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Will There Be Big Oscar Surprises Tonight? Don't Hold Your Breath

At various events and pre-Oscar parties this weekend I have heard over and over again the same line: “God,I just hope there are some surprises!” No matter what people seem to be personally rooting for, the one thing they really want are some good old-fashioned Oscar shockers in a year that doesn’t seem likely to have many, if any at all. That would mean anything but The Artist as Best Picture, maybe Gary Oldman or Demian Bichir as Best Actor or Glenn Close as Best Actress.  How about Max von Sydow upsetting fellow 82 year old Christopher Plummer in the Supporting Actor race or The Help’s Jessica Chastain upending her co-star, favored Octavia Spencer, for Supporting Actress. The one category that in recent years has been ripe for surprise is Best Foreign Language Film. In fact the last few winners in the category were not the betting favorites so this year any movie other than Iran’s A Separation would indeed qualify as a surprise. If you want to bet the longshot there, go with Canada’s poignant, crowd-pleasing Monsieur Lazhar, the kind of film the more conservative older voters who participate in the Foreign Language process (you have to prove you have seen all five nominees in a theatre to vote) have tended to go for in recent years. But I don’t expect we will be surprised in this category, or for that matter almost any other this year.

It seems like it all may go in predictable patterns even if we all long for something to spice things up like 1982 when Chariots Of Fire came from the back of the pack to triumph as Best Picture over bigger favorites like Reds and On Golden Pond. That year the envelope was opened by Loretta Young, herself one of the biggest upset winners in Oscar history when she won Best Actress for 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter against heavy favorite Rosalind Russell (legend has it Russell was practically on her way to the stage when Young’s name was suddenly called). Then there was 1951 when the MGM musical An American In Paris stunned front-runners A Streetcar Named Desire  and A Place In The Sun to take Best Picture. A trade ad the next day showed MGM’s famous logo Leo The Lion modestly apologizing for the upset saying, “Honestly I was just standing IN THE SUN waiting for A STREETCAR”.

In the past couple of decades there have been some classic upsets.  Marisa Tomei wasn’t expected to win Best Supporting Actress for 1992’s My Cousin Vinny (although I did win some money in pools predicting THAT stunner). And there are still conversations about whether presenter Jack Palance read the right name in the envelope (of course he did or the Price Waterhouse accountants would have corrected him immediately). Then there was the triumph of Crash over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture of 2005 with presenter Jack Nicholson looking shocked when he opened the envelope. Could we have a Crash moment this year? Don’t think so.

The lack of potential surprises in the actual envelopes is probably a good reason the Academy Award show producers Brian Grazer and Don Mischer are putting so much comedy in the show this year in order to keep it entertaining beyond all the predictability of most races.  But even Billy Crystal’s opening monologue with his traditional bit where he inserts himself into the nominated movies is likely to be predictable (but actually welcome) comfort food for Oscar show lovers still smarting from last year’s comedy attempts by co-host James Franco.

If you are looking for real surprises to spice up the show one would definitely be if reclusive The Tree Of Life Best Director nominee Terrence Malick were to show up (he  won’t, no way). I would be surprised even to see producer Scott Rudin fly in from New York even though he is the sole nominated producer of long-shot Best Picture contender, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. Last year he stayed away despite two personal Best Picture nominations for True Grit and The Social Network. He may not want to be around to watch Harvey Weinstein triumph two years in a row.

But by far the biggest shocker of the night would be if Woody Allen were in the audience.  He got his 22nd and 23rd Oscar nominations this year for directing and writing Midnight In Paris and is likely to win for Original Screenplay but don’t expect to see anyone running up to the stage if his name is called. Woody has never shown up to any Oscar ceremony in which he was a nominee or winner (he has three Oscars for Annie Hall and Hannah And Her Sisters). The only time he appeared was in 2002 to introduce a segment on New York filmmaking in the wake of 9/11. In that regard he’s like Katharine Hepburn who was nominated 12 times (and won 4) for Best Actress but never appeared for any of them and only showed at the Oscars one time to present the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award in 1974 to her friend and producer Lawrence Weingarten.  In fact Woody isn’t even a member of the Academy despite those Oscars and 23 nominations he has so he can’t even vote for himself (and  does not allow his distributors to even mention his name in their Oscar campaign ads).  I asked him about it when I interviewed him about Midnight In Paris earlier in the season. “I am not a member of the Academy because I am just not a joiner,” he said. “I am not a member of anything (laughs). The Academy, not to take it personally, I think the Academy has done some good work. I have contributed to some of their causes and all that but I am just not a person who joins anything.”

