Anyone who's ever been through a high-school prom or at least watched Carrie has an innate sense of what the Oscars are all about. A committee of snotty, oversexed, air-headed "peers" is assembled to shoddily throw together the cheesiest ceremony possible, at which only the most popular kids in poofy hooker dresses and sleazy tuxes feel comfortable or welcome. Some take pity on a gifted outcast be it Sissy Spacek, Forest Whitaker, Robert Altman, David Lynch or any other great director with weird hair and invite them along for the ride, possibly even orchestrating an awkward sympathy prize. Lies are told, condescending statements are made, and your boyfriend drives off into the sunset with John Travolta while you get stinking drunk to quell the "they're all going to laugh at you" voices in your head.
If only it all ended with a big bucket of blood. As any movie fan will tell you, the question that rears its ugly little head every February or so is not "Do the Oscars matter?" but "How little will the Oscars matter this year?" There's no other industry-wide display of self-love that invites such derision and yet such loyal devotion usually from the very same people. Sure, sports fans will tell you the Super Bowl doesn't always represent the best of the best, but at least football teams stand for entire cities, and they actually have to do something on the big night to get their trophy. The day the Academy forces the Best Actress nominees to do a monologue throwdown on live television (moderated by James Lipton, natch) is the day that Julia Roberts officially quits acting.
So why do movie lovers even care? Why does anyone go to the prom? The answer goes back to those damn misfits: We all want to see the nerd get the girl, or at least snag a slow dance as her quarterback stud pukes out back, or if all else fails, walk off the dance floor with his head held high, ready to try again with the quirky indie chick who's way more his speed, anyway. If the Academy's nominees this year are any indication, we Oscar-watching masochists are not alone: The most-obvious candidate for prom queen status Dreamgirls, a movie more or less about prom queens got shut out of Best Picture while the beautiful losers of Little Miss Sunshine freak-danced their way to near-front-runner status.
So admit it: You know you like to watch. Lying to your friends that you have to wash your hair on Sunday night will only exacerbate your shame. So mix a few stiff drinks, settle in, and when you get bored, search for the answers to these eternal/infernal questions:
At whom will Russell Crowe glower, and how often? How many times will he excuse himself to the bar, and is it in direct correlation to the glowering?
Will Los Angeles' Kodak Theatre set A) look like an episode of the original, classic Star Trek, or B) will it have more of a Next Generation thing going on?
How many Norbit jokes will host Ellen DeGeneres make, and will Eddie Murphy use his acceptance speech to launch into an insult routine the likes of which we haven't seen since Raw?
Will Angelina Jolie be modeling the latest in all-cobweb fashions in an effort to draw attention to the plight of the endangered South American banana spider, or merely in her ongoing bid to be her generation's version of Cher?
As the Oscars become increasingly more irrelevant than American Idol, is it really that much of a triumph that Idol reject Jennifer Hudson looks likely to take home a statue?
Come to think of it, wouldn't the Oscars benefit from a Simon Cowell-like judge in the audience, providing real-time critiques of everything from the "Great Moments in Monkey Films" dance number to Jennifer Garner's deer-in-headlights teleprompter reading?
Is the Academy orchestra racist? Count up the number of black folks who have their speeches cut off in midsentence and try to explain that number away.
Will Tom Cruise walk out on stage showcasing the latest in plutonium-grade dental veneer technology? Will he allow his current concubine and former actress Katie Holmes to present an award, or will she be relegated to the nosebleed seats, where the guy working camera No. 34 will detect that she does not blink for the entire ceremony?
And if all else fails, remember, the Oscars could always be worse. Billy Crystal could be hosting.
Next week Michael Hastings will answer his own predictions and offer more muckracking in his post-Oscar wrap-up.Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org