amin. Once upon a time, writers “made up” our characters. Now we just rip them off from history and the headlines; George Clooney is probably working on a Saddam biopic right this minute and you know that Castro is just around the corner.
But don’t get the idea that we celebrate monsters and misfits solely to poke a thumb in Bush’s eye. (In Hollywood, everybody’s on a first-name basis with people we’ve never met, except when it comes to GWB. That’s how we show contempt.) There are more closeted conservatives in this town than closeted gays, but we’re a herd of independent minds, and right now the zeitgeist is blowing in steadily from the Left. We celebrate diversity and fetishize tolerance. As Ellen said: “without blacks, Jews and gays, there wouldn’t be any Oscars.”
So leave it to David Geffen to say he’s getting out of the movie business and then devour the week before the Oscars with his shot at Bill and Hillary’s habitual mendacity. Which, when you stop to think of it, was a little odd in a town that prides itself at starting to lie at “Hello.”
His reward for candor? Dreamgirls, which had already been shut out of every major award except Jennifer Hudson’s death grip on the Marisa Tomei Memorial Best Supporting Actress award, had three chances out of five to win Best Song, and the Oscar went to… lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up,” the anthem of An Inconvenient Truth. Even when the fix is in, the fix is in.
In the end, though, Old Hollywood came through. The Departed reminded everybody — especially us scribes, face down in the gutter but looking at the stars! — what the Industry can do when it puts its shoulder to the wheel. Mazel tov, Marty!
I gotta go now. Skipping the party scene for my poker night with Joe Gillis, Barton Fink and Joe White. Not that I was invited. Not even nominated. My phone hasn’t rung for years and I’m beginning to wonder…
In this town, even your best friends won’t tell you when you’re dead.
— David Kahane is a nom de cyber for a writer in Hollywood. “David Kahane” is borrowed from a screenwriter character in The Player.