September 20, 2014

This Week’s Popcorn — Handicapping the Oscars

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Handicapping the Oscars

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

Disconsolate over the darned if you do, darned if you don’t trap that ensnares the film critic who dares to predict the Oscar winners, I shivered in my Dolce & Gabbanas as the Feb. 27 Academy Awards presentation loomed. So, rationalizing that Professor Halberstoddter, my dear mentor at Olde Ivy Film Criticism College, would welcome a phone call, I sought his advice.

Now retired and a recluse, he had moved to New Hampshire. The return address on his Hanukkah card simply read: “A recluse in New Hampshire, but nowhere near where J.D. Salinger lived.” He included his phone number. It was good to hear the Viennese inflection when he answered. “Goldberger. You’re still writing?”

“Yes I am, professor. How are you?”

“Never better. Reclusion is great. I heartily recommend it. Hurry up and finish your career. But you can’t come here. So how can I help my old student? Still agonizing with the Oscar picks?”

“Yep, that’s it. Get ‘em right and there’s nary an accolade. But just get a few wrong and they want to run you out of town on a rail.”

“Goldberger, Goldberger, the pupil in the first row, still looking for approval… the only college student I had to give gold stars. Don’t you remember, it’s about the work? Besides, we are in a profession of opinions. Take heart. Be bold. Send a message of this task’s absurdity.”

“By doing what?”

“Go among the people. You’re not a recluse yet. Show how talent and knowledge have no place in this crap game. Seek the biggest fools, idiots and self-absorbed ne’er-do-wells to make your Oscar picks. When they get them right, you’ll be vindicated.”

“But wait, I got most of them right last year.”

“Precisely.”

“Well, any suggestion where I should start?”

“Try the streets and highways. Easy pickings. Absolutely loaded with dumbbells. There, now you have your assignment. And remember to have fun. I will see if I have any gold stars left. ”

I thanked the good professor and set out on my mission. I got no farther than the stop sign at the corner of my block. When she pulled over to drop off a kid, I hailed a handsome woman in a huge SUV who had just sailed right through said stop sign.

“Two questions, if you don’t mind. First, are you aware that you ran that stop sign? Secondly, which do you think will win the Oscar for Original Song?”

“Listen, you. I’m on Zoloft, my husband’s a scurrilous stock broker who’s cheating everyone including me, the Botox isn’t working anymore, and I don’t have enough hands to drive, smoke this cigarette, and drink my latte all at the same time. I can’t be concerned with a stop sign, especially when no one is coming anyway. I don’t even like lattes. ‘I See the Light’ from ‘Tangled’ will win Best Original Song.” She floors it.

I didn’t have to move an iota to find my next prognosticator. Happily, the Generation Y male wearing dark sunglasses and a yellow Polo sweater brought his 5 series BMW to a full stop. Unhappily, he was in an animated exchange on a handheld cell phone when he lowered his window at my behest. This is what I heard: “Nah, those jerks don’t know this market. Tell ‘em it was Babe Ruth’s winter house. Ask 100 G’s more. Look, I gotta go, there’s some bum here wants to ask me something. Yeah, what is it?”

“A. I assume you can afford a Bluetooth. Why not buy one to ensure safer driving?” B. Who do you like for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role?

“Hey pal, I can buy and sell you. No one tells me how to drive. Bet what few bucks you have on Melissa Leo in ‘The Fighter.’”

My next cinematic soothsayer, picked to select Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, was heatedly pontificating to friends from a park bench.

“Too bad for someone who has a preexisting condition. He should have thought of that before he got sick. You want to hurt the health insurers’ bottom line? Next thing you know people will want a law that keeps long-term care from eating up their life savings…lousy Socialists.”

As he apparently knew everything, I hadn’t even asked him my question when he looked in my direction, wagged a menacing finger and blurted, “And you, Christian Bale for ‘The Fighter.’”

I located my next clairvoyant in the supermarket, obviously unhappy with the cereal her cute little daughter had selected. “Don’t be stupid, Jessica. You know we don’t buy that brand.”

Begging her pardon for interrupting whilst she planted a preexisting condition of low self esteem in the poor cherub, I asked, “Have any idea who will win the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role?”

Looking at me with utter disdain, she lashed out: “Jesse Eisenberg for ‘Social Network.’ Don’t you know anything? I swear, I’m surrounded by morons.”

To assure the poor character of he who I hoped would guess the next category, I brought the old Bugatti – recently blessed as perfect by my own trustworthy mechanic – to a wrench of suspected repute.

“It just doesn’t sound right,” began my subterfuge. “What’s wrong with it, what will it cost, and while you have it on the lift anyway, can you tell me who will win Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role?”

Popping the hood, he went into his own Oscar worthy performance, doubtlessly well rehearsed: “Geez, who worked on this last?” Wiping his hands on a greasy rag, he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Bad news. You’re gonna need a new thingamajig valve…maybe two. Aw, let’s see, if you pay me cash, $2,895. Add $200 ‘cause I’m guaranteeing you Natalie Portman wins for ‘Black Swan.’”

Of course no survey of the ignoble would be complete without at least one politician. Banking on his egotism to tell the tale on him, I promised an elected official I would relate his secret to success if he would name Best Achievement in Directing.

“My secret,” he proudly informed, “is basic Machiavellian stuff. People are greedy and scared. So I play ‘em against each other, demonize a particular group. Y’know, a scapegoat. This year it’s public employees. All your famous demagogues did that. Oh, and you have my solemn word, David Fincher will win for ‘Social Network.’”

Like many of the guilt-ridden folks who patronize his notoriously anti-union company, I’m embarrassed to admit I sought the counsel of this executive to determine what film will be deemed Best Motion Picture of the Year. “Ha, ha,” he chortled as he walked me into his office. You can’t beat the price I’m charging you for my prediction—nothing. Now, if I were unionized, I’d want some sort of benefits, maybe even a living wage for my labor. ‘Social Network’ will win Best Picture.”

To pick the remaining categories, I sought a commonality among picture prophets that would certify their lack of common sense. Each of the following was selected by someone who not only believed President Obama was a Muslim, but that he wasn’t born in the United States. You can’t get too much more ridiculous than that. The winners include:

  • Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen- “The King’s Speech”
  • Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced- “The Social Network”
  • Best Animated Feature Film-“Toy Story 3”
  • Best Foreign Language Film – “Biutiful” (Mexico)
  • Best Cinematography- “Inception,” Wally Pfister
  • Best Editing-  “Black Swan”;
  • Best Art Direction-  “True Grit”
  • Best Costume Design-  “The King’s Speech”
  • Best Makeup- “The Wolfman”
  • Best Original Score- “The King’s Speech”
  • Best Sound Mixing-“Salt”
  • Best Sound Editing- “TRON: Legacy”
  • Best Visual Effects- “Inception”
  • Best Documentary, Features- “Inside Job”
  • Best Documentary, Short Subjects- “Poster Girl”
  • Best Short Film, Animated- “Day and Night”
  • Best Short Film, Live Action- “The Crush.”

Enjoy the Oscars this Sunday evening.

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