Wednesday, February 3, 2010

These predictions are five by five ...

What could the Manifesto's Oscar nomination predictions possibly have to do with the classic television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"? I shall explain.

One of my favorite things to do as I walk through life is to make references to my favorite movies and TV shows whenever possible. It is, I find, one of the ways in which I add value to the world. For example, one of my proudest moments at my old job occurred when I pretended to stumble into a meeting and mock-screamed, "It's O.K., I'm here, we can start the meeting now!". My buddy Pat recognized the reference to Anchorman. He laughed. It was funny.

Alright, maybe you had to be there, but the point is that my brain tends to operate on this level, and I know I'm not the only one – everyone appreciates a well-timed movie reference. Of course, I recognize that, if abused, this technique can go from "amusing" to "tedious" to "I'm going to kill your family if you quote 'Seinfeld" one more time". (Judd Apatow recognized this as well, which is why for his brilliant TV show "Undeclared" he created a character who spoke exclusively in movie quotes and drove everyone around him completely crazy.) But for the most part, whilst in conversation, the spontaneous delivery of a pertinent movie reference constitutes an incredibly high form of humor. Like dick and fart jokes.

Now, some phrases become so prevalent that they get absorbed into the public's general lexicon, and people say them without even consciously referring to the source material. Current prominent examples include "No soup for you!", "That's what she said," and of course "Shiieeeet".

So, what does this have to do with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"? Well, to the best of my knowledge, "Buffy" never coined any such legendary lines that infiltrated the vernacular (although you could make the case for Willow's deadpan "bored now"), not because it isn't a spectacularly well-written show but because creator Joss Whedon doesn't gravitate toward standard comedic tropes. But if there's one phrase from the show that's somehow clamped itself onto my synapses, it's this repeated line from Faith, the fiery death-dealer played with spunk and verve by Eliza Dushku:

"I'm five by five."

What does it mean? I have no idea, and the best part is neither does anyone on the show except Faith; indeed, everyone on "Buffy" reacts to Faith's recurring pronouncements of her "five by five" status mainly by rolling their eyes. But for Faith, it's a mantra that seems to signify inner peace, contentment, and perhaps enlightenment. The genius of Faith as a character is that she's utterly incapable of knowing any such feelings, which makes her patented proclamation both maddeningly enigmatic and, in a surprising twinge of poignancy, a bit sad.

I could talk about Faith's existential dilemma and the beautiful contrast between her uncompromising ruthlessness and Buffy's world-weary doggedness for hours, but let's get back to the Oscars, namely my predictions. What's the point of this extended discourse? Well, if you asked me how I felt about my performance in predicting this year's Oscar nominations, I would respond with four simple words: I'm five by five.

To put it mildly, I fucking killed it. After falling well short of my goal of 80% last year, I came in at 89% this year, correctly predicting 40 of 45 nominees. In terms of my improvement, this was like Brad Penny pitching like a minor leaguer for the Red Sox, then switching coasts to the Giants and putting up a 2.59 ERA over six starts.

Will it last? Of course not. I'm completely convinced that this was a Brady Anderson performance (minus the steroids, of course) – one startling, MVP-caliber year sandwiched around a body of mediocre work. But in the meantime, I have to say, it feels good to be five by five.

(And if that entire "Buffy" analogy was a bit ham-fisted, well, I've been obsessed with "Buffy" for months now, and I needed to address it in some fashion sooner or later – frankly I'm amazed it took me this long.)

Alright, let's break down the categories (incorrect predictions are highlighted in red):

An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
Crazy Heart The Blind Side
Invictus District 9

Takeaways: Despite my obscene gloating, I can't say I'm thrilled with my performance in the Oscars' flagship category. I'm not remotely surprised by the inclusion of District 9, which possessed both a Producers' Guild nomination and a rabid fan base. I am surprised, however, by the inclusion of The Blind Side, which in my mind is the lowest-quality movie to earn to a Best Picture nomination since Crash. (And both starred Sandra Bullock. Coincidence?) I certainly didn't hate the film – in fact, I admit to enjoying it in part – but I nevertheless thought it was low-rent melodramatic schlock.

