Politics on the Red Carpet The New York Times arts and culture reporter David Carr talks about how there's more to winning an Oscar than a stellar performance.
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Politics on the Red Carpet

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Politics on the Red Carpet

Politics on the Red Carpet

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

Right now, believe it or not, it's award season - though the Hollywood writers' strike made it hard to tell at times. But now that the strike is over, we can settle in to Oscar weekend, placing bets and making "Juno"-inspired sunny delight mixers for Oscar parties. And who better to usher in the countdown to the ceremony Sunday night than the bagger.

David Carr rates the seasonal Carpetbagger blog. He was the very first to blog for the all gray lady, and he is joining us today from the studios of NPR West. Good to have you with the program.

Mr. DAVID CARR (Reporter, The New York Times; Host/Blogger, Carpetbagger Blog): Oh, a pleasure to be with you.

NEARY: And we want to hear form our listeners as well, release you're pent up award energy. What movies and actors are you hoping to win the gold? What are you looking forward to - John Stewart? Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. The e-mail address is talkatnpr.org. And you can comment on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation where you will also find a link to the Carpetbagger blog on our blog row.

Well, this has been a very strange award season, has it not?

Mr. CARR: Yeah, it's weird to finally be out here. I normally work the story from the East Coast, and I get to L.A. expecting also, it's a big statement and - for us. And I have to tell you this year it isn't really happening. You know, you have - America involved in a shooting where the most dynamic political election, probably in a half century. And then, even in Los Angeles, you have a writers' strike. And it doesn't really feel like party time to be honest. A few cancelled their after party, and peoples attention s turning just now to the Oscars.

NEARY: Yeah. And so - that's even kind of reflected, isn't it, in some of the nominees this year? There's a sort of - people are writing about how there's a kind of dark side to the Oscars this year just in terms of the nominees even.

Mr. CARR: As somebody who covers these stuff more than I would like to admit…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: …there's a significant disconnect between the sort of energy crisis around the Oscars and the movies themselves, which, as you point out, pretty dark bound other than "Juno," which has gotten a lot of uplift to it, and a lot of people went to see. But you can't argue that the movies aren't that great this year. These are five exquisite films.

NEARY: Let's go over the films. Why do we go over - just gaze? Not everybody's paying complete attention to the Oscars, but let's…

Mr. CARR: There is that thought.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Let's say, what are the five nominees for Best Motion Picture of the year?

Mr. CARR: We have "No Country for Old Men," which is the Coen brothers. It's a murder mystery, a chase movie. It's got the scariest villain we've seen in movies in years. And there's the odds are favored to win, "There Will Be Blood." Paul Thomas Anderson's depiction of Daniel Plainview, which is really kind of a representation of early American capitalism. And it's starring Daniel Day Lewis who'll probably win best actor. "Michael Clayton" starring George Clooney, about a lawyer who stumbles his way to a new ethical realization. More of a classic Hollywood film, much loved - "Juno," which, you know, made it past to 100 million bucks, won an (unintelligible).

NEARY: The people's favorite I think.

Mr. CARR: Yeah, the people's choice all the way. They love that Allen Page. Then "Atonement," which is a classic Oscar movie, period drama, starring James McEvoy and Keira Knightly - lots of great sets, wonderful costumes, and great music.

NEARY: Now, that's why it's a little surprise when you said "No Country for Old Men" is probably going to win because "Atonement" does seem like the Oscar movie of this group it seems to me. And "No Country for Old Men" - that's one that I did see - pretty violent and, as you said, a scary guy right at the center of it.

Mr. CARR: Yeah. It's - I think USA Today did a story today about the sort of rise of the antihero this year. Boy, there's plenty of them to go around. In "Michael Clayton," you have Tilda Swinton playing a corporate executive who's just at the bottom, a very banal form of evil. "There Will Be Blood," you have a capitalist who is self-seeking in a way we Americans don't like to think of ourselves. And in "No Country," this guy is as much kind of El Diablo as he is human.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: It's true..

Mr. CARR: He just comes and goes, and he's got these weird — this weird apparatus and he attacks people, and it's kind of a monster movie in a way.

NEARY: Yeah. Yeah. What's fascinating about it - and of course Javier Bardem has been nominated and is the likely I think…

Mr. CARR: He will win. Mark him down in your poll with a double X.

NEARY: He's got no competition?

Mr. CARR: Well, he's got plenty - there are superior roles at - you know, you have Tom Wilkinson who's also in "Michael Clayton" who did a wonderful job. He's just the guy this year that came on screen and you will never ever forget him. Maybe it's the hair cut. Maybe it's the voice. I mean, other people did great work. Hal Holbrook in "Into The Wild." Philip Seymour Hoffman in multiple Oscar nominee this time for "Charlie Wilson's War." Casey Affleck, who we haven't seen a lot, coming in for "The Assassination of Jesse James," None of them have a shot.

