The most unpredictably predictable Oscars ever


In the end, the Oscars that many anticipated to be one of the most unpredictable in memory, with three films neck and neck for Best Picture, turned out to be highly predictable.

If you were filling out your Oscar ballot, a few rules turned out to be ironclad. Give every technical award to “Gravity,” except for the theatrical ones like Costume and Production Design, which go to “The Great Gatsby.” “Frozen” gets everything it’s up for. “American Hustle” gets nothing. Give the frontrunners all the acting awards. And, for Best Picture, rely on Oscar voters fearing the logic that host Ellen DeGeneres offered up at the start of the show: “There are two possibilities. 1. ‘12  Years a Slave‘ wins Best Picture. 2. You’re all racists.”

Even though “Gravity” was my favorite movie of 2013, I was not at all disappointed that it lost Best Picture to “12 Years.” I’ve long given up on the idea that the Oscars honor the best picture of the year. More often, it’s the Best Picture That They Know They Ought to Honor. “Ought” sometimes means it’s such a massive box office hit that it can’t be ignored, or that it’s such an “important” film that it can’t be ignored.

The thing about “12 Years a Slave” is that it’s an “important” film that’s also a great work of art, and an Oscar win means that more people who sat on the fence about seeing it because of its powerful and disturbing subject matter will give it a chance. So that’s about the best you can hope for.

My favorite award of the night was Spike Jonze getting a Best Original (and how!) Screenplay win for “Her,” my second-favorite film of the year. My favorite moment of the night was Bill Murray going off-script to honor the late Harold Ramis. I didn’t see it coming, especially given that Murray and Ramis had been estranged for years (although the two did apparently reconcile), and it really moved me.

Other than that, I thought it was a good if overlong show. I really like DeGeneres as a host, because she’s so comfortable winging it in front of the camera and not relying on pre-scripted bits like a greener host does, like Seth MacFarlane. In fact, she probably should have done the entire show from the aisles, cutting up with celebs, serving them pizza, taking part in the World’s Most Expensive Selfie (which had just as many stars in, and was more dramatically involving than, “The Monuments Men.”)

There were the thuddingly bad moments, like Bette Midler’s straight-outta-1988 cheesy performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” that stretched the “In Memoriam” segment even longer. Or John Travolta’s bizarre reading of “Idina Menzel” off the cue card. Or Goldie Hawn’s strangely perky way of saying the Best Picture winner’s title (“12 Years . . . a SLAVE!”)

But the speeches were mostly strong, including Lupita Nyong’o’s tearful statement that the joys in an actor’s life are often rooted in the pain of others. And while we may be approaching a saturation point for Matthew McConaughey, you have to love how he turned his speech into sort of a one-man show and worked in his own catch phrase. And I loved Cate Blanchett’s brassy challenge to make more films about interesting women (“The world is round, people!”)

That equality didn’t seem to extend to the ceremony’s shaky “theme” of “movie heroes,” which seemed to focus mostly on male action stars uneasily edited in with the usual clips from “Casablanca” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Maybe they’re doing “movie heroines” next year, ladies?

My quick take on the Oscars: less Seth is more, more awards are more

Seth MacFarlane

When the 85th Academy Awards started off with a major upset — Christoph Waltz taking Best Supporting Actor from heavily-favored Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones — I was ecstatic for two reasons. One is that I thought Waltz richly deserved it but never had a shot. The second was that I had picked Jones in my Oscar pool, so right away I could stop worrying about winning the pool and just enjoy the show.

My end result was 15-9 — not great, but I didn’t mind, because this was a rare year where I liked all nine of the Best Picture candidates (no “The Reader” or “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” in the bunch). The closest I came to dislike is “Les Miserables,” which I still gave three stars to and liked well enough.

So I was happy to see that eight of the nine Best Picture nominees went home with some kind of Oscar Sunday night (the outlier was “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” but that seemed almost too much to hope for). This was the most even-handed, widely-distributed Oscars I can remember — even my beloved “Skyfall” took home a couple, as well as a couple of shorts I was rooting for, the animated “Paperman” and the fantastic documentary short “Inocente.” All in all, a good night, and one that immediately made you want to go watch all those movies. Which I suppose is the underlying point.

Now, to Seth. Yes, the host that was hired to cross the line did indeed cross the line again and again. I thought the opening bit with William Shatner as a time-traveling James Kirk trying to stop MacFarlane was clever, in that it allowed MacFarlane to be inappropriate within a comic framework of admitting up front that it was inappropriate. Also, the “We Saw Your Boobs” song was kinda fun in a “Springtime for Hitler” sort of way. Sorry.

But that Kirk bit went on way too long, and just in general, there was way too much MacFarlane throughout the show. Not only were his jokes landing less and less as the show ground on, and seemed increasingly mean-spirited as he hit the same frat-guy “Chicks, amirite?” angle again and again, but the decision to have him do the coming-up bumpers before commercials meant we saw him a LOT. The good hosts know how to delegate a little, but MacFarlane was like that employee who stays late on nights and weekends, eager to please. He’s best in small doses, and we got a big dose last night.

