The Oscars are the crack of pop culture. And like any drug addict, we culture vultures out there have a love-hate relationship. We love the idea of it but when we indulge too much we feel sick to our stomachs. We fetishize everything about it – what it looks like, how it will feel when we get a good dose of it (because like any good vice, all you can remember is how great you felt the very first time you indulged and not how awful the last time), what the excitement will be like when we’re in the midst of all the cool friends we’ll get to hang out with when we are partaking, and how we’ll experience all the glamorous surroundings we’ll be able to live in for those few (or too many?) hours we are feeling its effects before being dropped back into the harsh realities of everyday life the next morning, suddenly feeling lousy and realizing we’ve once again participated in something that, in the long run, really isn’t good for us.
Am I exaggerating? Well, as one of Will Ferrell’s most memorable characters once stated on Saturday Night Live: “Maybe I am and maybe…I am.” But that doesn’t make it any less true. Chances are if you’re still reading, you are a pop culture vulture, as addicted as I am, and will continue to be so. The Oscars (no longer called the Academy Awards, per the announcement by this year’s producers, who decided the term sounded too musty) are just made (born?) that way no matter how disappointing, boring, over-the-top, inappropriate, endless or just plain bad they are in any given year. And let’s face it, they’ve been all of that and more, year after year. So let’s do what any self-respecting pop culture addicts do – give in and – INDULGE.
Think of this post in three sections – the television show; drinking game ideas (or merely soft drink/party games for those under 21); and my best attempt to give you some informed predictions so you can, at the very least, win the Oscar (NOT the Academy Awards) pool.
THE TELEVISION SHOW
It’s going to be a long one this year and it’s going to be very gay. Like even gayer than I am. And that’s pretty gay. But not as gay as this show. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of us.
What do I mean by gay? (And yes, of course I’m stereotyping – but only in a good gay way). Well, one of the themes of the evening will be Oscar devoting itself to musicals. No more movie music being relegated to a tacky medley of nominated songs or no medley at all. Still don’t believe me? Okay, here are a partial list of some of the singers: Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey (she sang the original Goldfinger for everyone under 30), Adele, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the reunited cast of Chicago (because there’s been an outcry), as well as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the reunited cast of this year’s multi Oscar-nominated Les Miserables (because it’s been too long). Plus – there’s a singing host who the producers claim sounds “exactly like Sinatra” (their quote, not mine) named Seth MacFarlane, who will be closing out the evening in song with Broadway diva (divette?) Kristin Chenoweth in a specialty number that is being kept under close wraps. What little information we do know is that this musical number will be sung AFTER the announcement of best picture – the usual close out moment of the evening. Why do I say this is gay? Because if there’s one thing about my tribe, it’s that when we throw the party we not only make our own rules but WE – NOT YOU – and certainly not TRADITION – decide when it’s over.
Okay, so then – why am I guessing it’ll be a long show? Well, aside from the James Bond tribute, the salute to musicals, Seth MacFarlane’s monologue, the crew from the accounting firm that tabulates the written and, for the first time this year, online ballots, the In Memoriam segment, the backstage hosts, and the web shout outs, this year we have an unusually long list of famous people who have been announced to be participating on camera.
Among these are an all-star presenters list that includes but is not limited to: Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon, the cast of The Avengers (that’s Robert Downey, Jr, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Walberg with his teddy bear Ted co-star Seth MacFarlane TED. Plus last year’s acting winners – Meryl Streep, Jean Dujardin, Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer. Plus – and this is my favorite part – special appearances by Charlize Theron, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe. What’s a special appearance? Tune in and be afraid, be very afraid.. But here’s my suggestion: food and drink, some blankets and some pillows and…some attitude. Lots of it.
If you want to challenge your friends, relatives, enemies or professional rivals, here are some thoughts for possible moments during which you can raise a glass, a cup or a goblet. Or wager a bet.
- The number of candid camera shots in the audience of the golden couple du jour, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (this year’s Brad and Angie). (Answer: 8?)
- Each time or total number of Meryl Streep references, jokes or shout outs.
- The number of times (or each time) Catherine Zeta-Jones sings off-tune in her musical number. (Hopefully, there won’t just be one – number that is – I’m hoping for at least 3 clunkers).
- Ben Stiller appearances in a stupid costume (even though he’s not scheduled on the show I still don’t rule it out)
- One out-of-place star of an ABC television show who will sneak in as a presenter or participant in an over-the-top moment of network hubris.
- Longest standing ovation lasting longer than 30 seconds. Or any standing ovation if you get particularly thirsty.
- Biggest surprise appearance with extra points (or drinks) for each decade of age or each decade of not having been in the public eye.
- Number of times Seth MacFarlane breaks into the voice of Family Guy’s Stewie, another animated character, or into song.