NEARY: Yeah. I thought Hal Holbrook maybe just for sentimental reasons you know, might get it.

Mr. CARR: That would be Ruby Dee, Lynn. That could be Ruby Dee over in the supporting category. She is - she's in "American Gangster." Did wonderful job in a supporting role and is a sentimental favorite for a lot of folks. She's had a great career. Private favorite is Cate Blanchett for her inhabitation of Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There." Or Amy Ryan who is in "Gone Baby Gone," Ben Affleck's directorial debut. She played a crack, (unintelligible) mother to amazing emotional effect.

NEARY: Yeah. And I didn't see Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There," but…

Mr. CARR: You and a lot other people win. Sorry about that, but a lot of people - that's the problem with some of these movies. If you look at the Best Actress category, Julie Christie is nominated for "Away From Her," which is about a woman who has kind of kidnapped from within by Alzheimer's - extraordinary performance, a wonderful movie, almost no one saw it.

NEARY: Yeah. So do you think she — I saw that film and I thought her performance was just amazing, actually, in that film. And I think she's kind of another sentimental favorite. But is she — do you think she's going to get it or does she have some competition for…

Mr. CARR: You've gotten in a very tender moment, because I had to make my picks for the newspaper for tomorrow morning. And it is not like the Web - I've been doing a lot of blogging - you can't change anything. And it came I was looking at her and then I was looking at Marion Cotillard who is — who stars in a biopic about Edith Piaf called "La Vie en Rose," gave a remarkable performance. And I had Julie Christie and then was sort of looking at Ellen Page, and in the end, I pulled the lever for Marian Cotillard.

NEARY: Did you really?

Mr. CARR: Don't follow my idea. It's - I talked to a lot of Academy Award voters and the older ones when asked about Ellen Page says, Ellen who? All of them hadn't seen "Away From Her." In Marion Cotillard - you have a young (unintelligible) who is been everywhere campaigning every which way - is beautiful, lovely, demure, and had an - did an extraordinary job in the movie she was in.

NEARY: All right. I'm going to remember this. Now, we're going to take a call here. We're going to Cathy(ph). She's in Martinez, California. Hi Cathy.

CATHY (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Go ahead.

CATHY: I have three quick questions.

NEARY: okay..

CATHY: Even though "Eastern Promises" is nominated for the Best Picture, David Cronenberg has never got a director nomination, why is that? And why you think Viggo should get it? He's never put in a mediocre performance, let along a bad one? And do you think politics affect that?

NEARY: Okay. Well, David got that all down.

CATHY: Okay, I will listen.

NEARY: Okay. Thank you.

Mr. CARR: Very nice.

CATHY: And maybe I'm going to have a follow up.

NEARY: Okay.

Mr. CARR: The - "Eastern Promises" is an amazing movie about a nurse in London who come across a child and gets tangled up with Russian Mafia including a gangster played by Viggo Mortensen, as your caller points out, to amazing, amazing effect. It did not, in fact, get nominated for Best Picture, but Viggo is up for Best Actor. I think part of what happened is it came out much earlier in the year, people tended to forget about it. And it was tough, tough year. There were so many great movies that, not only got hurt in award season, but also at the Box Office because everybody releases into the end of the year, and there's this huge clutter and the moviegoer doesn't know which way to look, let along the Academy Award viewer.

I don't think the fact that Viggo has been fairly outspoken and political issues is hurting him, he is much loved in this town. He's a gracious, smart man. Takes to himself with the grain of salt. I think he speaks three languages and his handsome. Besides, I personally recent him, a lot.

NEARY: We are talking about the Oscars with the Carpetbagger of The New York Times, David Carr. Give us a call, the number is 800-989-8255. And we're going to go to Jeffrey(ph) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hi, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY (Caller): Good afternoon.

NEARY: Go ahead.

JEFFREY: The reason I was calling was I was pleasantly surprised when I saw "Sweeny Todd." I thought it was going to just be a blood and gore movie, and I thought they handled it very, very well. Made the bloody aspect very theatrical. And you could really emote with the characters. So I'm wondering why it did not get more nods.

Mr. CARR: I think part of what happened how old are you?

JEFFREY: I'm 50.

Mr. CARR: See, now, you've blown my theory. But I am also older than dirt, I'm 51. And I think that older members of the academy - if you remember how it opened…


Mr. CARR: …with that — all that blood flowing toward you, I talked to one older academy member who said, I thought I should have worn a butchery apron to it. What you saw as already and under controlled, other people saw as over the top. It was an odd combination of kind of a post-modern sensibility (unintelligible) over a very ancient landscape. And I'm with you in terms of the ambitions of the film and its excellence of execution. It just was a tough year and when you already had a couple of odd balls in the mix - in "No Country" and "There Will Be Blood" - it's like we already kind of feel that (unintelligible).

