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.