In a way, however, the nomination makes sense: As I discussed previously, the Academy's controversial decision to expand the Best Picture category to 10 nominees was expressly designed to bring mainstream, broadly appealing films into the fold; with an astonishing gross of $238 million thus far, The Blind Side certainly qualifies. And I won't be shedding any tears over the (somewhat) surprising failure of Invictus, a pleasant but not particularly memorable movie. That said, if the voters were insistent on recognizing popular pictures, I would have preferred it if they'd honored Star Trek (or, in a more perfect world, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), a slam-bang entertainment with a smart script to match its energy. Not to be.

Regardless, this nomination slate seems – at least temporarily – to justify the Academy's expansion, if only according to its internal logic. In addition to The Blind Side, it's virtually inconceivable that either District 9 or Up would have achieved recognition under the traditional model, and those are precisely the types of movies (commercially successful, passionate fans) that the Academy hoped its new scheme would embrace. (It's also gratifying that both of them are quite good.) It remains to be seen whether this will translate to ratings success, but if you're an Academy member, so far, so good.

Current favorite: The Hurt Locker. No contest, really. That said, it's more than a month until the ceremony, so things can change. But the combination of winning at the Producers' Guild plus Avatar failing to earn a screenplay nomination mandates that The Hurt Locker holds pole position at the moment.

(That said, if this year's Best Picture nominees were characters in From Russia, With Love, then The Hurt Locker would be James Bond, Avatar would be the crazy Europeans whom Bond is fighting, and Inglourious Basterds would be Robert Shaw's character, just biding its time, letting the heavyweights kill each other, then sneaking it at the end and stealing the prize. Don't say you weren't warned.)

Snubbed: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That said, I would like to take this moment to warmly congratulate the Academy for bestowing on Half-Blood Prince a Best Cinematography nomination. I frequently grouse about the Oscars' utter disrespect of one of cinema's most remarkable and consistent franchises – and with good reason – but this was an inspired choice, and a richly deserving one. Kudos.

(And I would like to take this next moment to bemoan Warner Brothers' recent announcement that both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be shown in 3-D. Thanks, Avatar. Thanks a lot.)


Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
James Cameron – Avatar
Lee Daniels – Precious
Jason Reitman – Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

Takeaways: No red font here, although I can't claim to be too proud of myself. This is a straight match with the Directors' Guild nominations, and there was little doubt that any outsider would muddy the waters.

Current favorite: Bigelow. Although I wouldn't put it past Cameron to take $200 million of his profits from Avatar and discreetly wire it to a handful of voters' offshore accounts, just to ensure he doesn't get beaten by his ex-wife. The man has an ego, after all.

Snubbed: Tony Gilroy – Duplicity. The most underrated American filmmaker currently working had better receive some love from Oscar soon, or the movies are going to lose him to HBO.


Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
George Clooney – Up in the Air
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker

Takeaways: Ah, the sweet smell of success. Moving right along ...

Current favorite: Bridges. A few months ago, this was shaping up to be a duel to the death between Bridges and Clooney. I suppose it could still be a duel, to the extent that this was a duel.

Snubbed: Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man. I realize no one's ever heard of him, but it remains strange to me that A Serious Man has generally performed well on the award circuit – and scored two major Oscar nods – yet no one seems to appreciate the extraordinary quality of its acting, both from Stuhlbarg and scene-stealer Fred Melamed. Shame.


Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Helen Mirren – The Last Station
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Takeaways: This quintet wasn't quite set in stone, as many pundits were plugging either Emily Blunt or Mélanie Laurent in place of Helen Mirren. I can't pretend to have kept Mirren on my slate based on her actual performance, as I've yet to see The Last Station (come on, Century Boulder, don't let me down now, you've been doing so well), but I do know that she's been Oscar royalty ever since she played real royalty in The Queen.

Current favorite: Bullock. Perhaps the strongest implication of The Blind Side's Best Picture nomination (other than it somewhat tarnishing the Academy's reputation) is that Bullock further extends her lead over Meryl Streep. Similar to the Bridges-Clooney situation, Bullock and Streep were slated to be in a fight to the finish, and while I'm not entirely convinced that Bullock already has her name engraved on the statuette, it's hard to look at the Academy's love for The Blind Side and think they'll give this award to anyone else, especially considering how completely her presence dominates the film.

Snubbed: Saorise Ronan – The Lovely Bones. A.O. Scott described her as "spookily self-assured". Indeed.


