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Watching

Video Digest: March 2, 2006

The only Oscar prediction you can count on.

In the spring of my eighth year, I prayed for only three things: popularity, an EZ Bake Oven, and permission to stay up late enough to watch the end of the Academy Awards. If there is a God, he wasn’t listening. That Oscar night, I was tucked in before Chariots of Fire trumped Reds in the heated Best Picture race. I woke up at the crack of Good Morning, America to discover this atrocity; I was—and remain—offended by the choice. In the ensuing decades, life refused to supply popularity or an EZ Bake, although the right to watch the Oscars in its entirety is firmly within my grasp. But this year, for perhaps the first year ever, I’m not all that excited about it. This is a shock, an outrage. Hell, it’s plain unfair. What happened to the best night of my year?

I blame Brokeback Mountain. The cavalcade of jokes, discussions, and spoofs the movie inspired has left me with a dread of the evening’s punchlines that I generally reserve for open mike nights. Besides, I don’t care how many Oscars the film wins—it wasn’t that great. It was a little slow, saddled by unconvincing plot twists and two male leads with impeccable acting nuance yet all the visible chemistry of a pair of mollusks. Saying this makes me feel like a traitor. Do you know how much I love Ang Lee? Do you know how much I love gay cowboys? This, in a nutshell, is my problem with all of the nominated films. Politically, I applaud their intent, their ambitiousness, their guts. As films, they’re all, well, pretty dull.

Of course, this has long been the rap on “important” Oscar movies. But this year, Hollywood can’t stop congratulating itself on how gutsy its films were, on how much its art matters, on how evil and wrong this administration is. Yeah, I agree, but it’s getting a little tiresome. I mean, can’t we invite Bill O’Reilly or something? I fell in love with the Oscars because, for a kid who collected movies the way some kids collect baseball cards, it was an all-star conference Olympic throw-down complete with thrills, revelations, good guys, and villains. But every year I feel those thrills dwindling. Sure, I’m not eight years old anymore, but the climate has also changed. Every major news outlet and a slew of awards ceremonies—the SAG awards, the Critics’ Choice, the Golden Globes—have fairly handicapped the winner in each category. What mystery is left? Best Foreign Film?

This is where Jon Stewart comes in. But the announcement that he would host the Oscars was the final suckerpunch to my excitement. See, I love Jon Stewart—more than gay cowboys and Ang Lee combined—and I can’t shake the feeling the guy’s being led to the gallows. Does anybody remember when he hosted the Grammys four years ago? By show’s end, he was a shell of a man, demoralized by bombed jokes and cooked copy. He introduced country singer Alan Jackson by saying, “Ladies and gentleman, the most authentic singer-songwriter of our time!” And afterward, I suspect, he flushed his head in his dressing-room toilet.

I hope I’m wrong about all this. (I also hope an EZ Bake arrives on my doorstep tomorrow.) But just in case, I’m keeping my expectations low, where they should have been for Brokeback Mountain. Man, I love the Oscars too much to be disappointed by them. So my prediction for Hollywood’s biggest night?

It’s going to suck.

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