By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
If this, my annual Oscar prediction column, has reached your eyes, I have been successful, and perhaps in some small way the causes of democracy and freedom will have been served. You see, I have been kidnapped. The vile event occurred just as I set about to forecast the winners of the 85th Annual Academy Awards. I ask you: What more heinous thing could one perpetrate on humankind?
Alas, to date, I know neither my abductors nor their purpose, though I have three theories: 1. A competing newspaper, jealous of my prognostications and protective of their film critic, is behind the deed. 2. A terrorist organization aiming to disrupt what has become an iconic American tradition is the ignominious culprit. 3. I’m making it all up as a shameless lead-in to my generally pathetic attempt at handicapping the awards.
In any case, assuming it’s one of the first two, I’m neither sure who my scurrilous hosts are nor where, in what land or place, I have been sequestered. Nevertheless, by timing the changing of the guard, at night I am able to sneak out and visit the little town below, a quaint hamlet reminding both in architecture and population of something from Dr. Seuss.
While I have adopted a favorite pub, I usually engage no one, as their conversation is entirely in rhyme, and I fear that just one suspect alliteration will give me away. Thus far, the tall striped hat I was able to procure and a simple ordering procedure—“Beer and whiskey, mighty risky”—have served me well. And it is here where I have met Tovarisch. Only you know, by reading this missive, if he has been true to his word.
Sidling up to me one night, but looking in another direction, in what sounded like an Eastern European inflection he furtively informed, “I have helped many film critics before…for, you know…to get Oscar picks to Free World. I have access to carrier pigeon, ham radio, and message in a bottle, as well as boat across channel with daring emissary. You can buy just one, but package deal is for sure best…one is bound to reach America.”
I went for the package deal. And while Tovarisch declined to accept my American Express card, noting the vig was too high, surprisingly he did take VISA. If you are indeed reading this, I can’t help but wonder which part of the package made it.
Meanwhile, my captors, who all kowtow to a Major Strasser and wear uniforms inspired by the Gestapo garb in “Casablanca” (1942), each day press me for my Academy Award choices. They assure me that, not only will it serve a good cause, but that it would also secure my freedom. I resist. To punish me, they repeatedly make me watch “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012), “Anaconda” (1997) and some Chilean documentary.
When the vinegar doesn’t work, they try sugar by showing “Boom Town” (1940), “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), “The Great McGinty” (1940) and other favorites. And, to further ply the carrot, I’m assured they have a perfect copy of “One Touch of Venus” (1948). But again, I defy them, not only because I believe in justice, democracy, the American way and my right to freely predict the Oscars. You see, the food is astonishingly good.
The chef, who prides himself on his knowledge of American cuisine, delivers the meals personally and we’ve had interesting conversations. Possessing an accent that’s an amalgam of every foreign-based customer service person I’ve spoken to on the telephone, he says his name is Chip. Admittedly, though, he’s a bit obsessed with mac ‘n’ cheese.
Yesterday, for instance, headlining above a hearty, steaming bowl of mushroom barley soup accompanied by French, multigrain baguette and the freshest of butters, he presented a dish of mac ‘n’ cheese that, he informed, contained exactly 17 different cheeses, all of them originating from Third World countries.
The cheese progression started two weeks ago with just four cheeses, and with each lactic addition he urges me to identify the newest curd. I always say Limburger first, which routinely evokes a laugh accompanied by, “No, no Limburger…too smelly…you always say that.” I think I’m his only friend.
However, when I ventured to inquire why instead of just varying the cheeses, he didn’t also rotate the variety of pasta…perhaps an orecchiette one day, maybe a farfalle the next…you’d think I had spit on his mother and then his flag, whatever that may be. All of which suggests I shouldn’t postpone my escape. Thanks to Tovarisch and my VISA card, I’ve booked passage, carefully scheduled so I won’t miss Sunday Night’s bill of fare, featuring Chip’s stellar Chicken cordon bleu and kasha varnitchkes. Until then, mon ami, ‘tis a far, far better thing, and all of that. I pray the following list, albeit slightly stained from an errant bit of mac ‘n’ cheese and a splash of fruity red wine, safely reaches you.
Best Motion Picture of the Year: “Argo”; Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln”; Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty”; Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Tommy Lee Jones for “Lincoln”; Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Anne Hathaway for “Les Miserables”; Best Achievement in Directing: Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln”; Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Mark Boal for “Zero Dark Thirty”; Best Writing, Screenplay based on Material Previously Produced or Published: David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”; Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Tim Burton for “Frankenweenie”; Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: “Amour” (Austria); Best Achievement in Cinematography: Claudio Miranda for “Life of Pi”; Best Achievement in Editing: William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor for “ Zero Dark Thirty”; Best Achievement in Production Design: Eve Stewart, Ann Lynch-Robinson for “Les Miserables”; Best Achievement in Costume Design: Joanna Johnston for “Lincoln”; Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: Peter King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”; Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: Thomas Newman for “Skyfall”; Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: Adele, Paul Epworth, for “Skyfall.”; Best Achievement in Sound Mixing: Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes for “Les Miserables”; Best Achievement in Sound Editing: Paul N.J. Ottosson for “Zero Dark Thirty”; Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik de Boer and Donald Elliott for “Life of Pi”; Best Documentary, Feature: Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn, “Searching for Sugar Man”; Best Documentary, Short Subject: Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan for “Mondays at Racine”; Best Short Film, Animated: David Silverman for “The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare”; Best Short Film, Live Action: Sam French, Ariel Nasr for “Buzkashi Boys.”