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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: The big winner on Oscar night will be weirdness

Poor Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper. They're not looking so hot this award season. They're not looking good for Oscar night Feb. 24, either.

Neither is Oscar night itself. The event is currently poised somewhere among a desperate yearning for populism on one side, social justice on another and artistic quality on a third. A real devil's triangle for viewers that one.

We all learned that from Sunday's "Silver Anniversary" SAG Awards, the 25th annual "actor" awards that are usually one of the most reliable indicators of Oscar night fortunes. All of the stalwarts of Bradley Cooper's hugely successful new version of the perennial "A Star is Born" were shut out from the SAGs.

Lady Gaga, of course, will do fine on Oscar night because her song "Shallow" is practically a sure thing for original song in the film that was Cooper's debut as a star/director.

It's Sam Elliott, frankly, that I feel sorriest for. Under ordinary circumstances, a sentimental Oscar that played by old Hollywood rules would go to Elliott for Best Supporting Actor.

He really is one of the most distinctive character actors in Hollywood, with his luxuriant mustache, his basso drawl and his lanky frame adding up to the reigning on-call male sex symbol for Hollywood actors in their mid-70s. He's been as reliable as an old shoe in movies for almost 50 years and if ever there was a movie to give the guy a statue to commemorate his stature, it's the one he's so good in -- Cooper's revival of "A Star is Born."

The trouble is that as sentimentally awardable as Elliott would be in an ordinary year, Mahershala Ali is even more awardable in a year when all past "Oscar So White" resentments are about to be swept away like Corleone family enemies during "The Godfather's" "Night of Sicilian Vespers."

In 2019, Ali is one of the most important actors in Hollywood. He's so good people have been giving him awards for a while and building films and TV shows around him (see the current "True Detective" on HBO). His Oscar-nominated film "The Green Book" is a Hollywood nostalgist's dream for its revival of the ancient racial tradition of "The Defiant Ones" and "Driving Miss Daisy."

Put it all together and Elliott's one chance to get public career recognition for being a great Hollywood archetype (see him, for instance, in the Coens' "The Big Lebowski") will almost certainly fall to much more pressing community business.

This is going to be one of the weirdest Oscars ever, I think. With so little consensus and so much anxiety over the event from top to bottom, it stands an equal chance of being an atrocity or a genuinely new way of doing a very old thing. I'm guessing "atrocity" myself. (When the Motion Picture Academy nervously decides to leave cinematography awards out of the evening for insufficient popular allure, you know that raw fear of the audience has taken over. Little good has ever been accomplished by raw fear of the audience.)

The reason Lady Gaga's impressive debut as a film actress in "Star" is unlikely to carry Oscar night is the simple fact the Oscars owe a major debt to one of the great living actresses and this is a perfect year to pay up.

The debt they owe is to Glenn Close, who is always good and, in my opinion, once gave one of the great performances in movies in Adrian Lyne's "Fatal Attraction." I said so at the time and I still believe it.

I don't know that I've ever seen another performance that so brilliantly balanced sexuality and terror. Actresses since Close have been trying to match her, but what she did seemed primal. Others learned from her, but have never come close. It's a unique and truly phenomenal performance.

Feminist critics have rightly pointed out for decades that the American reality is that women have far more to fear from deranged male stalkers than men do from the kind of female deranged stalkers we see in "Fatal Attraction" and Clint Eastwood's "Play Misty for Me."

But Hollywood has been, until recently, where male nightmares are first in line. Let's admit, given the possibilities for a tour de force by the designated actress, it's not a movie archetype likely to disappear.

They owe her an Oscar for "Fatal Attraction," I think. It should surprise no one in 2019 Hollywood that they're likely to present it to her for "The Wife" from Meg Wolitzer's novel about the wife of a revered writer.

What Close won a SAG award for Sunday is almost the exact opposite of her role in "Fatal Attraction." Any way you look at it, an Oscar to Close will be a very popular prize.

I'm not sure I understand the award unpopularity, thus far, of "A Star is Born," considering its nostalgic orgy. It was sufficient, I think, to make one SAG winner the oddest one of the night.

That was Rami Malek for playing Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody" over both Cooper in "Star" and Christian Bale in "Vice." Bale is renowned for being tempestuous and has previously won an Oscar besides. Cooper's movie was a box office bellringer last year. And that, as we all know, is the community's favorite prize.

Even so, I'd have thought Hollywood in general would have trouble pulling the award trigger for anyone in "Bohemian Rhapsody," a film mostly directed and created by Bryan Singer, the target of dismaying accusations of pedophilia that have been around for decades and have reached a crescendo.

Malek, nevertheless, won both a Golden Globe and a SAG award.

I'm not sure what it means in terms of overall community sentiment. My guess is this: No matter how unpleasant a director's reputation may become, carefully constructed all-stops out star-making performances by an ambitious young actor have to be recognized.

I've thought Malek a wonder since first seeing him in "Mr. Robot."

The Oscars then are going to tell us how important are the future careers of Malek and Ali.

And how inadvertently badly timed was Elliott's character acting coronation and Lady Gaga's debut as a dramatic actress.

On top of everything else, 2019's Supreme Weirdness Oscars will go without an official emcee.

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