By Peter Knegt | Indiewire February 19, 2009 at 8:30AM
"At a moment when the nation is engulfed in an economic crisis, and showbiz is enduring layoffs and cutbacks, the theme for this year's private Oscar bashes is shaping up to be: Throw a party, have fun, but don't do too much." That's Variety's Bill Higgins take on what's to come this weekend in Los Angeles, as the city's venues play host to post-Oscar soirees.
"You want to celebrate nominations but at the same time be respectful of the fact that a lot of people have lost jobs, and it's a bad economic climate," said one studio exec involved with event planning told Higgins. "You want to have an appropriate level of celebration without being ostentatious."
A reduction in celebratory measures isn't the only change on tap for this weekend, of course. The New York Times Patricia Leigh Brown takes a look at what New York architect David Rockwell has in the works as production designer for the 81st Academy Awards.
"With last year’s Oscar viewership at an all-time low, Mr. Rockwell, who also designed the plush Kodak Theater, is out to do no less than 'redefine the show’s DNA,' as he put it," Brown said, noting this year’s mantra as "more intimacy. Less multiple layers of lamé.” "Along with the executive producer Bill Condon and the veteran producer Laurence Mark, Mr. Rockwell — the first architect to design the show — is turning back the clock, Benjamin Button-style, to recapture the show’s nightclubby, Champagne-popping, convivial, communal roots," she said.
The New York Observer's Rex Reed isn't impressed: "The grim previews of the 81st Academy Awards show on Feb. 22 at the Kodak Theatre, designed by David Rockwell—the modern-day Rube Goldberg responsible for the Mohegan Sun Indian casino, the ugly sets for Hairspray and the Jet Blue terminal at J.F.K.—are already being described as “community theater on steroids,” and include a curtain made of 92,000 crystals, a thrust stage requiring an orthopedic surgeon in residence for presenters in stiletto heels, 20 monumental Art Deco arches, the removal of the traditional orchestra pit, lights filtered through silver-rope curtains and strands of silver-leaf balls, 19 screens flying through space and fluted chandeliers floating above the audience, all dominated by the color blue."
Parties and set design qualms aside, business as usual took place last night with the annual event at the AMPAS theater celebrating this year's crop of doc nominees. indieWIRE was on the scene, with Brian Brooks reporting. "Relating quote from a recent New York Times article in which a filmmaker quipped that a “dirty little secret” was that documentaries are 'boring,' International Documentary Association president Eddie Schmidt launched a broadside counter-attack Wednesday night at an event hosted at the Association of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences building in Beverly Hills," Brooks said. "'Documentaries, boring? I think not. Underfunded? Sure!' Schmidt proclaimed to a collective cheer from the crowd."
As for the collective cheer of predictors across the web, this blogger jokingly (?) suggests it's not necessary: He has a leaked list of Oscar winners.
Two bloggers without a crystal ball, New York Times' Dave Carr and Slate's Timothy Noah, decided to place their energy on, well, each other. Noah, in a piece entitled "Kill The Carpetbagger," says "Carr's seasonal print column, blog, and video blog about the Oscars, all called "The Carpetbagger," constitute a steady stream of drivel unworthy of either Carr or the Times. Perhaps some of the fault lies with Carr—I'm told Tom O'Neill's "The Envelope" in the Los Angeles Times dishes better gossip—but the underlying problem is the topic, about which not much of interest can be said. I speak as a lifelong movie buff who watches the Oscars nearly every year, forgets who won within 24 hours, and doesn't think about them again until I watch the next year's broadcast."
Carr responded, speaking in the third person: "The Bagger can’t trade his Simms tuxedo for sackcloth just now, because he’s in the middle of things. But he’s always thought of his part-time Oscar gig as a way to crack wise and go all smarty pants without constantly making all those ugly phone calls that real reporting entails. Sort of like working at Slate."
Another Oscar-related conflict comes care of Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award recipient Jerry Lewis. This website, "The Trouble With Jerry," an organization against Lewis that offers an extensive opinion at why Lewis is far from a "humanitarian" because of his "prejudice toward people with disabilities and LGBT people."
In a letter to the Academy, the site offered: "For more than two decades, disability rights advocates have objected to Lewis’ portrayal of life with a disability as tragic and pathetic," the website notes. "In response, Lewis snarled, 'You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!'"
The Academy responded, noting "the charge that he has at times unfairly demeaned the capabilities of the children who benefit from his telethon is a longstanding one, but one that he long ago took steps to remedy."
The organization has planned three protests against Lewis in the three days leading up to the Oscars.
Finally, some actual Oscar predictions (the future-predicting "leak" doesn't count) come care of infamous sports and politics number cruncher Nate Silver. "After spending most of 2008 predicting the success of political actors—also called politicians—it’s only natural that Nate Silver would turn his attention to the genuine article: the nominees in the major categories for the 81st Annual Academy Awards," the article noted. "Formally speaking, this required the use of statistical software and a process called logistic regression. Informally, it involved building a huge database of the past 30 years of Oscar history. Categories included genre, MPAA classification, the release date, opening-weekend box office (adjusted for inflation), and whether the film won any other awards."
Silver's predictions in the major categories? "Slumdog" for picture and director, Mickey Rourke, Kate Winslet, Heath Ledger, and most surprisingly, Taraji P. Hensen. I'm skeptical, but the man did accurately call every single senate race.
Check back with indieWIRE tomorrow for our own predictions for both the Oscars and the Spirit Awards, and take a look at our Awards Watch section for our ongoing interviews and profiles of nominees.