JEFFREY: Well, I never dreamed that I would say to you duet in a barber chair a second time. It's just gorgeous.

NEARY: Okay.

Mr. CARR: You and me both and the idea of Johnny Depp singing - I remember I brought some earplugs just in case - and I thought he did a really good job.

JEFFREY: Yeah. Outstanding.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

NEARY: And let me remind everybody that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Johnny Depp, I have to say, he is nominated for best actor in a leading role, but he's not going to get it either, right?

Mr. CARR: I guess not, mostly because the movie doesn't have a lot of support. It's nothing against Johnny Depp who does - the industry see as one of their leading lights and they'd love to have him up at the podium, it's good for business, maybe not for this movie though.

NEARY: All right. Let's take another call. We'll go to Megan(ph). She's calling from New Buffalo. Hi, Megan.

MEGAN (Caller): Hi, good afternoon. When I went to college back in the '80s, I took a class on the history of movies and we were told then that when America is involved in an extended war, like we are now, that the movies tend to either reflect it out, you know, the violence - like the violence of war, or they go to the other way with lots of fantasies and, you know, (unintelligible) movies like that. Is that happening now?

Mr. CARR: Well, two years ago, we had five small movies - "Capote" and - that were really, really dark. Last year, not so much. Although "The Departed," which won, ended up with, I don't know, five or six people, and then dead and kicked in the curb. I think it is a pretty serious year, I think it's a year of antiheroes. And a lot of this evil is sort of creeping in from an unseen place and sort of - I don't want to get too metaphorical about it, but it sort of etches the helplessness on the people. But it's not a great time for heroes at least in the movie house. Out in the political landscape, I think there's a significant appetite for it. So who knows what we will see next year in terms of movies.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Megan.

MEGAN: Thank you.

NEARY: I have to tell you, David, I have an e-mail here, a little off topic, but it says, speak for yourself. And here is what it says. It says only by your twisted Hollywood standards is 50 older than dirt.

Mr. CARR: Yeah, I guess so. And when I'm, when I am 70, I'll be saying it's the new 50.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: The - it's just…

NEARY: I know there are a lot of people out there probably thinking the same thing, so I had to read that e-mail. Yeah.

Mr. CARR: Well, On the run-up to the Oscar season, you have to realize you're surrounded by all this - in Los Angeles, all this little 20 and 25-year-olds. And racing around here and there and - it's tough not to feel like an old-timer.

NEARY: A little demoralizing, huh?

Mr. CARR: Well, it - let's just say it adds context to Times' winged (unintelligible).

Okay. Let us go to Chris(ph). Chris is Calling From Florida. Hi, Chris.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. My question and comment is, back when he nominations were made, when they first came out, I was listening to an entertainment show. And they were - the commentator, they were surprised that Denzel Washington wasn't nominated for "American Gangster," which I thought was a great performance. And the commentator made a comment, well, he already has enough awards. And I was wondering, you know, what plays into that, and is it politics or - what went into him not getting a nod?

Mr. CARR: I was talking to Ray last night who is out here BET and is covering a - I bumped into him at a 7-Eleven, oddly enough, and he's covering Denzel Washington who's getting a tribute out here. And both of us were sort of amazed that between "American Gangster" and "Great Debaters," that Denzel Washington who, by the way, does more bank than - in he in terms of box office, than almost any other movies are - couldn't sneak in. I think it is a little weird.

There may have been mistake in the execution of the marketing of "American Gangster" in that you thought it was as much sort of Russell Crowe's movie as it was his. It's Denzel's movie all the way, and it was sort of defined academy performance in terms of having a good sort of period little to it, having a great range of performance, and I think you and I are among many people disappointed that Denzel Washington won't be in the mix this year.

NEARY: All Right. We're going to quickly try and get one more call in here from Al(ph) in Illinois. Hi, Al.

AL (Caller): Hi. I'm just calling to - I'm here for the Northern Illinois University which is - the nation now knows had a horrible tragedy here. A friend of mine was shot at, was not hurt. And because of that, I think "No Country for Old Men" really, I think, deserves the nod because it displays violence and you know the kind horrifying way it is, you know. We just had to deal with a shooter that seemed to come out of nowhere and do a lot of destruction and tragedy. And I think that movie has a character that embodies a thing that a lot of us are afraid of now.

NEARY: Al, that is very thoughtful comment. And I'm just going to ask Dave to respond to it quickly because we are almost out of time, but thanks so much for your call.

AL: Thank you.

Mr. CARR: You know, I am so sorry for, you know, the fear that has been sewn in your daily life and the life of the other - I have two kids in college. One of the things that's weird is Hollywood hangs behind the culture in terms of production, two years, but it always seems to come up with the movie that resonates with the time. It's how that works out.

NEARY: Dave Carr, Thank you so much for joining us. Dave Carr is an arts and culture reporter for The New York Times, also knows as the Carpetbagger.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I am Lynn Neary.

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