Monthly Archives: February 2011

Oscars predictions based on movies I’ve seen

Oscar opinions are like Weinsteins — everybody’s seen one, but you’d better like mine or you’ll never work in this town again.

That’s the spirit in which I offer my picks for the 83rd annual Academy Awards.

Have I seen all the best-picture nominees, or all the films that feature nominated performances? No. Will that stop me from sharing my thoughts on the subject? Absolutely not.

The Internet lets anyone broadcast ill-informed opinions to the world, so here are mine. Call them the first annual Academy Awards Based On the Handful of Nominated Movies I’ve Seen This Year:

BEST PICTURE:  The King’s Speech. Despite the veddy posh backdrop (the royal family, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the like), it’s an accessible, well-paced film with great performances. If I gave an Oscar for second place among movies I’ve seen, I’d go with The Social Network. Black Swan and Winter’s Bone would be next, then the movies I haven’t seen (The Fighter, 127 Hours, True Grit, Toy Story 3), and then Inception. (Yes, it’s unfair to rank Inception behind the movies I haven’t seen. I don’t care.) While Inception‘s premise was fascinating, the film was surprisingly boring despite the non-stop action and dazzling special effects, and a lot of the dialogue was fence-post dumb.

BEST ACTRESS: Just give the trophy to Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Her portrayal of a high-strung ballerina slipping into insanity is pure trophy-bait. Besides, it’s like Kate Winslet said that time on HBO’s Extras: “Seriously, you are guaranteed an Oscar if you play a mental.” A solid runner-up is the young Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone, a movie about poor, violent hillbillies that makes you respect the quiet dignity of poor, violent hillbillies. (I can say that because I come from a long line of poor, violent hillbillies.)

BEST ACTOR: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. He deserves all the accolades he’s gotten for this moving, nuanced performance.  Plus, he’s English, and they kick our butts at acting as easily as they do at cricket. Jesse Eisenberg from The Social Network is the default runner-up for me here, of course, because I haven’t seen any of the other performances (Jeff Bridges in True Grit, Javier Bardem in Biutiful and James Franco in 127 Hours).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech. It might be the best thing he’s done since winning an Oscar for playing a mental in 1996’s Shine. A surprising — and satisfying — runner-up in the movies-I’ve-seen sweepstakes goes to John Hawkes of Winter’s Bone. His last notable role was as Kenny Powers’ brother  Dustin in HBO’s hilarious Eastbound & Down. (Jeremy Renner is nominated for The Town, which we also saw, but I don’t think he’ll win.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: The only one of this group I’ve seen is Helena Bonham Carter of The King’s Speech, so she wins.

BEST DIRECTOR: David Fincher for The Social Network. The younger academy voters probably “like” it well enough to give it at least one major award. Black Swan is the runner-up. 

OTHER CATEGORIES: Who cares, really? I did enjoy Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception, so I guess they can give it a trophy for that.


Snark, the herald angels sing: ‘Spy’ is now online

Google (informal motto: “don’t be evil”) has just done something very good:  it has scanned and posted the entire archives of  Spy magazine.

If you’re not familiar with Spy (and far too many people weren’t, even in its 1986-1998 heyday), think People written and edited by the staff of National Lampoon. It skewered the celebrities, media and politics of its time in a tone of withering sarcasm and irony that’s instantly recognizable — and today, nearly inescapable.

That’s right: Before there was an Internet for Al Gore to invent, Spy took the initiative in creating the double-edged sword we call “snark,” without which the Web as we now know it would probably shut down.

Its high-profile pranks made news. In the most famous one, a Spy writer posed as a talk radio host and called first-year congressmen in 1993 to ask them “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop what’s going on in Freedonia?” (Freedonia is a fictitious country best known to fans of the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup.) Being politicians, they all tried to answer the question as if they were jockeying for the chairmanship of the House Select Committee on Freedonian Affairs:

Representative Corrine Brown, Democrat of Florida, said she approved of what the United States was doing in Freedonia, and added, “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.”

Another memorable stunt compared the star power of two fictitious celebrity brothers (“Michael Baldwin” and “Tito Wayans”) when it came to securing spots on the guest lists at big social events. A sample:

SPY: This is the personal assistant for Tito Wayans. I wanted to sneak Tito onto the list for the Mariah party

COSMO: The list is closed; the party has started. You’re quite late

SPY: I am. But Tito’s brother is Keenan Ivory Wayans.

COSMO: I know that.

SPY: Well, then maybe you also know that Mariah and Keenan are friends. He would be upset if his little brother couldn’t go to the party.

COSMO: I’m sorry. I apologize. Tito is on the list.

Spy could also do serious journalism, albeit with an edge. In 1996, Mark Ebner’s first-person expose of the secretive, manipulative world of the Church of Scientology caused a huge stir and inspired threats of legal action.

Whether it was being funny or serious, Spy was always  an enjoyable read, and I always felt smarter after finishing an issue. One of my Facebook friends, Bill Walsh, a copy editor at The Washington Post, put it succinctly in a posting on my wall:

Spy was to me in my early 20s what Mad was in my adolescence — funny but in many ways beyond me, and not talking down to me. An immersion teacher of pop culture.

Wonderfully said, Bill.

Check out Spy‘s archive. You can come back here later and leave a snarky comment.