- Number of Harvey Weinstein jokes or thank-yous. (And if the thank-you and joke are in the same moment then it only counts once).
- How many times, or each time, the camera catches the Tommy Lee Jones scowl. (I’m so hoping for the number 10).
Certainly, feel free to use your imagination in this section and add and subtract as you see fit.
This is an imperfect science at best, even for veteran Oscar watchers like myself. The trick is to not get sucked in by what you want to or perceive will win but to try to think like you are one big mass of Academy, uh Oscar voters. That means you’re likely white, over fifty, somewhat liberal, somewhat opinionated, and a little personally petty but still idealistic enough to want to reward someone who makes you feel good by representing the best of humanity with their movies. (Note: You might even give the odd vote to a filmmaker who sends a political message as long as its not too overly threatening or out of the mainstream of cable news subject matter).
Rather than be coy like this year’s show we’re going to start with the most talked about awards and work our way down. There is logic in this since what will give you the edge in the pool is you getting the vote right in the “smaller” categories people know the least about.
1. Best Picture – Argo (fuckyourself). It’s won every guild award and the Oscar voters are also all individual guild members.
My Personal Choice: Silver Linings Playbook – I’m a softie and it’s really tough to do those kinds of movies and get them right. Plus, I’m all for dramatic license but I can’t get past the idea of advertising a political film that says “based on true events” and then distorting facts in order to create a dramatic point. It’s okay to condense situations or create a composite character – that’s dramatic license. Blatantly changing facts to suit a dramatic need is a no-no.
2. Best Actor – Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln. He has as much chance of losing as I do of winning in this category.
My Personal Choice: Daniel Day-Lewis because it was a resurrection, not a performance.
3. Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook. It’s a showy part in which she never overacts and where she shifts from drama to comedy and somewhere in between on a dime. She is not going to get eclipsed by Emanuelle Riva in Amour or Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty because I like my television and do not want to destroy it with a glass object on Oscar night.
My Personal Choice: Jennifer Lawrence. See Above.
3. Best Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook.
His studio ran a great campaign reminding voters that DeNiro hasn’t won an Oscar in many decades (see Meryl Streep Oscar campaign playbook of last year). But more importantly, DeNiro gave an honest, raw and vulnerable portrait of an older man without making it treacly or obvious. That’s why other actors practically genuflect in his presence and that’s why he will win.
My Personal Choice: Robert DeNiro. See Above.
4. Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables. Let’s put it this way – I was at the Motion Picture Academy screening of Les Miz and there was about a minute’s worth of applause during the film after her song. Enuf said.
My Personal Choice: Don’t hate me – Anne Hathaway. You try singing that song and making it something we’ve never heard sung before
5. Best Director – Steven Spielberg, Lincoln. This is the toughest category. I was about to write in Ang Lee for Life of Pi because a. there’s been a groundswell of support these last few weeks and b. Pi breaks new ground technologically. But something tells me Oscar voters, many of them mainstream Hollywood types, really do want to reward Steven for helping to keep the industry afloat. Plus, even though Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, the movie is a bit of a kiss off from liberal America to Congressional gridlock coupled with a warm embrace to a president who tries to reach beyond Washington, D.C. directly to the people.
My Personal Choice: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook. It’s not his year but it’s the film with the most inherent booby traps by which a director can go terribly wrong. And he didn’t fall into any of them. In fact, he ran with them and created something quite unique – a feel good movie that isn’t cliché. Try it some time.
6. Animated Feature Film – Wreck It Ralph. The Academy isn’t hip but the video game patina, the reviews and the general feeling that it IS the best animated film of the year will buoy Ralph to victory. Brave is a close second.
My Personal Choice: Paranorman. Not because it is the best but because I WAS (am?) PARANORMAN.
7. Cinematography – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi. For filming what everyone in the industry thought was the unfilmmable. And for giving a boost to the art of 3-D.
My Personal Choice: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained. He’s won three Oscars and is one of the best that’s ever been in the business. He brought a beauty and ugliness to the Old West and the Civil War era and did it without a lot of trickery. I like that.
8. Costume Design – Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina. It’s won almost everything in this category elsewhere. Personally, I thought the clothes were a little overindulged, like the rest of the film. Clearly, I’m a philistine.
My Personal Choice: Joanna Johnston, Lincoln. The clothes reflected the characters and felt real. I can’t imagine making Lincoln’s stovepipe hat not seem like a prop.
9. Documentary Feature – The Gatekeepers. I watched ALL of the documentaries and, truly, any one is worthy of the win. An exceptional group. The majority opinion is on the seemingly unbelievable but true story of a once lost and now found singer in Searching for Sugarman. But there is something about watching the various former heads of the Israeli CIA talk about the real and ongoing history of war, torture, espionage and the like that has international resonance for today. Plus, Academy voters seldom pass up anything that has to do with this part of the world.
