March 4, 2006

Oscar Picks

Okay, so for the new folks around these parts: I love the Oscars because they combine two of my greatest loves: the film & television industry, and gripping, nasty politics. As a result, I make my Oscar predictions based almost entirely on those concepts. In fact, like the previous two years, I have seen almost none of the films actually nominated. This has not stopped me from an inordinately high accuracy rate: for the last two years I predicted all nine primary categories correctly. Last year I correctly guessed 17 out of all 24 awards on the live show.

So if you’re in one of those pools where it all comes down to the technical fields, be warned as that’s where I usually crash and burn. And while, as always, this could be the year where I totally screw up royally, I’m pretty confident in most of my top-tier picks. Depending on your belief in me, take this as your opportunity to either make money off my wisdom or mock my stupidity Monday morning. Enjoy.

Picture: Brokeback Mountain. It’s won most major industry-related awards so far. While not a major factor, it is the most profitable of all the BP nominees.

Picture, Foreign Language: Tsotsi. Foreign films are tricky in that a requirement to vote on them is that you have to have seen all five in theatres. The voting filed is therefore reduced and very selective, and because of that popularity of the film becomes a factor in this category. The only film that can compete against this is Paradise Now, and it’s not going to win.

Picture, Animated: Since the day they created this award, I have been aggravated over the sheer obviousness of every year’s selection. As it has been for the last four years, there is no more sure bet for any of the 24 televised categories than there is for the animated feature award, which is almost entirely based on how popular the movie was. Jamie Foxx had less of a chance last year winning Best Actor than Wallace and Grommit do of winning Best Animated Feature.

Picture, Documentary: Gasp in amazement as a category arises in which more than two films are actually in significant running for the gold guy. Murderball, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and March of the Penguins all have a strong following and devoted crowd. Had the same mentality given the award to Supersize Me last year, I’d have my money on Enron, but frankly it’s just not enough to knock off a blockbuster documentary with family appeal that I’m sure more of the voting audience recognized. March of the Penguins wins, by nature of overall popularity and involving Morgan Freeman.

Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain. Spielberg is Lee’s only competition here, and not only has he already won twice, he already won the token “your film isn’t winning Best Picture but we have to give you another one because you’re Steven Goddamn Speilberg” award for Saving Private Ryan. The second-most-guaranteed pick of the night behind Animated Feature.

Actor, Leading: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote. Hoffman won every single Actor’s Guild award so far for the role. The overlap of that voting audience to the Academy voting audience is far too overwhelming to suddenly turn eyes toward Heath Ledger. The entire deal with Ledger is how he’s a breakout star; that means he’s got years ahead of him to shine. Hoffman, on the other hand, is a legend, and he’s due. Oh, for the love of all that is good and true, the man is due.

Actor, Supporting: and here is where I expect the mob to turn on me. This field is the biggest toss-up, because it’s a clash of two long-standing and significant traditions of back-room Oscar dealing: compensatory recognition versus screwed-last-year payback. Or, in other words, does Paul Giamatti get payback for being snubbed two years in a row, or does George Clooney get recognition for his work on two separate films that aren’t going to receive any awards anywhere else? In the end, it really does just become a thrill to be nominated, which will have to be enough for Giamatti. George Clooney will win for Syriana.

Actress, Leading: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line. Theron already has one, Dench has nothing to prove, and Huffman and Knightly are probably going to get nominated again in the next few years anyway. This is Witherspoon’s moment to shine. She’s America’s sweetheart, is absolutely loved by everyone in Hollywood, and her smile cures Bird Flu. Like Julia Roberts (only with talent), she’ll win the Oscar and then we’ll never have to deal with her ever again.

Actress, Supporting, Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener. Really, there’s just no reason why not.

Screenplay, Original: Crash. The movie was all about the story and script, and this will be its sole major award.

Screenplay, Adapted: To make a Best-Picture-winning film out of a Vanity Fair article is pretty much the best example of a great screenplay adaptation, I’d think. I’d love to see a comic book win one of these, and I’m thrilled that the nominations keep coming, but Brokeback Mountain is taking this.

I picked in all 24 categories, but that’s pretty much the big ones. As I noted before, the only award I’m flat-out rooting for on Sunday is to see my former professor John Canemaker win Best Animated Short Film for The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation. The rest is just business.

Update: Well, that was sort of unexpected right there at the end. Expect Roger Ebert to be gloating for the next year or so as the first critic to predict Crash would magically pull it off. On a personal level, Professor Canemaker won, which was the only thing I cared about. On a financial level, I got 18 out of 24, which means I probably won't win the Oscar pool at the office. Aaah, nuts.

