Sunday, February 24, 2008

What's it all about, Alfie?

So what does all of this mean, really, this Academy Awards thing? What is it other than a slightly kitschy knick-knack that functions as the world's most famous conversation piece? Does it really chance people's lives?

In 1975 Ellen Burstyn won the best actress Oscar for her work in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but she was unable to attend the ceremony because she was doing a play on Broadway. Two days later, Jack Lemmon (who had been the category's presenter on the big night) and Walter Matthau showed up at her dressing room door with her new Oscar, bright and shiny and in a liquor box. Later on that night, as the three of them dined, Burstyn asked Matthau about the golden man in the box: "What's really in that box, Walter? What does the Oscar mean?" And Matthau, who had won his Oscar nearly a decade earlier, answered matter-of-factly. "When you die, the newspapers will say, 'The Academy Award winning actress Ellen Burstyn died today.' "

And that's about it, really. Jack Lemmon got that treatment, and so did Walter Matthau. And so will Ellen Burstyn when her time comes. And so, now, will Tilda Swinton and Javier Bardem and Marion Cotillard and Diablo Cody and that cute duo from Once. Daniel Day-Lewis already was going to get it, and now really will get it. And the Coens - well, zap!. The Oscar is an instant invitation for everyone to know when you die. But that counts for something, right?

OK, that, and you get to raise your price for your next film. Maybe.

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