At 5:00 Pacific Standard Time on Sunday February 22, 2009 the 81st Annual Academy Awards ceremony will officially kick off. For most of us this means nothing. But for some people the results mean the difference between driving expensive sports cars on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, or being driven out of town on a Greyhound Bus bound for some desert crossroads wasteland like Baker or Needles.

Sunday night will mark the 81st year in a row that the Hollywood elite, the beautiful people, the movie stars and starlets, the producers, the directors, the fashion designers, the animators, the sound mixers, the key grips, the foley artists, and a whole mixed bag of rich assholes from Los Angeles will gather together and give themselves essentially meaningless awards. Careers are made and broken. Some go on to be living legends and box office gold like Al Pacino or Robert De Nero while other go on to shamelessly dance for nickels in front of the Mann Theater like Jack Black or Christopher Lloyd. Others like Lou Diamond Phillips and Tina Yothers will disappear completely as though they were abducted by aliens and only David Duchovny knows the real truth.

In Los Angeles it is impossible to escape. There is no way to exist in that city at this time of year and not know everything there is to know about the Oscars. Updates and jibber-jabber are blaring out of every television and radio in the city and there are more of those there than anywhere else. Forget about Mardis Gras. It’s Oscar season.

I called my friend Eric Szmanda, one of the original cast-members of CSI, to get the lowdown. I first met Eric in 1997 when he had just moved to LA fresh from a Chicago acting school to “try and make it”. I remember the day he landed the role of lab DNA technician Greg Sanders. He got the call and we drove straight to a car dealership in Beverly Hills. Eric purchased a brand new cobalt blue BMW M3 convertible sport coupe without test driving it. He simply pointed and said “that one.” The dealer swiped his card and we drove the sleek machine out onto Wilshire Boulevard.

I also remember the day he received his first gigantic check. We drove that very same BMW to Koreatown where Eric bought two 8-balls of pure cocaine from a trusted drug dealing friend of ours. We then rounded up a 3-car caravan of friends and beautiful women and drove north into the mountains of Ojai stopping only for gas, 12 bottles of Dom Perignon, and 12 bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal. We drank expensive champagne out of the bottle and had a wild orgy where we blew rails off of each others’ bodies. Later that night, in a moment of hubris that only cocaine can inspire, Eric doused his brand new car with gasoline and ghost rid it off the face of a 300 foot cliff into a pit of many other wasted and ruined vehicles, all considerably less expensive. We were all hoping for a tremendous explosion, but all we got was a loud crash and the sound of a car alarm that lasted for two and a half more hours when the battery finally died.

Wylie: Eric, what’s the picture looking like this weekend? It doesn’t seem like we have a whole lot to get excited about this year.

Eric: You’re sadly right about that. The big-movie business has been on a slippery slope these last couple of years. The last truly good movie that Hollywood has put out was The Departed and before that it was American Beauty and that was ten years ago. That is unless you count the Coen Brothers, which I don’t because to me they’ll always be independents.

W: What about the Lord of the Rings trilogy?

E: I don’t count comic book movies either.

W: The Lord of the Rings wasn’t a comic book. It was a trilogy of novels.

E: It was Dungeons and Dragons nonsense. Yeah it was a good set of movies that were fun to watch, but so was the Die Hard series and you don’t hear anyone calling that an epic masterpiece even though maybe they should.

W: Never mind all that, what I need from you is numbers. I need the inside scoop on who and what is gonna sweep this thing.

E: Well, right out of the gates I’d put Slumdog Millionaire as a solid bet to win Best Motion Picture. Nothing else really comes close. I’d put it at 1/6 with the runner up being The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at 6/1.

W: You don’t think Frost/Nixon has a chance?

E: Shit, Milk has a better chance than that piece of garbage. I’d put it at about 35/1.

W: Jesus Christ man, those are the same odds as a roulette wheel.

E: Yeah, well I’d put my money on double zero before I put it on that snoozer.

W: What about Best Actor? Does Mickey Rourke have a chance at this one?

E: Are you kidding me? He’s the front runner.

W: The front runner? For the Wrestler? What about Brad Pitt?

E: Brad Pitt’s too vogue. Mickey Rourke is due for a comeback. Brad’s won too many of those things already. Besides all that no one in the industry can take him seriously with all those Asian babies of his. He comes across as a phony now.

W: What about Sean Penn?

E: I’d put him at about 3/2. A good bet, especially since Prop 8 passed. That shit goes a long way out here. He’s definitely in the running.

W: What about Heath Ledger? Is he a sure thing?

E: You bet he is. He’s a safer bet than Mike Tyson in 1987, or Reagan in ’84. You won’t find any action on Heath Ledger. The smart gambling on Best Actor in a Supporting Role would be to give wild odds away for all the other nominees. Give some chump 100-1 for Robert Downey Jr. and spend the money on booze and hookers the night before. I once gave 1,000,000-1 on the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl. When you wave numbers like that around some fish is bound to take the bait no matter how unreal their chances really are.

W: Do you think Heath Ledger is going to get the Oscar because he died?

E: That and because he actually deserves it. He was a great actor and he went before his time.

W: Just like Mitch Hedberg. Pills and booze, man. Pills and booze.

E: And Brian Epstein, Jim Morrison, River Phoenix, Keith Moon, Brian Jones… the list goes on and on.

W: Are these kids ever going to figure that shit out?

E: Maybe someday, but probably not. The kids these days are a shaky bet at best. This whole Ritalin generation would walk willingly into a live mine field before they came up with an original idea. It’s like Bill Clinton bred a generation of human ants.

W: Speaking of Bill Clinton, do you think the drugs are going to get better now that there’s a Democratic White House?

E: I think so. You’re going to see a big upswing in hallucinogens. Booze sales will drop and uppers will go out of style. It won’t be long now before there’s another big anti-cocaine movement. That shit’s been flying around like wasps near a soda can. The other day my friend found a bag of it just lying in the street. Something like 3 grams just lying on the god damned sidewalk. People are abusing it and when that happens shit turns ugly. Cocaine is not a drug for teenagers. It’s an adult drug that should be used with discretion and moderation. When coke flashes its ugly side people start to get turned off and you’re going to see the effects of that pretty soon.

W: So cocaine and pharmaseuticals are going to go out of style and drugs like LSD and Ecstasy are going to come back?

E: You bet. It’ll take a year or two for this administration to catch on, but it’ll definitely be the stamp of the 2010s.

W: Will pot be legalized?

E: Maybe, but probably not. There’s bigger fish to fry what with the economy and the war and all. Pot’s just not a priority. Besides that it’s all but decriminalized everywhere except Texas.

W: What about tobacco? Will they criminalize that?

E: They’ll probably try, but they’ll fail. Now that Hilary Clinton is the Secretary of State she and all her body-Nazi buddies are probably going to roam the streets and pepper spray anybody that even looks like they want a cigarette. It’s almost like that down here already. In some places it’s illegal to smoke in your fucking car. It’s ridiculous.

W: I know what you mean. Sometimes people shout rude things at me when I’m on my break. It’s gotten to the point that I have snappy replies preprepared.

E: It won’t happen. The tobacco industry is too entrenched in the infrastructure of American society. It would be like Prohibition. It just wouldn’t work.

W: I hope you’re right. Could you even imagine having to buy tobacco on the black market?

E: I can, but I don’t like to.

W: Amen brother.

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