HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — As the minutes tick down toward the 85th Academy Awards, stars such as Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Quvenzhane Wallis are making their way down the red carpet in front of Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.
Chastain’s dusty rose Armani gown was earning particular raves.
“It was a ‘Happy birthday, Mr. President’ type of dress,” Chastain told CNN’s Piers Morgan, referring to the snug dress Marilyn Monroe wore for a John F. Kennedy tribute years ago. Chastain’s well-tailored outfit, combined with her cascading reddish hair, evoked classic Hollywood glamor of the ’40s, fashion expert Joe Zee said.
The actress was as excited as a child on Christmas morning as Morgan interviewed her. “I’m at the Oscars!” she exclaimed. The performer is up for best actress for her turn as a single-minded CIA officer pursuing Osama bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Aside from Chastain’s stunner, one of the more interesting outfits was worn by a man: that of Mark Andrews, the director of the Pixar film “Brave.” In honor of the film — about a champion Scottish archer who saves her family — he was wearing a kilt. The tartan pattern has been registered and the attire is available for purchase, he told Morgan.
Lawrence, who’s up for best actress for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook,” was wearing a flowing white-and-pink Dior number.
She refused to put on airs, however. Told by Morgan that people are saying she’s one of Hollywood’s rising stars, she laughed off the compliment.
“Are you sure that’s not just my mom?” she replied.
Fashion, of course, is as big an attraction as the films themselves on this, Hollywood’s biggest night, when “Who are you wearing?” becomes as commonplace an utterance as “The Oscar goes to …”
“It’s a wonderful part of the Cinderella experience,” Adams told CNN.
Eyes on Affleck
But once the stars are seated and the show begins, the eyes will turn from the elegant gowns to a figure wearing a dapper tuxedo: Ben Affleck.
Ten years ago, Affleck was a punch line. After winning an Oscar in 1998 for co-writing “Good Will Hunting” with his good friend Matt Damon, he’d plunged into critical and/or box-office failure — “Bounce,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Changing Lanes,” “Daredevil” — topped by “Gigli,” the 2003 flop that became synonymous with the word “flop.”
He was a tabloid staple — romances with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez will do that — and so ripe for mockery that Mindy Kaling (!) played him as a track-suited doofus in her off-Broadway play, “Matt and Ben.”
The Oscar? Just luck. After all, in “Matt and Ben,” the script for “Good Will Hunting” literally falls from the heavens.
Tonight, Affleck may prove that you make your own luck.
“Argo,” which he directed, produced and starred in, is the front-runner for best picture — this despite that Affleck himself wasn’t nominated for best director, usually a sign a film has no chance of taking the big prize.
In fact, since the awards began in the late 1920s, only three films have won best picture without their director earning a nomination. And just one of those, 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy,” has pulled off the trick in the past eight decades.
“Argo,” which tells the story of the 1980 rescue of six American hostages from Iran thanks to an offbeat CIA-hatched plot, got its momentum after the Oscar nominations were announced January 10. In short order, the film or its principals won the Golden Globe, the SAG Award, the Directors Guild honor and the Writers Guild prize. It was as if Hollywood rallied behind Affleck after seeing he’d been snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Of course, Hollywood’s internal politics are rarely that easy to interpret. Before “Argo’s” run, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was the favorite for best picture, thanks to 12 Oscar nominations and a style firmly in the best picture tradition: serious, historical, with outstanding performances and a dollop of class.
Some prognosticators still believe “Lincoln” could go all the way; Spielberg is up for best director, unlike Affleck and some of the other best picture directors, and voters often pair the two categories.
Even aside from “Lincoln,” “Argo” faces strong competition for best picture. Among its challengers are “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the bin Laden manhunt; “Silver Linings Playbook,” a down-to-earth film about two troubled people finding romance; “Life of Pi,” Ang Lee’s movie version of the best-selling novel; and “Les Miserables,” the film version of the popular musical.
Other categories are equally competitive.
“Playbook’s” Jennifer Lawrence and Chastain were seen as battling for the best actress trophy until just recently, when “Amour” star Emmanuelle Riva — who turned 86 today — started attracting her fair share of attention.
The nominees for best supporting actor have all won before, and forecasters were uncertain whether the award would go to a member of the old guard, such as “Playbook’s” Robert De Niro, or the zestful sort-of-newcomer Christoph Waltz of “Django Unchained,” who won in the same category just three years ago.
Besides, Oscar voters can be remarkably … idiosyncratic, to put it politely.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg wrote down the thoughts of one anonymous director as the director went through the ballot. Among his sometimes profane and puckish comments: “Silver Linings” is “a screenplay” that didn’t require much direction; “everything is mediocre” among the best animated features; and “I don’t vote for anyone whose name I can’t pronounce,” which ruled out 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” He was backing “Zero Dark Thirty” for best picture
The guy who’s expected to be puckish is tonight’s host, Seth MacFarlane. Though MacFarlane’s greatest success has been in television, his $200 million-grossing “Ted” put him on the motion picture A-list, and producers hope he can enliven an awards program that was once described by Johnny Carson as “two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over a four-hour show.”
He’s already created a stir with his remarks at the Oscar nomination telecast. He even took a shot at Harvey Weinstein, telling the supporting actress nominees that they “no longer have to pretend to be attracted to” the studio boss.
But he’s aware that the eyes of hundreds of millions around the world will be watching, and hopes to hit a sweet spot “somewhere between Billy Crystal and Ricky Gervais,” he told Parade.
He’s also up for an award: best song. That award, however, may go to Adele’s theme from the James Bond film “Skyfall.” If Adele wins, it will be a first for the James Bond series, despite all the hits it’s produced over the years.
Affleck, too, may beat the odds. But he’s taking nothing for granted. In the parlance of so many performers, he’s happy just to be here.
“I don’t get into worrying too much about who got what and who didn’t get what,” he said at the Oscar nominees luncheon in early February. “I mean, I’ve had many, many, many, many, many, many years watching from home.”