Matt Damon – Invictus
Woody Harrelson – The Messenger
Christopher Plummer – The Last Station
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

Takeaways: Invictus burned me in a few places, but it served me well here, as many had stripped Damon from their board. He was overlooked in the lead category for his stellar, low-key work in The Informant!, but there was no way voters could pass up his muscular performance as a world-class rugby player. And let's not forget that killer accent.

(Thinking about it though, with Invictus failing to garner nods for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, do we now have to reassess Clint Eastwood's stature in Hollywood? Last year, Gran Torino got blanked while Changeling hardly registered despite three nominations. Has the Academy crowned a new king? I'm not writing him off just yet – let's see how 2010's Hereafter does first.)

Current favorite: That's a bingo.

Snubbed: Peter Capaldi – In the Loop. Voters clearly took notice of this ferocious British satire (it earned a surprising mention in the Best Adapted Screenplay category), so how could they ignore Capaldi's wickedly funny, torrentially profane performance?


Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air
Mo'Nique – Precious
Julianne Moore – A Single Man Penélope Cruz – Nine

Takeaways: Well, I couldn't stay perfect forever. I'm not particularly shocked by Cruz's inclusion (despite Nine's poor critical reception), though I am surprised that she bumped Moore rather than Gyllenhaal, as the latter was my sleeper pick.

Current favorite: Mo'Nique. Any concern about her refusal to play the campaigning game affecting her chances has vanished following wins at both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors' Guild. Poor Anna Kendrick doesn't stand a chance.

Snubbed: Mélanie Laurent – Inglourious Basterds. For once, Harvey Weinstein got it wrong; if he'd pushed Laurent in the supporting category, perhaps she would have gained recognition for her captivating portrayal of a woman both poised and petrified.


The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
A Serious Man – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Up – Bob Peterson and Pete Docter
Avatar – James Cameron The Messenger – Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman

Takeaways: That flushing sound just might have been Avatar's Best Picture hopes going down the drain. I'd maintained till the end that Cameron's epic had long enough coattails to rope in a nomination for its straightforward but serviceable screenplay. I was wrong. As for The Messenger, I can't say I saw it coming here, but it's always difficult for me to gauge the upset potential of movies I haven't seen (again, paging Century Boulder).

Current favorite: Hey, some uncertainty! I'd probably go with Inglourious Basterds right now, since it's perfumed with Tarantino's trademark style, and the Original Screenplay category actually rewards ingenuity. That said, no movie with the Best Picture credentials of The Hurt Locker can be discounted, while the Coen Brothers' distinctive stamp is just as memorable as Tarantino's. I also can't brush aside Up, with its giddily original story wrapped inside a heartwarming family dynamic. In short, The Messenger is the only contender I'm comfortable eliminating. Nice to have some competition.

Snubbed: Adventureland – Greg Mottola. This beautiful, wryly observant coming-of-age story never received the attention it deserved, thanks in part to a botched studio campaign billing it as the next Superbad. Poor form, Miramax – no wonder you just went out of business.


District 9 – Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
An Education – Nick Hornby
Precious – Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air – Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Invictus – Anthony Peckham In the Loop – Armando Iannucci, et. al.

Takeaways: I've rarely been so happy to be wrong. I didn't think In the Loop was a perfect movie, but its laugh-a-minute script was one for the ages. The Academy continues to take impressive chances in the screenplay categories – bravo.

Current favorite: Up in the Air. It's still the clear frontrunner, but its footing isn't as sure as it was in the past, as The Hurt Locker has filched all of its momentum over the past month. I'd watch out for the allegorical aliens of District 9 or the smoldering satire of In the Loop.

Snubbed: The Informant! – Scott Z. Burns. Adapting an absurdly detailed book (or so I'm told), Burns kept the story coherent while still gradually revealing the hidden truths behind Matt Damon's shadowy lead figure.

And that's it for now. Ideally I'll be back periodically over the next month to provide more detailed analysis, but failing that, I'll bask in the glow of my victory. At least until next year.


stacy said...

Congratulations. Albert wants to know why you don't bet money on this.

Also, when I clicked on the youtube link for "Shiiiiieeeeet" I thought I was going to get this:

Yeah, I know. Based on my Americana knowledge, it's like I'm 13.

Jeremy said...

Why thank you. As for money-making, I wish. Besides, after this performance, who would possibly bet against me?

I clicked on the Youtube link you provided. The extent to which I regret doing so cannot be adequately expressed.

Raashi said...