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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: Oscars had big surprise up their sleeve, after all

Jeff Simon

Olivia Colman? Say what?

Let's be blunt here. The British comic actress' win at the Oscars on Sunday was a major surprise, if not quite the head-rocking shock it was for those who have longed to see Glenn Close win an Oscar since she scared everyone off with the singularity of "Fatal Attraction."

When Colman's film "The Favourite," in fact, premiered in August at the Venice Film Festival, she won the festival's Best Actress honors.

When it opened in the U.S. at the end of November, prognosticators of the less circumspect sort had a fine old time throwing Oscar predictions Colman's way.

It's just that the prospect of an Oscar, at long last, for Close after seven nominations and no wins was so pregnant with audience satisfaction and overdue fulfillment that it was, for many, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

It would have been exceptionally meaningful, as well, for the fact her film "The Wife," had such implications in a #MeToo era. Her role required so much subtlety and actor's craft, rather than showiness and comedy, that her fellow actors gave her a SAG Award and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association  gave her an astute Golden Globe.

But no. No Oscar -- yet -- for Glenn Close.

What on earth could it mean?

A few possibilities:

1. She's simply too patrician for Hollywood types to give awards to. Her father was a surgeon in Greenwich, Conn. She positively radiates upper class privilege and always has.

In her acceptance speech, Colman sweetly said she'd have preferred it if Close had won, but she also said that when she started out in life, she'd cleaned houses and indeed loved the job. She's taken it upon herself to explain one possible reason that she'd won. She understood that she was an actress people felt comfy voting for.

2. Close has now fallen victim to Richard Burton Syndrome -- a malady of esteem where no one wants to award an Oscar to someone because, if they do, they'll be casting aspersions on themselves for all the times they didn't.

3. The Academy's recent campaign to infuse its membership with new blood may have been almost too successful. What now seems to be the case is that the assembled membership has little or no sentimentality worthy of the name. This is the post-"SNL" world after all. They didn't just leave Close in her seat with a big, masterfully artificial grin on her face watching Colman get the prize, they left Sam Elliott in his seat, too, after getting the first Oscar nomination of a 50-year career. Too much was riding on Mahershala Ali's second Oscar for supporting actor.

This year's new voting bunch is not only unsentimental, they may be anti-sentimental.

Among those left out of the Memorial Montage (otherwise known as "Here's Who Died") were Sondra Locke, Carol Channing, Ricky Jay, Dick Miller, Verne Troyer, Steven Hillenburg and, amazingly, the great director and former hoofer Stanley Donen who, all things considered, gave the most charming Oscar acceptance speech of all time when they gave him a lifetime achievement award. By all means, drink in the audience expressions of pure delight:

It's true Donen just died, rather than last year, but he was a truly huge figure. It seems more than a little bizarre to leave out all mentions of the director who made everybody's choice for the greatest musical ever made --"Singin' in the Rain" -- as well as "Charade," "Indiscreet," "Funny Face," "On the Town," and "Royal Wedding" (that's the one where Fred Astaire does that mind-blowing dance on a room's ceiling).

Notice has been served at this year's Oscars.

A new era was being served here. As predicted, it gave us a weird -- and weirdly populist -- Oscar telecast.

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