Also, I am stating now for the record: I don't care if it's twenty years from now. If I ever win an Academy Award, I'm going up onto the stage with a life-sized stuffed penguin.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:15 PM

March 3, 2006

Books for NOLA

I just saw this on Steve Notely's site, and it's worth a mention: the New Orleans Public Library is accepting donations of books from across the country to replace their shelves that were destroyed during Katrina. So if you're throwing out or getting rid of any old books, it would really be worth a few bucks' postage to send them down there.

Make sure to note to the Post Office people that you're sending books to a library; apparently there's a special reduced library rate.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 3:23 PM

Middle America is a magical place

Allow me to be stunned along with Atrios at stuff like this.

I realize this may be hard for media outlets to understand, but the reason Hollywood doesn't tap the pulse of a town of 250 people in Kansas is because Hollywood couldn't give two shits what 250 people in Kansas think about Hollywood.

We have a story up on Campus Progress right now about the culture of growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah. Basically, there's no concept of "appealing to Middle America" in heavily-conservative, heavily-religious areas of the country. They want you to conform to their standards. And if you don't, they want you to leave.

It's hard for people like Brandon, the kid who wrote the Utah piece, because it's clear he's someone who lived in Utah and wanted that "east coast elitism" they seem to stamp on anything a farmer doesn't like, and quickly realized he's not going to get it waiting around in Utah. And it's the same thing for Hollywood. Most of the industry is kind of busy making billions of dollars producing content most of the people in America enjoy viewing to worry about the whims of a group whose authority is measured only by the number of times the news asks what they think.

That's not to imply I'm saying "screw Kansas." The movie industry, and for that matter the television indistry, music industry, pubishing industry, and entertainment indistry in general, is more than welcome to produce content for "Middle America." I don't care if it does and I certainly don't object to it. So why is it that every time something comes out of Hollywood the networks have to fly some entertainment reporter out from L.A. to find a housewife in Alabama who has the vapors over a movie with naughty bits in it?

The news media has a bizarre obsession with pretending "Middle America" is the standard for which American values must be based, instead of the very opposite. Atrios' link has them pinpointing the exact center of America, as if it's the entrance to Dante's Inferno and all liberal elitism radiates further from purity as they descend toward the icy darkness of the coastlines. Meanwhile, in the real world, even a small child understands that big cities and coastal states have more influence on American values by the simple nature of most of the people in America actually living there.

By the way, though I assumed it went without saying, the headquarters of every major broadcast news company in America is in a major metropolitan city. With the exception of CNN's Atlanta office, they are also all in Northeast Coast cities. I'm taking a guess here, but I'm pretty sure CNN entertainment reporter Brooke Anderson has taken exactly one more trip to Kansas than the average Hollywood studio exec- and that was for the trip she took yesterday to report on how Hollywood isn't in touch with Middle America.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:37 AM

Okay, creepy

Okay, I apologize for the ignorance, but I actually had no idea that the founder of Domino's Pizza was a completely insane right-wing Christian lunatic who now wants to build his own city so he can ban abortion and pornography in it.

That's not just crazy, that's Bond Villian crazy.

(For the record, the guy apparently sold the chain in 1998, so Domino's isn't really behind any of this.)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:44 AM

South Dakota doesn't have the right elevation to handle gay people

I've said this before, but one of the things that really bother me in debates about gay marriage and abortion are the people- left and right- who instantly respond to any argument about the subjects by saying "well the states will choose if they allow it or not" or something like that.

I understand the concept of State's Rights, but this has not, and never will, make sense when it comes to individual human rights. I understand regional variety in driver's licenses and smoking bans depending on reasons compounded by heavy-population areas. I understand differences on gun laws given the variances in crime rate, hunting interests, and so forth.

But I have never met anyone who actually believes gay people should be allowed to get married, but only if they live in a handful of states. I have never met anyone who thinks abortion is murder in Nebraska but nowhere else.

These are fundamental aspects of human liberty. Either you think gay people have the right to get married or you don't. Either you think women have the right to have an abortion under whatever terms you believe in or you don't. Where they were born is irrelevant.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:32 AM

March 2, 2006

Dear Media

Hi there. Listen, Media, I'm a big fan but I really think I need to point something out here to you.