My Personal Choice: A tough one but…The Gatekeepers
10. Documentary Short Subject – Inocente. I know the least about this category because I haven’t seen the nominees. But awarding a good short on immigration seems timely and prognosticators seem to give this one the edge.
My Personal Choice – I’m blindfolded. Don’t make me choose.
11. Film Editing – William Goldenberg – Argo – I guess it’s about the final escape sequence that didn’t really happen. The America/John Wayne type thing and all that. Or perhaps the opening documentary-like footage in the Middle East crosscut with Washington, DC. But this looks like a sure winner.
My Personal Choice: Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty. Re-creating the capture of Osama Bin-Laden and not making it rah-rah glossy. They deserve an award for that.
12. Foreign Film – Amour. Ever go to a party where everyone had a meaningful or great time and you were just bored? That’s me at Amour. Don’t hate me. I do have a soul. Just not during those two hours. I don’t get the hoopla but hoopla, in this case, is inescapable. Meaning, take the bet.
My Personal Choice: Anything but A.
13. Makeup and Hairstyling – Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables. So many rags, so many dirty faces, so many close-ups. The Academy loves this movie and, as a group, know so little about hair and makeup that doesn’t make you look good. Therefore, they will be very impressed.
My Personal Choice: 24/7 personal hair and makeup for moi. More hair than makeup.
14. Original Score – Mychael Danna, Life of Pi. Certainly the most original score. And it’s the only score people keep talking about. It is close to a certainty.
My Personal Choice: To listen to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever (which didn’t get any music nominations) on a loop instead.
15. Original Song – Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, Skyfall. It’s ADELE. Please!!!
My Personal Choice: You’re not serious, are you?
16. Animated Short Film – Paperman, John Kars. Boy meets girl thanks to a piece of paper. It’s sweet, clever and lovely. And the best in the category (where I’ve again seen all the nominees) by a lot.
My Personal Choice: Paperman – It’s a writer thing.
17. Live Action Short Film – Asad, Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura. Another difficult category in which I have seen all five nominees. At first this story of a young boy trying to survive the perils and poverty in Somalia felt earnest but derivative. But as it went on it turned expectation and convention on its ear and delivered in a light-handed yet very meaningful way. It feels like something the voters will want to reward. Close second would be Buzkashi Boys – a more heavy-handed young boy coming-of-age story in Afghanistan.
My Personal Choice: Curfew, Shawn Christensen. He made the kind of short I’d like to make and did it with an unexpected dance, a lack of post-modern irony and without backing away from very real human drama. Bravo.
18. Sound Editing – Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi. It’s not easy to figure out the right balance of animal sounds, the ocean, the jungle, and a lot of voice-over narration. But Argo, Les Miz, Lincoln and Skyfall were all very tough challenges.
My personal choice: I’m unqualified to choose. Okay, Life of Pi.
19. Sound Mixing – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables. It won the Guild awards and when the Oscar voters hear sound mix the obvious thought is – vote musical.
My personal choice: Same as above. In this case only, I am no smarter than an Oscar voter.
20. Visual Effects – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi. The perception is that this is what this film is primarily about. It will win. The end.
My Personal Choice: I’ll bite – Life of Pi
Note: I have saved the writing categories – my favorites – for the finale.
21. Adapted Screenplay – You don’t know how much I DON’T want to write this.
Chris Terrio, Argo. It wasn’t a bad film but I don’t get the outpouring. Does Hollywood love seeing itself cast as the heroes? Are Americans in general just hungry to see something, anything good portrayed about US foreign policy? Has Ben Affleck, or at least his work, seduced more people than he himself has done personally? Probably all of the above. But this does not explain why a screenplay that condenses and fictionalizes numerous events, and to my mind has A LOT of lagging moments that feel written, especially in the first half, has become the critical darling of so many. As for Academy members – writing awards unfortunately can sometimes be seen as big consolation prizes. Even though Ben didn’t write Argo, it’ll be yet another olive branch to him. (Note: I still think his movie Gone Baby Gone is terrific – AND his best).
My Personal Choice: Hmmm – can I vote for both David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook and Tony Kushner, Lincoln? No? Damn. Okay – I have to go with Mr. Russell for being real, clever, dramatic and a bit Hollywood all in one. Mr. Kushner did a Herculean job on an impossible task. How do you tell a microcosm story of Lincoln in two and a half hours? By playing a bit with the facts – maybe a bit too much in the climactic vote scene. Hence my vote for Russell.
22. Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained. The key word is ORIGINAL. He didn’t win for Inglorious Bastards. Mark Boal did win for The Hurt Locker so voters probably won’t be swayed this time by his work on Zero Dark Thirty. And if Michael Haneke wins here for his script of Amour, that’s the sound of my flat screen crashing out the window that you’ll hear.
My Personal Choice: Django, mother-f-ker.