The Oscars are this weekend and it does only seem right that I make a few comments, as much of this blog is dedicated to my own personal delusions that I might actually influence someone else’s moviegoing experience.
Yes, yes, the Oscars are by and large silly. But they’re a silliness that I’ve loved since I was a child. (I bet you like silly things, too, don’t you? Go on, admit it! I won’t judge.) I don’t really know why, except that I’ve always been invested in entertainment. I’ve always had opinions on the types of movies I like and the actors and actresses I like, and I liked seeing these people outside of their characters, as well as rooting for the pictures I liked best.
Of course, when I was younger, I thought the awards meant something…That the best picture of the year was actually the BEST PICTURE of the year. Then came the year Titanic was nominated for Best Picture. That was the first (and last) year I’d seen all five best picture nominees before the ceremony. Four good films were nominated: As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting and L.A. Confidential. I really liked all four of those films. Titanic, on the other hand, was and will always be, pardon my French, a steaming pile of merde. I was rooting for L.A. Confidential that year, but any of the others that weren’t Titanic would have been fine by me. I think we all know how the rest of this story goes.
So I don’t care anymore who wins, but I like to watch and root for my films anyway. This year I have an extra and divisive rooting interest: The office Oscar pool. I entered one of these once before, but at a small company where only four people total entered. (We all lost to the organizer, who correctly called the Crash best picture upset over Brokeback Mountain.) This year I don’t know how many people I’m competing against, but it’s way more than four. The thing about entering the Oscar pool is you can’t vote for who you WANT to win, you have to vote for who you THINK will win. So come Sunday night, I’ll find myself rooting partly for those nominees that will win me the free movie tickets, and partly for those that I actually want to win. Since I follow entertainment news, I’ve voted for all the “sure thing” acting categories, such as Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. I went to a great site called “In Contention” and followed their advice on all the smaller categories. I don’t know how accurate the picks are, but at least the person giving their opinion had seen all the nominees in each category, which is way more than I can say for myself and the “Short Film: Live Action” category.
The absolute hardest thing to call is the best picture category. There are ten nominees this year, and if that weren’t change enough, the Academy has changed how the voting works. If it were just a simple majority vote, a film could conceivably win with just 11% of the vote. So now it’s a ranked choice system, where members must vote for what they think was the best picture, the second best picture, etc. If no one film gets at least 50% in the first tally, those secondary and third-idary choices get counted, but that’s about as best as I understand it. (Here’s a more detailed and correct version of the process.)
The race is a dead heat between two films: Avatar, the giant effects-laden film by self-proclaimed “King of the World” James Cameron, and The Hurt Locker, a small-grossing but incredibly engaging film about the Iraq war by Kathryn Bigelow (one of Cameron’s ex-wives.) Most experts thought Avatar had the edge until The Hurt Locker started winning all sorts of other awards. Now these same experts say it has the edge, but only slightly.
I have not seen Avatar nor do I intend to. Cameron got 3 1/2 hours of my life with Titanic, and that’s all he’s getting. I did see The Hurt Locker and it is a very good film indeed. Engaging and interesting and fascinating despite being a war film.
If I’m known for one thing, it’s probably my pessimism, so when I finally had to decide where to place my chips, I chose Avatar. Why? Well, if there’s one thing I know from watching dozens of Oscar ceremonies all the way through, it’s that members vote within their own categories, except for Best Picture, where all members are invited to vote. They do not have to attend special screenings or have any particular expertise at all to cast their vote. I watched Fran Drescher (yes, that Fran Drescher) on Larry King the year Titanic was nominated. He asked her who she voted for and she said Titanic because – and here was the part that scarred me for life – it was the only film of those nominated that she had seen. So even though I think it’s nearly universally understood that Cameron invests 95% of his efforts into effects and only 5% in actual storytelling, I still think he will ultimately prevail.
And pessimist as I may be, I am not without hope. My ballot has Nick Hornby (An Education) selected to win for “Best Adapted Screenplay” even though everyone is saying it’ll be Jason Reitman (Up in the Air.) Sometimes you just have to believe a vote cast in an office Oscar pool will somehow count.
Incidentally, I had been agonizing so greatly over the Avatar/The Hurt Locker dead heat, it was not until I started writing this post that I thought about which film, out of the nominees I’ve seen, I would cast my vote for. I’ve seen five of the ten nominees: An Education, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, Up and Up in the Air (though I’ll be watching two more – Inglourious Basterds and District 9 before Sunday.) Of those I’ve seen so far, with my regards to the achievement that is The Hurt Locker, and my apologies to Nick Hornby whose film is so very good but so obviously adapted from material that is not his own, I’d go for “A Serious Man.” The Coen brothers won two years ago for No Country for Old Men which I didn’t really like. Too violent and unintelligible. They have a large canon of films which I consider “hit and miss,” but A Serious Man is interesting and odd and memorable and delightfully screwy. It’s truly unique storytelling and the way the protagonist’s world unwinds around him is hilarious and ridiculous and rooted in universal truths. I highly recommend watching it, but not betting on it.