Bush said shortly after Katrina that he had no idea the levees were going to fail and drown thousands of people and destroy millions of dollars worth of property and infrastructure. In fact, his exact words were "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

You are now running a story, complete with video, about how Bush had a meeting with several people where, among other things, they anticipated the breach of the levees.

I realize that it is your duty to maintain unbiased status in your reporting, in a continuing effort to pretend the Right won't accuse you of all being leftists anyway. But I still find it very odd you aren't using a very specific word in any of your stories.

I will help you here. When someone says something, and you prove later on that what they said was completely and knowingly untrue, it is commonly referred to as a lie.

For example, President Bush lied. This makes him a liar.

Now you use it in a sentence. Thanks.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:23 AM

March 1, 2006

Amazing new incentives

In their spectacular wisdom, it appears Amazon now has a savings bonus if you pre-order Attitude 3 and Tom Tomorrow's latest book at the same time.

I for one am ravenously gurgling in anticipation for both, and I feel you should have the exact same psychological reaction, harmful as it may be.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:05 AM

War on phantoms

TalkLeft puts up the results of a recent survey of troops in Iraq, and the naivete present in some of the results is just disturbing:

Le Moyne College/Zogby Poll shows just one in five troops want to heed Bush call to stay "as long as they are needed"

-While 58% say mission is clear, 42% say U.S. role is hazy

-Plurality believes Iraqi insurgents are mostly homegrown

-Almost 90% think war is retaliation for Saddam's role in 9/11, most don't blame Iraqi public for insurgent attacks

-Majority of troops oppose use of harsh prisoner interrogation

-Plurality of troops pleased with their armor and equipment

-An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and nearly one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows.

In no way is this meant to insult the troops, but Jesus. Doesn't that basically mean 90% of our soldiers serving in Iraq right now have somehow been convinced that Saddam had something to do with 9/11? As opposed to the reality, which was, you know, absolutely nothing at all?

The war in itself is wrong and horrible. But for the most part American soldiers in an all-volunteer army went for personal beliefs on the fight against terror. If this survey is accurate, a vast majority of soldiers are over there fighting and dying because of a belief in something that doesn't even exist. And clearly no one in command has made any effort to clarfiy things to them. Given that this percentage is higher than it is stateside, it's clear that if anything someone is feeding them this disinformation, not correcting it.

Meanwhile, over a quarter of them want to leave immediately, and over 7 in 10 think this will all be over within a year. I can't even get into how depressing that all is.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:36 AM

February 28, 2006

Good Times

A hearty hello to everyone out there who reads the fabulous publication In These Times. I have some great news for you: you'll soon be able to read XQUZYPHYR & Overboard on In These Times' website!

Look for the strip to start appearing on their site in what I assume will be the very near future. And if you've never read In These Times before, well, you're crazy in the head.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:30 PM

Teh RAC1ST!!!

It appears Richard Cohen has now joined David Brooks in the cast of overpaid white men who deeply, deeply care about the treatment of Arabs the way the rest of the "decadent left" simply doesn't. Goody.

It's simply astounding the way embedded pundits flock to positions like this. To go back and trace the hypocrisy of Brooks' and Cohen's sudden demands to approve of Bush's policy unflinchingly toward a nation with a proven connection to terrorism is both easy and futile: they don't care. This has nothing to do with an actual analysis of the case, but a sheer lack of concern for the actual story itself.

Or, as I put it earlier, lazy bullshit. The truth is that Brooks and Cohen simply don't care about this story, but as enshrined journos they have to act as if they actually have a studied position on it, which as a testament to their wit and insight deserving of a weekly column just so happens to be contrary to common logic. So they choose the side that a fourth-grader would quickly come up with: if you oppose giving an Arab nation whatever the hell they want, you're a racist. Bravo, guys.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:54 AM

From the pages of the popular medical journal "Duh"

High jury verdicts are not the primary cause of medical insurance premium increases.

Shocked. Shocked, I tells ya.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:29 AM

February 27, 2006

Newest comic - "The new class"

These are the types of stories that make me marvel at the way the high tiers of academia work. Harvard President Larry Summers is notorious for a history of stupid actions and statements, the most prominent ones being his attacks on Cornell West and his claims that woman have some kind of deficiency in understanding math.

And yet, on the side there's just a slew of people who are equally untrained in their field yet revered as masters. Michael Crichton, of whom I have read many works, has no business being anywhere near real science. (And yes, the story about the award is true.) James Frey has no business earning a fortune. And Richard Cohen just needed to be slapped for that article he wrote last week.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 12:02 AM