Keira or Reese? ''Munich'' or ''Brokeback''? And does anybody even care? Entertainment Weekly's movie critics, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum, trade thoughts on this year's indie-heavy ballot
Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum
Credit: He Said She Said Illustration by Eric Palma

Lisa Schwarzbaum Hey, Owen, did you hear that nobody watched the Oscars this year? Yeah, I know the event hasn’t taken place yet, but that doesn’t seem to have affected the post-game analysis. My sources tell me that no one tuned in because no one saw the movies that were nominated, so no one cared. No one went to the nominated movies because they were all small and unglamorous ”indie”-looking productions that dwelt on downer topics like terrorism, racism, Communism, and the woes of homosexuals. Plus, there were no glamorous movie stars in the running unless you count George Clooney, and he only got the nod because in Syriana he played a fat, slovenly CIA operative with a beard.

Owen Gleiberman Well, if you’re going to be the poster boy for Hollywood’s new topical seriousness, it helps to look the part.

LS Nobody knew what was going on in Syriana, anyway — only that it looked urgent. Who’s David Strathairn or Amy Adams? Even host Jon Stewart couldn’t save the night’s proceedings, because he’s no Billy Crystal. I mean, don’t you think the George Bush-meets-George Clooney bit skated awfully close to Letterman’s Opra-Uma-Uma-Oprah fiasco? Anyhow, are you buying all my punditry? Nah, me neither. I do understand, though, how an Oscar year like this one might be far more pleasing to indie-oriented aesthetes (and critics, certainly) than to millions of moviegoers hungry for the next Lord of the Rings. Or Titanic. Or Silence of the Lambs. As it happens, I’m perfectly content with the nominations. They’re all fine! Every person or movie in the running would make a reasonable winner! Kudos all around! Whether Crash wins over Brokeback Mountain or Heath Ledger wins over Philip Seymour Hoffman, I say, Good night, and good luck! Plus, I like that this year’s nominated movies all grapple with real and serious adult subjects; the material acknowledges a maturity.

And yet I confess: In these weeks leading up to the actual Oscar telecast (Reese Witherspoon or Felicity Huffman? Either!), I find myself hankering — ever so slightly indie-fatigued — for a sophisticated, glamorous, non-hobbit-driven Hollywood prestige picture or two among future Oscar nominees. You know what I mean?

OG Do I ever. You know, Lisa, every time I hear another reference to how this year’s Best Picture nominees are all serious and ”small” and ”indie-style” movies, I have to laugh, if not choke, on the irony. Do people really think that movies like Munich, Spielberg’s daunting thriller about the key political crisis of our time, or Brokeback Mountain, an epic, four-hankie Hollywood romance with sprawling Western landscapes and the headline-grabbing topic of ”gay cowboys,” are ”small”? What they are, in a word, is movies. Old-school, big-screen dramas. For adults. It’s as if anything at the megaplex that didn’t include a caped crusader, a 20-minute car chase, or a Quidditch match was now some hopelessly rarefied art thing for eggheads.

LS …or penguins, don’t forget penguins.

OG They’re always in my thoughts. I do realize that a lot of past Academy Award winners haven’t necessarily been blockbusters. But what all the incessant talk about the ”smallness” of this year’s nominees reveals is that our movie culture has been divided, perhaps permanently, into two parallel tracks, and that is not, I have to say, a phenomenon that fills me with joy. There’s the eternal glut of fantasy/spectacle/action/ horror/animation/TV-remake/Ben Stiller-comedy popcorn that tops the box office charts each week, more or less comprising popular moviemaking as we know it. And there’s the prestige fare, inevitably regarded as boutique specialty films even when they’re made by Steven Spielberg, the single most popular director of the last 30 years. The Oscars, however, are supposed to be about the middle ground, and I think that the media are now a bit too eager to ghettoize films like Brokeback Mountain by making them sound ”smaller” and more esoteric than they are. Brokeback is a movie that people are talking about, joking about, and still lining up to see, and its all-but-inevitable Oscar triumph will surely heighten its profile. Let’s call it what it is: the movie of the moment. A great, trend-setting mainstream film.