Mr. Smith Goes to L.A. |


Mr. Smith Goes to L.A.

Oscar's biggest underdog

Who?s a less likely Oscar nominee than Matt Damon? Try largely unknown singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, whose mellow “Good Will Hunting” track “Miss Misery” snagged a Best Song nomination over high-profile tunes from Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men and the Smashing Pumpkins. “It?s positively freaky,” says Smith, 28, of the surprise coup, which pushed “Good Will“ ‘s total nominations to nine, second only to “Titanic.” Although Celine Dion?s grandiose “My Heart Will Go On” is bound to emerge the victor tonight, it?s Smith who?ll likely provide the evening?s proceedings with the most originality.

The five nominated songs will be performed by the following singers in the televised extravaganza: Dion; sings “My Heart…” (“Titanic”); Michael Bolton sings “Go the Distance” (“Hercules”); teenage R&B star Aaliyah sings “Journey to the Past” (“Anastasia”); Trisha Yearwood sings the “official” version of the “Con Air” theme “How Do I Live”; and Smith. sings “Miss Misery.”

Which one of these singers is not like the others? Consider: While his compatriots spent the past weeks dashing through designer fitting sessions, the decidedly non-glam folkster says he may show up in “a white dinner jacket with a pink carnation.” Laughs “Good Will” producer Lawrence Bender, “Nobody knows who Elliott Smith is, and now he?s going to be playing in front of a billion people. When he gets up and plays, your heart?s really going to go out to him because this is his introduction to the world.”

As for the performance itself, Smith hardly needs to be told that “Miss Misery,” with its whispery vocals and key-changeless structure, is hardly the stuff of choreography-heavy Oscar showstopping. “Maybe they can have some synchronized swimming during mine,” he suggests. “The swimmers could spell out the name of the song.”

Actually, Smith is expecting double Best Score nominee Danny Elfman (“Good Will Hunting,” “Men in Black”) to put together a special string arrangement of “Miss Misery” for the ceremony. Not that Smith thinks the added production value will have any effect on his Oscar odds. “So it?s Celine Dion, Trisha Yearwood and Michael Bolton?” he asks. “Ugh. I don?t have a chance, do I?”