Winnowing the Oscars 2016 field via social media

oscaractress

Some of my handiwork at work at USA TODAY

Oscar predictions have hit critical mass this week — from both critics’ standpoints and mass opinions online.

Sealed envelopes? Puh-leaze. Such an archaic messenging device. And no one wants to wait four days for the reveal. These days social media is a prism that doubles as crystal ball.

Who says the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences secret ballots are impregnable?

On the heels of a USA TODAY/Fandango.com poll among 1,000 well-versed moviegoers predicting who’ll win, Hewlett Packard Enterprise analyzed thousands of online conversations surrounding the “top six” categories. It monitored top social media sites and thousands of news sites, using its enterprise search and analytics platform HPE IDOL, to come up with these crowdsourced best bets:

Best Picture: Spotlight

Best Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Best Actor: Matt Damon

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance

Best Actress: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara

Interesting subplot: Although what HPE dubs “social sentiment” leaned one way, the volume of interest in particular nominees largely leaned another. Of split minds, just as so many other movie fans and pundits, like my Predictions & Picks system. Coin toss time.

Buzziest Picture: The Revenant
38% of mentions in posts related to that category

Buzziest Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio – 61%

Buzziest Actress: Brie Larson – 35% (we have a match!)

Buzziest Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu – 70%

Buzziest Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone – 95%

Buzziest Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet – 33%

oscar1wordIf such analytics prove inaccurate Sunday — as in not mirroring the opinions of the 89% male, 84% white and roughly 50% 60-or-older voting members of the academy — at least we can be sure they reflect the public’s tastes in movies and performers.

Using the same mobile tools as the revolutionaries at Maidan or the activists behind the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, perhaps We the small-screen People can help direct future big-screen endeavors.

Meanwhile, my Oscar marathoning score, with just four days and three nights to go: 30/37+12/15 or 81% of all nominees in 23 of the top 24 categories (does not include the Original Song nominees, because I’m not so masochistic as to force myself to watch Fifty Shades of Grey).

Oscar picks: Best Picture

Excuse my lapse — life got in the way of movies.

But with less than a week to go (Academy voting closes Feb. 25), I must make my final plugs. Starting with the top.

Best Picture

American Hustle. Heard of “A-List” entertainment? You don’t need me pointing out to you, I’m sure, that for the past two years, the Best Picture winning title started with “A” — i.e. ” Argo,” and “Artist, The.” Coincidence? Or should they simply stop alphabetizing the ballot because, as the list gets longer, voters seemingly can’t get through it?

628x471Since 1929-30’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” 11 “A” movies have taken home Oscar, including this threepeat from 1949-51:

(For those who forget how to alphabetize, the 11 winners do not include 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind” or 1966’s “A Man for All Seasons.”)

Didn’t expect such cutting analysis?

Seriously, you won’t find this anywhere else, and I’m happy to do the legwork for you. Besides “A,” have any idea what other initial letter has won more Best Picture Oscars?

It’s a tie. No, not “T.” (“The” doesn’t count.) And not “S,” silly.

Happens to be “G.” Think “Gone With the Wind” and the Godfathers. If “American Hustle” doesn’t win this year, I think “Grand Budapest Hotel” has a good shot at winning for 2014, based on the trailer alone — which would put “G” in the lead. Unless “Gravity” wins this year, which makes the “G” force supreme.

Gravity-posterSo does “American Hustle” have an “A” advantage? The full list of Oscar Best Picture winners, in alphabetical and backwards chronological order:

A’s

Oh, almost forgot. Should “American Hustle” win? I think if the Best Picture were only about acting, then yes. This flick is a marvelous showcase of A-list actors acting their best. It’s somewhat Argo-ish, reaching into our recent past with a fun Seventies sensibility. The plot is riveting, there’s just enough cleavage and comedy to make it feel all-American. But it’s not my pick.

Captain Phillips. We Americans like our sea crises, no? “Titanic” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” each won Best Picture, and 1972’s “Poseidon Adventure” won five of its 13 nominations. We also love us some Navy SEALs on the silver screen lately: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor,” even “Dirty Wars.” Plus, the Maersk Alabama, almost as if on cue, is back in the news with the discovery of two dead former Navy SEALs on board.

Another factor to weigh: Tom Hanks, recently named Forbes’ most trusted celebrity but who was otherwise snubbed this year.

My sister clued me in that this film was also a high-seas adventure in acting for the cast. Hanks and the novice actors playing the Somali pirates (who all hail from Minnesota) had not met before shooting their first scene together, the storming the boat. It wasn’t until after the third take that they started hanging out as colleagues, which created the taut tension and realism. But is realism always what we want from a Best Picture? Not me, so I’m not picking this one.

Dallas Buyers Club. There’s something beautifully transformational here: a rough-hewn, homophobic cowboy is diagnosed with AIDS and ends up playing hero to the gay community. Matthew McConaughey is spellbinding, as is Jared Leto as his transgender business partner. But it was McConaughey’s disappearing act that gave this film such a high profile. The film itself may prove too much of a downer to claim Best Picture in this day and age.

