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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Byline: Christopher Kelly

Schlub (also: zhlub; zhlob):

Pronounced ZHLUB or ZHLAWB, to rhyme with "rub" and "daub." From Slavis: zhlob, "coarse fellow"

1. An insensitive, ill-mannered person

2. A clumsy, gauche, graceless person

3. An oaf, a yokel, a bumpkin

_from "The Joys of Yiddish," by Leo Rosten


You can't blame Paul Giamatti for thinking he was a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. We thought he was, too. After all, he had already been snubbed the year before, when the Academy overlooked his wry, unexpectedly touching incarnation of writer Harvey Pekar in "American Splendor."

Surely, they were intent upon making up for that oversight, by nominating him for his just-as-wonderful performance in "Sideways."

But then came Oscar morning ... and the nominees are ... Cheadle, Depp, DiCaprio, Eastwood, Foxx ... and that's all she wrote.

Giamatti learned the hard way something we've long suspected but tried to ignore for years. "Surely," we thought to ourselves, "the Academy could not be so shallow."

But by now the proof is incontrovertible.

Herewith, our carefully considered Theory of the Schlub.

1. If you are an obese, balding and fur-covered male, consider (or employment at a newspaper). But don't expect an invite to the Governor's Ball.

Consider this year's five Best Actor nominees _ all lean, dashing, movie-star types. (Even the bona fide character actor of the group, Don Cheadle, looks like he spends more time at the gym than most of us spend breathing.) Then consider some of Oscar's most recent snubs, such as ...

... Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Almost Famous").

As the eccentric rock critic Lester Bangs, he was a standout in Cameron Crowe's 2000 rock `n' roll memoir. But not according to Academy voters, though _ no surprise _ they did find space in the 2001 Oscar race for such hotties as Benicio Del Toro ("Traffic") and Joaquin Phoenix ("Gladiator"). As for fellow nominee Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire"), he might not be hot, but unlike Hoffman, he's neither pasty nor roly-poly.

... John Goodman ("Barton Fink").

He got a Golden Globe nomination in 1992 for his half-crazed turn as an insurance salesman in the Coen brothers comedy. But come Oscar nomination day, the Academy opted for a group of nattily distinguished older dudes in the Best Supporting Actor category, such as Ben Kingsley and Harvey Keitel (both for "Bugsy"), Tommy Lee Jones ("JFK"), and, in the ultimate schlub snub, Goodman's considerably more manicured "Barton Fink" co-star, Michael Lerner.

2. If you are a happy, fat slob who makes people laugh, you may land the hot chick on the sitcom. But the Oscar is another story entirely.

It's hard enough getting nominated for comedies (just ask Jim Carrey, who, it looks like, will have to cut off his left foot before he gets Academy recognition. But if you're a fat comic, all we can say is consider that TrimSpa stuff and remember ...

... John Candy in "Splash."

The screenplay was good enough to nominate; the fat, funny guy was not.

... John Belushi in "Animal House."

The movie was good enough for a People's Choice Award, but the Academy turned up its nose at Belushi's legendary performance.

3. If you are a schlubette, good news! You win the Academy's pity _ and their votes. (a k a "The Kathy Bates Loophole")

Middle-aged, dumpy and female? Land a part in one of Mike Leigh's depressing Brit flicks and you will be nominated (see Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets & Lies" and Imelda Staunton in "Vera Drake),"even as your stellar but schlubby co-stars (Timothy Spall and Richard Graham, respectively) get ignored.

If you are young, beautiful and female but you play dumpy in a depressing indie movie (see Charlize Theron in "Monster),"the Academy will trip over itself to reward you. (Provided you show up on Oscar night slimmed down and hot once again!)

And, lastly, if you are old, dumpy and female, and your name is Judi Dench, the Academy won't just nominate you, it will shower you with nominations and awards, year after year, for movies so staggeringly inconsequential ("Chocolat," anyone?) that you will be embarrassed you took the paycheck.

4. If you were once hot but have visited the Beverly Hills Krispy Kreme one time too many, despair not. The Academy will politely look the other way.

Hence Marlon Brando's post-diet nomination in 1990 for "A Dry White Season"; Gerard Depardieu's "Cyrano" nod in 1991, by which point he'd ballooned to the size of France; and Richard Dreyfuss (well, some people thought he was a hottie), whose waistline put the opus in "Mr. Holland's Opus" but who still got a Best Actor nomination in 1995.

5. If you are the sort of schlub that some people find hot _ i.e., if you have that "aging linebacker/daddy" look going for you _ the Academy will begrudgingly nominate you but still find a way to punish you.

Consider Albert Finney, nominated five times for the Oscar _ though he's never won; Alan Bates, nominated once _ for "The Fixer," of all things _ and didn't win; Peter Finch, nominated twice, but he had to die before the Academy would give him the award, for Best Actor in "Network"(1976); and George C. Scott, the winner for "Patton" in 1970, though he was embroiled that year in a contretemps with the Academy which culminated in him calling the Oscars "offensive, barbarous and innately corrupt."

6. If you are Ned Beatty, all bets are off.

Because every theory has its holes, and because we can't really explain why the Academy, in a moment of pro-schlub weakness, nominated him for Best Supporting Actor for "Network." Maybe if you're a schlub who has been made to squeal like a pig, you've finally earned the Academy's respect.

Paging Paul Giamatti for the "Deliverance" remake.


Christopher Kelly:


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