If I ran the Oscars: Ann Magnuson lets loose

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In this interview series, we ask some famous freethinkers to recast the Oscars in their own image. As awards night draws near, let’s bring the season to a conclusion with our returning mistress of ceremonies, actress, writer and performance artist Ann Magnuson.

Ann, welcome back. So tell us: which performers and films are going to win the Oscar this year?

Throughout Oscar history, it is understood that this year is so-and-so’s “time.” It’s pre-ordained, like a commandment brought down from Mt. Sinai. Last year was Jeff Bridges’ “time.” This year is Colin Firth’s “time.” So to better reflect this immutable fact, the telecast needs to borrow from one of Hollywood’s greatest showmen, Cecil B. DeMille:

We hear, “And the winner is…” then cut to a long shot of the audience. An ominous wisp of Technicolor green smoke appears -– the same effect from DeMille’s 1956 version of “The Ten Commandments,” when the firstborn of Egypt are slain by God’s not-so-fickle finger of fate. The smoke creeps dramatically toward the nominees. Then, the audience parts like the Red Sea, and the winner is CGI’d out of their seat and whisked into the press room, bypassing the stage altogether, because it’s the Almighty Media who trump even God’s power in this day and age.


It would also appear to be Annette Bening’s “time,” though Natalie Portman is also a shoo-in, having won all this year’s best actress awards. So, if we’re lucky, the votes will be split between Portman and Bening, and a big “upset” will occur. This telecast is sorely in need of that. We need more deep gasps and visible shock from the audience. Secretly, I’d love to see Michelle Williams reap the benefits of such a split, but her talent is so mega that her “time” will eventually come.

It would also be great to see Melissa Leo win, because it might ensure more leading roles for Middle Aged Actresses Who Are Not Meryl Streep. (We all love Meryl but, c’mon, aren’t we a little tired of seeing her land every part in her age range? Toss Jessica Lange a bone already.)

Alright, excellent start. But if you were in charge of academy votes, which performers and films would go home with an Oscar?

Honestly, of all the nominees, I’ve only seen “The King’s Speech,” which I liked. I’ve been meaning to watch “The Social Network,” but every time the opportunity arises, I opt for another Fred Astaire movie, or an obscure Joseph von Sternberg silent. But let me go on record as saying David Fincher should go home with Oscar gold, because I worked with him in “Panic Room” and hope he casts me in another one of his movies. Besides, it’s his “time.”

We’d all like to see Banksy win (for “Exit Through the Gift Shop”) to see who shows up to collect the statuette. I’ve been told that Banksy is really Damien Hirst, a rather sad, disappointing and, frankly downright obscene thought. Whoever this guy is (and it could be a gal, but that would be too much to hope for), you know “Banksy” will make some kind of an art piece from his Oscar, so for that reason alone he/she/they should win.

Which films and performers from the past do you feel deserved the Oscar but didn’t receive one?

The late Maria Schneider deserves an honorary posthumous Oscar for this quote alone: “Never take your clothes off for middle-aged men who claim that it’s art.”

Chris Sarandon needs to be given his 1975 best supporting actor Oscar for his brilliant performance in “Dog Day Afternoon.”

The fashion parade on the red carpet seems to have become as important a part of the ceremony as the awards themselves. What dress code rules would you mandate there?

Tranimal! Let’s face it, most people only tune in to see what the stars are wearing. And the stars have been pretty boring, thanks to the play-it-safe stylists hired to dress them.

This must change! I would insist that a Tranimal Makeover Station be erected mid-way on the red carpet. The stars would arrive as usual, and everyone sees their initial ho-hum glamour choices. Then they enter the Tranimal Makeover Station! With the expert guidance of original Tranimal Jer Ber Jones, Squeaky Blonde and photographer Austin Young, plus several oil drums filled with M.A.C. gold glitter and an array of fake breasts that would raise Russ Meyer from the dead, each star would be ripped, dipped and suitably transformed into a creature best described as Leigh Bowery-meets-“Trout Mask Replica”-meets-“Goldfinger.” A Tranimal makes Lady Gaga look like Nancy Reagan.

So, who would be your dream host or presenters? Musical performers?

Lord Almighty, after the latest rant from Charlie Sheen, is there any other choice for the perfect host? Of course, everything he says would have to be close-captioned for those not fluent in Tweakinese.

Among the presenters, we must have Randy and Evi Quaid, of course. From the road, streaming live from whatever Canadian backwash they’re currently hiding out in. To introduce them, we’d put together an awesome “On the Lam” montage -– all the great clips for the classic couples-running-from-the-law flicks, like “Badlands,” “The Getaway,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Thieves Like Us,” “The Sugarland Express,” “It Happened One Night” and “Smokey and the Bandit.”

