Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Letter from California-March 1, 2004

Do you know the feeling that starts to build at about 1 or 2 o’clock on the afternoon of Christmas Eve? Suddenly, the streets get busy, filled up with people driving around like mental patients to get one or two little things done before heading home to pack in for the holiday. The build up is more exciting than the actual event sometimes, what with the reality of forgotten batteries for the boy’s Killbot and the unannounced arrival of the cousin who always brings a new boyfriend that she’s about to marry.

Anyway, a few years back, when I first moved to Los Angeles, I was driving around on a Wednesday afternoon in March and I noticed that same Christmas Eve-thing happening. What could it be? Why are the grocery stores packed? Why does every other car on the road have a Domino’s Pizza light stuck to the top? What kind of crazy, mixed-up holiday do I not know about? More importantly, how can I get home and celebrate it?

It didn’t take long, now that my Holiday Senses were tingling, to ask around and figure out that today was indeed a holiday. A National Holiday. In Los Angeles.

It was Oscar day. In L.A., the day of the Academy Awards might as well be Christmas Eve because everyone heads for hearth and home to see if the Academy (playing the role of Santa Claus) will be bringing gifts (in the form of golden statues) to the children (movie people…no stretch there).

Even for a national audience, the telecast is popular, but in L.A., everyone’s either in something that’s been nominated, worked on something that’s been nominated or knows someone that’s been nominated. It’s a Company Town after all. Movie magic is bread and butter work for a lot of people here. For example, a friend of ours played cello in the orchestra during the broadcast. How’s that for tinsel town glamour? I bet he would have gotten teased a lot less when he first joined the school band and picked the cello if people had known then that he’d be performing for Ben and J. Lo someday. Ok, maybe it wouldn’t have helped much.

Another thing you might not know about the Academy Awards I learned from another friend of mine. A few years back, she started a company that provided the Awards with gift baskets for the award recipients, nominees, and other VIPs. All the big awards shows do it, and you might be not be surprised to hear that the Academy would splurge for a few oranges, bananas and a commemorative mug, but if you thought that, you’d have the wrong idea. These gift baskets have thousands of dollars worth of gifts in them, ranging from free spa treatments and silk pajamas to really, really expensive oranges and bananas. And just because they’re called gift baskets doesn’t mean they’re little wicker things with fake plastic grass in the bottom. One of the baskets, I heard from my friend, was actually a beautiful Chinese chest-of-drawers. It sounds a little excessive, I know, but hey, if anyone needs a little pampering, it’s those overworked, unsung movie stars. This is their night, after all. Don’t they deserve something?

As for the Awards themselves, this year it was all Hobbits, all the time. Usually, this is the kind of movie that doesn’t win anything because the Academy voters (about 6500 people in the movie biz whose names are somewhat of a secret) hate to give the good awards to the really geeky stuff involving elves, magic swords, special effects or for any movie where people can somehow come back from the dead (although we’ll see how The Passion does next year).

Best of all, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins mostly kept their mouths shut. Unlike last year, where all the award recipients felt the need to talk about the war or the rainforests or the need for a new stop sign at the corner of Willow and Main, this year they stuck to discussing the movies. For that, we thank the Academy for keeping the awards fun. Movies should provide an escape from all the serious stuff, and that includes the Awards.

After all, it’s a holiday.


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