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They are Hollywood's Super Bowl, March Madness, the World Series, all rolled into one -- they are the Oscars, and the controlling event of the weekend, although we must come clean and admit this difference: We've never checked out Jim Calhoun on the Final Four red carpet and marveled at his cleavage, never ogled Bill Belichick's tight sweatshirt in the Super Bowl pregame locker room and said, "Is it really that cold in there?"
Not that I was wondering those things -- just checking out Salma Hayek and Hilary Swank on the Oscar pregame show while writing The Cooler.
That pregame show itself is rife with sports analogies:
There's Jamie Foxx, looking cool, confident, strong -- a Tom Brady figure coming out of the huddle, walking tall in the knowledge his sensational turn as Ray Charles is a lock for Best Actor, the same way Brady walks tall in pressure situations, always knowing Adam Vinatieri's foot was just a fourth down away.
There's Annette Bening, looking tight and uneasy -- like she's expecting to lose Best Actress to the more popular role played by Swank. Bening summoned up the glum look of the close-but-no-cigar Syracuse teams of Jim Boeheim, waiting to be ousted by Coach K's Duke team, or John Thompson's Georgetown squad.
There's Virginia Madsen, looking tremendous, out of nowhere -- like a blast off of ESPN Classic, where you forgot just how good the 1976 Phoenix Suns were until you caught the replay of the NBA Finals at 3 a.m. one night.
There's Laura Linney, looking somewhat overmatched -- a No. 15 seed from the movie equivalent of the Big West Conference, the low-budget "Kinsey," facing a No. 2 seed like Kentucky, in the form of "The Aviator"'s Cate Blanchett. Linney looked truly just happy to be there, to get mentioned on Selection Sunday and wave at the cameras on the way in.
It's all there for you, if you look hard enough. Marty Scorsese -- his body of work veritably Wooden-esque, from "Taxi Driver" to "Goodfellas" to "Raging Bull," although Marty's artsy spectacles are beginning to take on a slightly-deranged look. You get the feeling that if he loses out on a few more Oscar bids, he'll start wearing more and more outrageous specs -- beginning to take on crazed dimensions not unlike the spectacle of Gene Keady's combover. Halle Berry -- will she ever not look fantastic? She's like Greg Maddux, winning at least 15 games 15 years in a row.
And Clint Eastwood -- the silver-tipped champion, year in, year out, gloriously re-inventing himself from early-career spaghetti western cowboy to elegant late-career artiste, summoning up images of -- who else? -- the classy Joe Torre, morphing from forgettable early career stints with the Cards and Braves, until he eventually rode high atop the Yankee Empire in his golden years. Sweet.
On, then, to the Weekend List of Five:
1. Sports in the Best Picture Nominees
As always, sports play a huge role in the Oscars. This goes way back. I remember "Breaking Away" getting nominated in 1979, "Heaven Can Wait" in 1978, "Field of Dreams" in 1989, "Jerry Maguire" and "Seabiscuit" in recent years, and of course, the gold standard, "Rocky" actually winning Best Picture in 1976. Given that Oscar is unafraid to embrace sports movies, it makes a guy wonder how "Slap Shot", "Major League" and "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" somehow got dissed. But sports disses are part of Oscar's legacy -- given the chance to nominate Paul Giamatti, the son of the late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti, for turning in some sensational work in "Sideways," Hollywood choked. Too many Pete Rose fans in the corner offices of the major studios, apparently.