After his impressively energetic performance on the Grammys, Mick Jagger should perform all the best song nominees, but only if Keith Richards is allowed to provide simultaneous commentary from the balcony above. Perhaps after Mick is finished, he can join Keith on the balcony and they can comment and squabble throughout the rest of the show. A perfect counterpoint to the Quaids. Toss in a little tag-team action from Ricky Gervais and Bill O’Reilly to keep pushing the ratings up, up, up!

But let’s forget the ceremony for a minute and ask me what I’d do if i ran the Oscar party.

Ann, the floor is yours.

I’d fete lifetime achievement honoree Jean-Luc Godard, who sadly is not attending the real ceremony, with a piece of performance art featuring my character, the Time Traveling Hooker.

The party takes place on the roof of the Standard Downtown. This time, the Way Back Machine is set to: The Future. The glittering cityscape view from the Standard Downtown roof is a ready made “Alphaville,” but just to drive the point home, we will project onto the building across from the Standard footage of the Time Traveling Hooker dressed as Anna Karenina and wandering among the futuristic buildings that double as L.A.’s subway stations. All filmed shot-for-shot like the Godard classic.

As Godard enters with his Oscar, the projected film switches to a live feed from the bowels of the hotel. But instead of the waiters and bellhops, we see hot babes changing into ‘60s-era bikinis. The Time Traveling Hooker enters and changes into a Bardot-style swimsuit. She leads all the girls onto the rooftop where the party is now in full swing. They march in single file and assemble around the rooftop pool. Each girl has a Bowie knife in a sheath attached to her left thigh. It soon becomes apparent that we are reenacting the execution scene from “Alphaville” as a celebratory homage to the Oscar-winning director. He didn’t fly all the way to L.A. to go to some boring Governor’s Ball.

The Time Traveling Hooker greets our honored guest, then reads out the list of charges leveled at the young man standing on the diving board and dressed, “Reservoir Dogs” style, in a natty black suit with skinny tie. He is James Franco.

No, he is not being charged with crimes against performance art, but rather, with planning to star and direct a film about Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. “The Night Stalker.” We do not need more films about serial killers.

We feel certain Godard will agree and perhaps prod Franco off the diving board with the tip of his honorary Oscar’s head.

Franco falls into the pool, and all the girls dive in and stab him with their prop knives. The pool fills with the brightest red stage blood money can buy. Not realistic at all, but very Godardian, like the cherry red hues seen in “Pierrot Le Fou.”

Thus endeth our tribute. The video, shot from every conceivable angle by the multitude of camera phones now in everyone’s possession, is uploaded and played throughout the evening on the monitors and projected on the surrounding buildings as the DJ plays French yé-yé music mixed with the soundtrack from Godard’s film “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Ann, let’s give you the Lifetime Achievement Award this year, not only for your career accomplishments, but for this column alone. So let’s hear your acceptance speech.

Memo to A-listers: You, whose huge salaries have all but destroyed the middle-class actor’s ability to make a living, let alone scare up enough to remain eligible for health insurance: I hate to break it to you, but you are no different than the Wall Street bankers who set this country up for the current economic fall. In fact, Hollywood paved the way! You say you support the workers in Wisconsin? Then put down the Ayn Rand and take a close look at your own union! The Screen Actors Guild is a joke. How can you have a union where 90% of the membership is operating under the poverty line, and the rest are living like the Romanovs? Be rich, fine. But. You. Do. Not. Get. That.

Your absurdly high salary mandates everyone else get paid peanuts. Yes, we know it’s because your agents and managers want to live like movie stars too. Why don’t you just let them have their pound of flesh and then take the time to see if your supporting cast is getting paid what you remember wanting -– no, needing -- to be paid back when you were struggling and barely making ends meet? I’m not asking you to take much out of your pot of gold. Keep your vintage car collection. Keep the palazzo on Lake Como. Keep playing the “aw shucks” common man or meth-head trailer trash hooker with a heart of gold to your heart’s content. Just toss the rest of us a few crumbs from Mt. Olympus. Take, I dunno, a measly 10% out of your check and tithe to the rest of the cast that makes you look good. Make like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” instead of Malcolm McDowell in “Caligula.” We’ll even find a way to make it tax deductible so you will effectively save money.

I know! We’ll make a special award for it! You’ll get an honorary Oscar for being such a mensch. Best Redistribution of Wealth by a Greedy Bastard Pretending to be a Bleeding Heart Liberal. To quote Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon,” “We’re dying here!”

Help your fellow actors. Please. We need our health insurance.

Thank you.


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If I ran the Oscars: Comedian Jon Manfrellotti takes a shot

If I ran the Oscars: Pop maestro Kristian Hoffman goes for broke

-- Paul Gaita

Photo credit: Austin Young