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Losing an Academy Award

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This is the second of a four-part series. Read part one here.

Lost amidst all the Oscar parties, the pomp and stupidity, the magazine covers and newspaper ads, is the fundamental question -- what happens to the non-winners? Now this is true of every industry -- the Super Bowl victors go to Disneyland and into the record books; where do the losers go -- Six Flags? Wally World? There are winners and losers every day in every field; I'm sure the runner-up for Actuary of the Year (The 'Acty'?) drowns his sorrow with 40-year-old whisky and a mangled abacus. Yet none bear our particularly sadistic ritual: televise the event for a global audience (including our families) and then force the winners and losers to spend the rest of the night together at the same exact parties, reminding everyone precisely where they stand in the Winner/Loser scale. It's Darwinism meets Groundhog Day.

A quick background: being from New York, most of the films I've been lucky enough to be associated with were done with other New Yorkers -- directors, studios, etc. Whenever we'd arrive in Los Angeles for the first round of award shows, there would be a collective squint -- outdoors and indoors. If you're a true New Yorker, you know what I'm talking about: you pretend, you do your best to fit in, but you can never really adjust. The best consolation we have is that we get to go home afterwards, to somewhere where the entire city is not consumed with the fact that you're a Loser. If we had to stay in Hollywood, we'd be reminded daily of our newly earned bottom-dwelling status; back East, we only have to deal with the ongoing scorn of our loved ones.

Grumbling about losing these awards is borderline sacrilegious -- weren't you happy just to be nominated? Complaining out loud is just plain wrong. But I'm going to do it anyway. Know that there are certainly different types of Losers; most of the people nominated in each category have no realistic chance of winning. Few say it, but everybody knows it. So for some, being nominated truly is winning. When the pundits (who grow in number and ferocity every year) say that you either have a strong chance or are the frontrunner, then you're in trouble. Because you start believing you might actually win.

Here's how it happens. The big night arrives and the excitement is both heartfelt and palpable. Everyone has a special gleam in their eye, extra gel in their hair and a large flask in their pocket. We're all thinking the same thing: this is the Big Show, and we're here to win. The occasion is set up with maximum torture in mind -- start with the small awards and build slowly toward the Big One.

The night begins promisingly enough. Your film starts winning a few categories -- Costume Designer, Cinematographer, maybe Editor, a Supporting Actor or Production Designer. It doesn't really matter, except that you can feel the momentum in the room, and it feels good. Way, way too good. When the room empties during the Lifetime Achievement segment, you head to the bar with that giddy glow, knowing how close you are to winning it all. You start acting confident and cocky and if you're a certain nameless individual, you have a mind-numbingly moronic moment going up to Oprah Winfrey (whom you've never met) and actually putting your arm around her in a kind of where-do-we-titans-go-from-here way. You head back to your second row seat, blissfully unaware of the colossal line you've just crossed.

After four hours, three vodka tonics, and two bathroom breaks, here comes that famous actor to present the final award. Doesn't he look fabulous? (You love absolutely everyone right now.) Humble yet grateful, you tell yourself. Smooth hair, straighten tie. Don't forget what's-her-name that you were married to for all those years. Suddenly, though, it's not the name of your film he's reading from the envelope, it's someone else's. Someone who is not you and, you quickly realize despite that new stabbing pain in your cerebrum, never will be.

That's how your very first minute as a Loser kicks off.

This is the second of a four-part series. Read part three here.