So if Woody Allen suddenly shows up on the red carpet tonight that would be the biggest surprise of all. But don’t hold your breath, pray for something unexpected,  and enjoy the show.

  1. I’m rooting for “The Artist”, but I’ll be surprised if it wins for best picture. I think “The Help” is a lock.

  2. When you have a season that runs as long as the Awards season does it’s stupid to expect a slew of surprises at the last minute.

    One/two every once in a while, sure. But not as a matter of course when every preceding awards season has whittled the field down to the front runners.

    Want surprises? Move the Oscars to being the FIRST awards show of the season. Then you’ll get a big bunch of ’em.

    1. You can’t move the Oscars to be the first. All that will accomplish is that the other awards shows will move earlier.

      Really want to shake up the awards season and make the Oscars more watchable? The Academy should BAN the actors from going to other ceremonies. “You want an Oscar, don’t you? Then you can only attend OUR ceremony!”

  3. I’m predicting very low ratings this year. Eight, mostly arthouse pictures, and/or rather bland, mediocre films that aren’t best picture worthy, that few have seen.

    I will however root for Gary Oldman for the improbable upset, because he deserves an Oscar.

    1. Bérénice Bejo doesn’t deserve to win. She’s overrated. She got the role because she’s married to the director of The Artist. I find her terribly annoying!

  4. I don’t think by no means are best actor and best actress a lock. If the oscars were held later in March — we would have academy members thinking about is some more and some surprises may crop up but they are all voting the same time as the other awards shows.

    Sorry, I just don’t get the artist whatsoever — and i’m just livid it won big at the spirit awards — at least that organization i thought would have some sense to not go with a movie with much ado about nothing but i guess harvey has some indie roots as well. UGH. I think this will be the worst movie to win best picture since I’d say the boring english patient.

  5. My favorite Oscars was held in 1974 I believe, when the title Cabaret kept getting called out from the podium instead of The Godfather. I loved both films, but it was exciting to see upset after upset that night. Who knows, with such a weak field, maybe anything could happen tonight. The film I care most about is A Separation, but as you say, the foreign film category seems to be up for grabs in recent years.

  6. Fewer of us care because Hollywood’s elite have been incredibly successful at turning millions of Americans off. Oscars night used to be a “must-see” event. Like so many others, my family would gather around the television to root for our favorite actors, actresses and films. It wasn’t that long ago that my friends would gather on this night for “Oscar” parties. Those days are gone forever… even Billy Crystal can’t get me to tune in tonight. Its hard to root for a group of people you’ve grown to despise. Yes, I still see a movie or two annually, but that’s a far cry from my past viewing habits.

  7. That is absurd. The bit she does with the jacket alone is an amazing technical feat of acting. Her performance is heartfelt and complete. Octavia spencer should win. Her work and what she wrenched up from the depths of the American experience deserve it. Even though the help is a ridiculous film on the whole.

  8. The only surprise that might come from tonight will be learned with tomorrow’s ratings. The only shocker will be if anyone actually watches this snooze feet.

  9. I rather have The Artist over The Help, although Hugo is better than both of those films. In a perfect world, Tree Of Live walks away with 3 Oscars tonight.

    Regardless, can we please give George Clooney an Best Actor Oscar!! Clooney could have done what Dujardin did in The Artist, but NO ONE else could have anchored the lead performance in The Descendants like Mr. Clooney. Anyone else in that role and it would’ve been a ham and cheese fest.

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