The Oscar season is in full swing -- the awards will be presented March 5 -- and that means Prestigious Magazines have hired Important Photographers to put together photo spreads of the stars. Already, The New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair have come out with their Oscar portfolios. Nowadays it doesn't suffice to simply present interesting photos of actors. That will not do. You've got to have props in today's photo shoots. Or nudity. Or both. And so the photographers employed ropes, face paint, pacifiers, breasts, baby dolls, bling and more.
The Times hired what it called the "dynamic Dutch photography duo" of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, while Vanity Fair enlisted "design genius" Tom Ford. We don't know how much they were paid for their services, other than a lot. But then you get a lot. For instance, when an unnamed actress thought better of posing au natural on a bed with two other young, naked female stars for the Vanity Fair cover shot by Annie Leibovitz, Ford substituted himself as the third randy figure. Ford realized, he explained, that two naked actresses in bed screamed lesbian rather than simple, wholesome salaciousness.
With that kind of sophisticated thinking in play, we decided to do a side-by-side comparison, sort of the way we do before the Super Bowl and World Series. Here's how we see it, photo a photo.
NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE
CREEPY LITTLE GIRL MOTIF
Michelle Williams, with a bad case of bedhead, holds a pacifier near her lips, in a very Lolita-ish pose. The seductive / infantile combination is highly unsettling.
The obviously pregnant Reese Witherspoon, outfitted in a schoolgirl dress, holds a blond-haired doll by its hand and stares bug-eyed at the camera.
Look no further than the cover, which features the nude, and rather ghostly figures of IT girls Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley. But through careful placement of hands and arms, nothing too scandalous can be seen.
The bronze-dipped Charlize Theron gazes longingly at the camera, but her arms and legs are strategically placed to keep the photo strictly PG.
EDGE: Vanity Fair
WHAT IS GEORGE SUPPOSED TO BE?
He stands on a riser in a body of water, directing his crew, composed of slender water nymphs clad in bras and panties. Whatever he's directing, we have a feeling it won't be up for an Oscar.
EDGE: Vanity Fair
MOST OVERWROUGHT, SELF-CONGRATULATORY PREFACE
Claims that, "Around this time of year, acting in movies starts to feel like a kind of athletic event." Informs us that "A lot of plane tickets were bought" and "Post-its with actors' names on them were moved around on a calendar." Oh, such arduous work! Such sacrifice!
In his close-up cover photo he has the thin, oval pupils of a cat. Why? Is he the Cheshire Cat after a hugely successful year? Does he secretly desire to be cast in "Cats"? Does he like mice? We don't know.
WOMEN AS PROPS
Viggo Mortensen stares at a woman's red-painted toenails on a bed. Topher Grace holds a woman's legs against his chest. (Is she standing on her head?) And, in apparent homage to Woody Allen's "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex," a plastic surgeon encounters a giant breast on a golf course.
None to speak of.
EDGE: Vanity Fair
Eric Bana, the conflicted assassin from "Munich," is coasting on a raft in a clear pool, an arm behind his head, self-satisfied as can be.
Vera Farmiga (an actress we've never heard of, from a movie, "Down to the Bone," we've never heard of) is shown with rivulets of water running down her face and dripping onto her arm.
Angelina Jolie, photographed in a bathtub, tattoos of a tiger visible on the small of her back and some strange characters near her shoulder. Vanity Fair loses points because the famously tattooed Jolie had already done the hard part before the shoot began.
The photo spread's bizarre signature: Viggo with a creepy snake-like pattern painted on his cheek; Heath Ledger with a tear drawn at the corner of his eye; Jeff Daniels with a clown's face drawn on his own.
Peter Saarsgard, dressed in a stylish suit, is hanging by Japanese bondage ropes, tied around his chest, waist, arms and legs. He doesn't seem to mind, but then, he recently played Alfred Kinsey's eagerly willing assistant in "Kinsey."
Not much, but the young actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he was Tommy in "3rd Rock from the Sun") is dangling and wrapped in some weird fish netting.
An intro by designer Tom Ford argues that in this "year of change" a group "of relatively fresh faces rises up and pushes out the reigning stars" -- an absurd notion in a year in which old standbys Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt had top-10 grossing films.
OVERALL WINNER: The Times Magazine, for its mysterious use of body paint and its insufferable introduction letting us know how much they suffered for their art.