Timing of its release couldn't be better for the Oscars prospects of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," which comes just months after its star Javier Bardem, sporting the creepiest hairdo this side of Donald Trump and Jacko, terrified Hollywood into handing over piles of academy gold to "No Country for Old Men."
At the previous Oscars, Penelope Cruz ("Volver") posed the most serious threat to usurp Helen Mirren ("The Queen") in the best-actress race but, having failed, now seems due to reign too. At the derby before that, many Oscarwatchers thought Woody Allen would finally have his big comeback, but "Match Point," despite nabbing a screenplay nomination, didn't catch fire, so the three-time winner is now sparking new heat.
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is a more appropriate vehicle to return Woody Allen to Oscars glory since it's what he does best. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is a comedy, and Woody Allen's career could sure use a smile. His flicks have mostly fizzled this decade. The Hollywood Reporter was among the media that lambasted his previous film "Cassandra's Dream" (2007): "As writer, Allen offers lazy plotting, poor characterization, dull scenes and flat dialogue."
If Woody Allen wins a screenplay Oscar for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," it'll be his first since "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986) and his third overall after best-picture champ "Annie Hall" (1977) earned him gold for writing and directing. But let's recall that Woody Allen didn't bother to show up to accept those honors. In 1978 (for the '77 awards), it was far more important to him to remain in New York to play his clarinet in the New Orleans Marching and Funeral Band at Michael's Pub.
Back then he scoffed, "I have no regard for that kind of ceremony. I just don't think they know what they're doing. When you see who wins those things — or who doesn't win them — you can see how meaningless this Oscar thing is."
But lots of stars have blasted the Oscars just like that, then turned around and — in the grand tradition of Hollywood hypocrisy — accepted the golden statuette with glee. Think Glenda Jackson, who denounced the kudofest as "a public hanging," and Dustin Hoffman, who pooh-poohed it as "an obscene evening."
Woody Allen did his flipflop in recent years, actually attending the ceremonies in 2002 (for the 2001 awards) and 2007 (for 2006 kudos). Voters may have been reluctant to embrace him with victory after he was tainted with a sex scandal, but they recently forgave Roman Polanski (best director, "The Pianist," 2002), who battled similar woes.
After all, Woody Allen is one of the academy's longtime darlings. After ignoring him throughout the first decade of his blazing career ("Bananas," "Sleeper"), members more than caught up with him afterward. In fact, Woody holds the record for most screenplay nominations (14), compared to 12 for Billy Wilder. However, both Allen and Wilder have 21 nominations overall.
Woody Allen directed 14 actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Michael Caine ("Hannah and Her Sisters"), Judy Davis ("Husbands and Wives"), Mariel Hemingway ("Manhattan"), Diane Keaton ("Annie Hall"), Martin Landau ("Crimes and Misdemeanors"), Samantha Morton ("Sweet and Lowdown"), Geraldine Page ("Interiors"), Chazz Palminteri ("Bullets Over Broadway"), Sean Penn ("Sweet and Lowdown"), Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite"), Maureen Stapleton ("Interiors"), Jennifer Tilly ("Bullets Over Broadway"), Dianne Wiest ("Hannah and Her Sisters," "Bullets Over Broadway"), and himself ("Annie Hall"). Caine, Keaton and Sorvino won Oscars — Wiest did so twice.
Now Woody Allen claims that he wrote "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" specifically for Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson. Penelope Cruz has just the kind of flashy part that gets his characters noticed by the academy. Scarlett Johansson is outrageously overdue for her first nomination.
Photo: L.A. Times