I will say this — he owes the Onion huge today. Because but for them, everybody would be talking about how awful his Quvenzhane Wallis joke was and not theirs. You just don’t do that to a nine-year-old girl.

On the bright side, I think the sexism charges against MacFarlane may make the pendulum swing wide for next year and make it more likely that the Academy will hire Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Could “Silver Linings Playbook” pull the mother of all Oscar upsets?


I want to preface this by saying that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

There are movie blogs out there that have been tracking awards season since late last summer, talking to insiders, tallying up all the myriad critics’ awards and third-string nominations, updating the odds daily on who will win on Oscar night. They are the Nate Silvers of Oscar blogging, or at least they try to be.

This ain’t that place. I love the Oscars, and look forward to my friend Lyn’s Oscar party every year. I’ll be live-tweeting my tail off this Sunday at @robt77 if you’d care to join us. I do pretty well in her Oscar pool, but I’ve never won, and I don’t pretend to be some kind of wunderkind at this sort of thing.

And yet. This Oscar season has been so chaotic, with the perceived frontrunner changing several times in the run-up to Feb. 24, that I have to wonder if Oscar doesn’t have one more big surprise up that place where his sleeve would be if he wasn’t naked.

Just to recap, last fall everybody thought “Lincoln” was going to walk away with it. And while Daniel Day-Lewis surely has it in the bag for Best Actor, that heat cooled a little in December, as the conventional wisdom shifted. Now “Zero Dark Thirty” was going to come out and blow everyone away, seize control of the race.

Then some quibbles about accuracy (unfair ones in my book) came along and hobbled the “Zero” momentum a little. Director Kathryn Bigelow was shut out of a nomination for Best Director when the Oscars were announced Jan. 12, and the “Zero” moment seemed to have past.

Then the Golden Globes came around and awarded “Argo” with Best Drama and Ben Affleck (also overlooked by the Oscars) as Best Director. The Golden Globes are usually a terrible predictor of the Oscars, but all of a sudden “Argo” started picking up awards, from the all-important writing, directing and editing guilds. Whose members, of course, also vote for the Oscars. Seemed like “Argo” had finally achieved frontrunner status and was here to stay.

So, on your Oscar ballot, “Argo” is definitely the safe choice. No question. If anybody would seem likely to pull an upset, it would be “Lincoln” surging back.


Except that this year has been so chaotic (as opposed to other years when a frontrunner is anointed and never looks back) that I have to think “Argo” isn’t as secure as it looks. And the movie that looks in the best position to pull a last-minute upset is David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” Here’s my reasoning:

1. “Silver Linings” is much stronger than it looks. It has eight nominations, third behind “Life of Pi’ (11) and “Lincoln” (12). More importantly, it has all nominations for all four acting categories, the first time that’s happened since “Reds” in 1981. It’s also the first movie since 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” to have nominations in what’s known as the “Big Five” — Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actor and Actress. I think Jennifer Lawrence is a lock for Best Actress, and Robert DeNiro is the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor.

2. “Silver Linings” is peaking at just the right time. Last fall, I groused for weeks about how “Silver Linings” had opened in 440 theaters on Thanksgiving, but didn’t make it until Madison until Christmas Day. But the slow rollout seems to have worked. That’s the film that everybody I know has seen, that everybody comes into the office Monday morning talking about, week after week.

3. “Silver Linings” is connecting with people. There’s something about “Silver Linings” that just works for an audience, be they mainstream or arthouse, in a way that sticks out in a relatively grim year of “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “Zero” and “Django Unchained.” It’s the mix of comedy, romance and drama, almost the perfect amounts of each, really, and the way the film plays with romantic comedy genre conventions, subverts them in places, but ultimately takes the audience exactly where it wants the movie to go, with a double-backflip happy ending that kind of teases us for wanting happy endings before it gives us one. I think there’s also something powerful about the way the film handles mental illness that really resonates with people. Almost everybody I talk to, it seems, has a brother like Bradley Cooper’s character, or a friend, or a neighbor’s kid. There’s somebody we know who needs some help. There’s something so ultimately hopeful about the message of “Silver Linings,” that if people do the work (and take their meds) and have a strong support system, they can get better. They can be okay. That’s strong stuff.

4. “Silver Linings” was made by the Weinstein Company, and the Weinstein Company knows how to do Oscar campaigns. Sorry to veer abruptly from the most emotional reason to the most cynical, but there it is. The Oscar race is a campaign, and Harvey Weinstein has proven exceptionally good at waging that campaign. I’m seeing ads everywhere for “Silver Linings,” using extended quotes that aren’t from critics, but from writers and commentators and others, often striking those same points that I mentioned in No. 3.  And that’s only what I see, and I’m not even a member of the academy.

The smart money is still on “Argo” or “Lincoln,” both movies I love and would be delighted to see win. But at the end of a crazy awards season, a “Silver Linings” upset would be a triple-backflip of a happy ending, wouldn’t it?