Friday, February 25, 2011

Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Meyer winner...

Well, it's that time of the year.

The time when Max Gross quietly grits his teeth at the utter rubbish that wins an Academy Award, while far worthier stuff gets the shaft.

And yet....

I sort of love the whole beauty pageant atmosphere... The horse race between spoiled (and often talentless) glamour-pusses... Figuring out just how wrong the Academy is going to get things in their ranking of quality versus dreck.

In short, it's great sport.

And there are Oscar pools to win! (Not to brag, but I've won them before, and I usually place in the top three.)

For this reason, it's important to actually pay attention to the handicappers and conventional wisdom. And to vote with your head -- not your heart.

Nate Siver, who is perhaps the savviest reader of polls in journalism, also does some Oscar handicapping -- but I strongly advise taking Silver's predictions with a grain of salt.

Silver is unquestionably a genius at reading polling information (and correctly modeling it on a computer) but two years ago his model got a number of very important categories wrong. (He predicted Taraji Henson over Penelope Cruz as best supporting actress... and I stupidly listened to him.) And I think the Academy's voting system is a lot more susceptible to whimsy than Silver takes into account.

The Post's Lou Lumenick has his own ranking -- which definitely gets a little more micro than Silver on the categories. (Gruffalo for animated short? OK, Lou. You know better than I do.)

You can also go to intrade (where Colin Firth is given a 94.4 percent chance of winning best actor!) or The Daily Beast, or pretty much any other entertainment web site in the country.

So here's the Gross model on what I think is going to win (based on some of these predictors) and why.

Best Supporting Actress:
There seems to be some division between Melissa Leo (who was really great in The Fighter) versus Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit.

I'm going with Steinfeld. Although it should be noted, this might be a case of wishful thinking, as I think Steinfeld gave the better performance. (Although only slightly.) But I think it will be TG's one major award of the evening, and they will give it to who everyone agrees was the highlight of the film.

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale is a lock. There's some talk about Geoffrey Rush getting it, but I think this is mostly nonsense for two big reasons. (1) Rush has already won for Shine, and (2) The Academy is going to want to give The Fighter a consolation prize.

Best Animated Feature:
Toy Story 3. Duh.

Foreign language film:
Biutiful. Although generally Lou knows better than I do (he picked "In a Better World") -- and I'm very curious to know his reasons -- I think the better known the film, the greater the chance it has to win. And Biutiful (which I admit I haven't seen) is starring Javier Bardem. The director has had a few mainstream Hollywood hits (like 21 Grams and Babel -- two movies I couldn't stand.) I'd say it easily had more viewers and more friends in the industry.

Adapted screenplay:
The Social Network. Both CV and MPG agree. (Although if I were picking the Academy Awards and not for a betting pool, I'd pick Toy Story 3 on that one.)

Original screenplay:
The King's Speech.

I have a confession to make. I haven't seen it yet. I will before the Awards ceremony. (Saturday probably.) But I am not looking forward to it. Everything I've been led to believe tells me that it's the kind of dull, mannered movie I'd hate. But The King's Speech is the favorite to win (by virtually everyone) and so it's unlikely there will be an upset from The Kids Are All Right. (Even though that is the picture I'd give the statue to if I were picking.)

Best Actor:
Colin Firth. I'd prefer to see Jesse Eisenberg get it, but Eisenberg is young. The general reasoning is that he'll have many more chances. Firth didn't get it for A Single Man, and the Academy has a history of making it up to actors next time. (So cheer up Jesse.)

Best Actress:
Natalie Portman. I thought Black Swan was completely ridiculous. However, OK, I accept the fact that everyone and their grandmother thinks this was a harrowing performance. (Whatevs. But I'll just say: Annette Bening deserves it much more.)

Best Director:
David Fincher. This is kind of a hedge (which I'll explain in a second), but, sure, most people are giving Fincher (who has directed some great movies, like Fight Club) the edge over Tom Hooper. I'll buy it.

Best Picture:
The Social Network. This is decidedly not the conventional wisdom. Intrade gives the Kings Speech an 81 percent chance to win best picture. Those are steep odds. And I admit, I'm going out on a limb here (especially having not seen KS yet.) I also admit that while this list is the way I'm voting in my Oscar pool, if SN wins, the chances go down for Fincher winning best director, too. (That's the reason I'm hedging. I'm probably wrong on one of these. But I'd like to maximize my chance to get at least one right than both wrong.)

But here are my reasons:

(1) I think people liked The Social Network more than KS. At least, I didn't hear anybody saying what a good time they had at KS. I did hear that at the SN. And academy voters no doubt feel it's a heady enough movie (which is sort of true) that it's OK to like it and vote for it for best picture.... something they weren't necessarily comfortable with on Avatar.

(2) There have been too many little-movies-that-could that have won the award in recent years, from Slumdog to the Hurt Locker. I think it's time for a well financed studio venture. And while KS has been financially quite successful, SN has earned approximately double the box office. (In fairness it cost much, much more to make than KS.)

(3) Unlike in an election, where people often compromise their favorite candidate with one who has a more realistic chance of winning, few Academy voters are going to vote for KS "because everybody else is." I do think it's slightly worrying that the producers and directors guild voted for KS, but the academy as a whole is bigger than that.

None of these can unfortunately match the fact that KS is the favorite to win by nearly every critic and handicapper. I'm probably wrong. But I sense an upset. In any event, it's going to get my vote on the pool and I'll probably eat crow for all of you on Monday.