February 18, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

The real truth about Oscar snubs

By now the chief talking point on this year’s Academy Awards competition is that the race is wide open. This truism is worth needlepointing on a pillow.

But these days it’s also fashionable to say that Jim Carrey was SNUBBED. That ”The Hurricane” was SNUBBED. Ditto ”The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Christopher Plummer, Matt Damon, the actress who played the dead, naked woman in ”The General’s Daughter”? All SNUBBED.

Well, not only wouldn’t I embroider the word SNUB on a hankie, but I challenge the whole notion of snubbery as a factor in Oscar psychology. To snub, after all, is defined as ”to treat with contempt or neglect.” And just because ”Ripley” is left off the ballot, or Sigourney Weaver, or whatever your favorite un-nominated movie or actor happens to be, doesn’t mean squat. It’s fun to come up with conspiracy theories, but to do so gives Academy members far more sophistication than they deserve when they’re just folks, folks with movie passes and videocassettes.

Do you think they’re really punishing Jim Carrey for once talking out of his tush? Heck no, these people just liked ”The Green Mile” better! They watched that furry little mouse, and that massive, saintly black prisoner, and Tom Hanks’ honest eyes, and they thought, ”Oooh.” They watched Sean Penn play the heck out of jazz guitar in ”Sweet and Lowdown” and they thought, ”Wow.” They watched John Malkovich and thought, ”Huh?” They watched little Haley Joel Osment breathe ghostly air through his rosebud mouth and thought, ”Awww.”

Here’s a new theory to try on: Oscar voters are not a complicated bunch. On the contrary, they’re a more accurate sampling of nonanalytical American moviegoers than EW readers (and writers) passionate enough to ardently champion ”Tumbleweeds” over ”Anywhere but Here.” Some are more sophisticated, some are less, some see two films a week in theaters, some wouldn’t watch a thing if the tapes didn’t show up at their door. They like their stories sweet, earnest, or uplifting. They like Meryl Streep (at least to nominate) the way the Hollywood Foreign Press Association adores Sharon Stone.

In fact, at this point, the only distinction between those who vote for the Academy Awards and those who vote for the Golden Globes is the size of the electorate. Fewer than a hundred vote for the Globes, and this year they were clever enough to recognize Carrey, Janet McTeer, and Hilary Swank. Meanwhile, thousands vote for the Oscars and last year they preferred Roberto Benigni to Tom Hanks.

Clearly that wasn’t a snub for Hanks; it was just a whole lot of people talking out of their tushies.

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