Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Oscar by Oscar

By Barbara Chisholm

MARCH 23, 1998:  No, this isn't the Harry Knowles Oscar column. This is far from the Ain't It Cool That I Personally Pick the Winners item (which, for all I know, Knowles does personally pick 'em). This ain't we pick 'em, it's we pick 'em apart. While lots of ink is being spilled about who is going to win or who should win or who shouldn't be allowed to win by law, this column will concern itself with the Academy Awards' (Monday, March 23, 8-11pm, Ch 24) big picture: who's gonna wear what, and how many bystanders will be killed by inadvertently getting between a movie star looking for a photo-op and a camera.

I trust enough mainstream Hollywood actors have been nominated to satisfy those whose nose was out of joint by last year's outsiders nominations. Who would have thought that Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, or Arnold Schwarzenegger would have missed an opportunity to be photographed? Their snub came back to haunt them however as they had to stare at a year's worth of photos of Nicole Kidman in her chartreuse Dior. In a town populated by those whose ambitions know no bounds, Kidman is in a class by herself. I predict she will win the most coveted award again this year: The Most Photographed Star. Her steely-eyed determination to get in every magazine was baldly apparent in the countless pics of her squinty, unsmiling eyes. She pulls enough clout with designers to get any dress she wants, usurping the likes of Anne Bass (which in those circles is saying something). I won't play the losers game of guessing what she will wear, but I know she'll annihilate anyone who interrupts the unholy pairing of her and a camera.

The others? Helen Hunt seems to be on Calvin Klein's payroll, so she'll be required to show up in the ubiquitous neutral, bias-cut gown. Ms. Hunt has the curious ability to wear $10,000 worth of dress and still look like she's schlepping. The darling of the industry, she'll do very well in the flashbulb department.

One hopes sufficient time has passed since the Golden Globes for Helena Bonham Carter to do something about her frightwig. The finger-in-the-socket look hasn't worked since she did her stint as the bride in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and is certainly an obvious attempt to distance herself from the period costumes for which she's known. May I suggest she play to her strengths and raid the costume department of Merchant-Ivory Productions? The big question: Will she throw it in Emma Thompson's face by accessorizing her ensemble with Kenneth Branagh?

Julie Christie just has to show up to be the best-looking one in the crowd. Judi Dench? One gets the feeling that in this collection of movie stars, there is inadvertently a working actor in the bunch. While those in Hollywood plan their year around the award season, culminating in the Oscars, there are many more actors in the world who just work. Ms. Dench has been turning in superior work for so long, she must be a bit bemused by this brouhaha. Her nomination reminds me of F. Murray Abraham's win several years back; I kept thinking: What's that actor doing up there with all those movie stars? And I knew that when his 15 minutes were up, people would be asking, "What happened to F. Murray Abraham?" when he would be busy as ever pursuing his acting career, not a Tinseltown career.

When you're 22 years old, as is Kate Winslet, you simply don't have to try too hard. There was an amusing story in Vogue some months back about the process Ms. Winslet's assigned fashion consultant went through for the previous Oscars. Ms. Winslet was working (there's that word again) on Hamlet at the time and wasn't much help to the fashion police. The costumer whizzed across the ocean scouting the Paris and Milan spring collections and was horrified when Winslet finally showed up in person to try on various outfits and was covered in bruises from the physically demanding role of Ophelia. A flunky was sent out for body makeup and a pair of thong underpants, and Ms. Winslet glided through the velvet ropes a vision in pink satin. I predict something a little less demure this time.

You know, those who bemoan these days of designer Oscars and miss the fashion free-for-all of yore are the same curmudgeons who think Disney destroyed a cultural landmark when they cleaned up Times Square. Sure, I enjoyed the breathless anticipation of seeing what monstrosity Cher would don as much as the next person. And the sight of the aging, desperate Sally Kirkland poured into a Wonderbra-enhanced sausage casing was cause for a spit take, but today's awards are not without room for a riotous display of bad taste. According to the Globe, Anna Nicole Smith is out of rehab and is no doubt looking for a glitterati-infested event to launch her comeback of a career that never was. Will the image of her 250 pounds of silicone testing the sturdiness of the single-needle stitching in that baby blue crushed velvet number ever be erased from your memory?? And Kim "I'm not a sex kitten, I just am always photographed in leather and cleavage" Basinger likes to express her artistic self in designs of her own creation. Remember the one-armed white satin bolero jacket?

Sure, most nominees and near-nominees and even just wannabes have legions of sycophants whose livelihood depends on getting them outfitted in safe, fashionable togs. For instance, Minnie Driver was interesting for about 10 minutes, but now she is absolutely indistinguishable from everyone else in that Ashley Judd/Mira Sorvino crowd. I know you can straighten hair, hire a makeup artist, and don expensive threads, but how did she whittle away her razor-sharp jaw bones? It's very disappointing. But we mustn't let these trends sour us on the experience. Now, to get a jolt that elicits a fashion-induced gasp requires alertness on our part. These jewels are no longer strewn about like so many bon mots. We must work for them, which makes them all the more precious.

For a couple of years, I lived in San Diego. It was a time isolated from others in my life in that very little that happened there referred to other events in my life. I loved it, but it was a bit like dining on chocolate everyday: The unique luxury of it begins to pale if indulged in too often. I lounged on the beach, flirted with artists in the theatrical community, and had a beautiful baby. In retrospect, it seems an episode shot in soft-focus. And one of the small gems I miss, like the fish tacos, is the E! network coverage of the Oscars that began around 3pm. My Oscar observance will commence with the more pedestrian ET (6:30pm, Ch 24) special this year. My smirk in place, I'll be on the lookout for any and all transgressions. I'll report back.


Barbara Chisholm most recently appeared in the Hyde Park Theatre production of David's Redhaired Death. Margaret Moser returns next week, liberated from all award shows.


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