Gravity. Smoke and mirrors. This film will be remembered for its leaps and bounds in cinematic wizardry. But while overcoming all of the creative technological hurdles, somebody forgot about the writing.2001 it is not. I felt more sickening isolation watching the red and yellow astronauts spin into obscurity in that Kubrick classic than watching Sandra Bullock tumble like a quilt in a dryer. I felt more isolation watching the old man eat cereal at the end! Besides, the inside of astronauts’ helmets should not fog up. That just bugs me. When I think of this movie, I think of Bullock’s heaving sighs. And, no, I didn’t see it in 3-D. But I refuse to give an Oscar to a picture that relies on 3-D for quality of experience. Give it the Oscar for Visual Effects, but BestPic? I’m holding out.

Her. As the story of an anti-social writer falling in love with an A.I.-infused operating system, this had great potential as a cautionary tale for the 21st century. But three-quarters of the way through, the story breaks down. For production design, it clicks. And it makes a good parable, or even SNL skit, but can’t carry its weight in Oscar gold.

Nebraska. Now we’re talking form and function. The black-and-white format is your first clue that herein lies an old-style “meaning-of-life” movie. Truly sets it apart from today’s mountain of docudramas ripped from the pages of newspapers and history books. With its brilliant stasis and slow takes, “Nebraska” moves you. As the only official “comedy” in the field of nominees, its message about family sneaks up on you: how roles get reversed with age — the parents who once doled out our sustenance eventually rely on us for wish fulfillment. The characters are created out of thin air and, as odd as they are, we relate whole-heartedly to them.

Philomena. Phew, this is a long list of nominees. No wonder no one gets past the G’s. Did the Roman Catholic Church fail to boycott this film? Could have gotten more attention if it had. The sad story of forced adoptions in Ireland spans continents and decades, and is part buddy flick between dame Judi Dench and a wry, charming British journalist, part indictment of a greedy and sinister church masquerading as charitable, but mostly a testament to a mother’s unflinching faith, hope and love. Not since “Doubt” has so much doubt been cast on religion. Forgive me for not picking this one.

12 Years a Slave. If you’re like me and go to the movies to get stirred up or emotionally pureed, this is your winner. No other film made me cry as much this year — in fact, the only other time I shed any tears during any of the other BestPic Noms was at the end of “Captain Phillips.” Beyond that, “Lone Survivor” —a bloody war movie! — and “Saving Mr. Banks” (manipulated by the Mouse!) were my only tear-jerkers. From its poetic production design to at times nauseating narrative, “12 Years a Slave” hit all my buttons. It’s as if we each time-travel with Solomon, live through the outrageous abuses, and then land back in modern day to realize: Not enough has changed. Those characters and the pestilence of racism persist.This movie deserves every accolade and award it shall receive. And I expect it to sweep the Oscars.

This blurb from Entertainment Weekly”s Hillary Busis sums it up. My sentiments exactly:

Why it should win: Because 12 Years is clearly the most Important movie nominated for the Oscars’ main prize this year; you won’t see any high schools adding, say, Philomena to their curricula. And even beyond its historical significance, McQueen’s film is a phenomenal artistic achievement: On a purely visual level, it’s more striking than any other nominee, save perhaps Gravity. (Good luck getting the time-lapse sequence of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s near-lynching out of your brain.) The acting, too, is top-notch, from the film’s three nominated stars down to its less-lauded bit players (Paul Giamatti’s jovial slave trader, Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam’s snake-oil salesmen, Benedict Cumberbatch’s so-called “good” master). And John Ridley’s script manages to ape 19th-century speech patterns without ever sounding too stilted.

12-2

The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m a Scorsese fan but, honestly, I’m not sure why this one is nominated for Best Picture. The kudos for Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio are well-deserved but quite enough this time ’round, Marty. Poor Leo. I always want him to do well come awards season, but this is another case of my boy crying wolf — he was so convincingly loathsome and lovable that voters are only going to be confused. In another filmmaker’s hands, this film would have been less interesting, sure, but it doesn’t deserve a Best Pic nom and won’t walk away with much — maybe Supporting Actor, if it’s lucky.

My pick & prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Note: I’m going with an alphanumeric pick that, if properly alphabetized, should come before “A.” It’s as good a prognosticator as any. But if I’m wrong, the winner will probably start with an “A” or a “G.”

Doing the Oscar ‘Hustle’

american-hustle

Players in “American Hustle” are all dressed up and ready to collect their Oscars.

For the past two Academy Awards seasons, I have blogged about my attempt to see all of the nominated titles. “All” means not just those flicks up for Best Picture, but every film nominated for anything — from documentary shorts to makeup & hairstyling to sound editing and sound mixing (same thing).

I’ve never succeeded.

Because of my limited time, funds and hope, after two seasons of defeat, I had decided not to even try this year. Then, hello! I analyzed the list.

If it were possible to see all the films nominated for any Oscar in any category in any year, looks like this could be the year.

Look at it this way: Eliminate from the count the 15 shorts (there are always 15 shorts) and the 5 documentary features and 5 animated features and 5 foreign films. They’re all static categories whose films generally do not cross over into other categories (animated feature Up in 2009 and 2010’s Toy Story 3, or foreign offerings A Separation in 2011 and 2012’s Amour, are exceptions). With those slots gone, in 2012, there were 31 other unique films nominated. Last year, 24.

This year, there are only 28. Oh. Wait. That’s more than last year. Why does it feel as if there are fewer? Is it because the titles are getting so short?

I wrote about this last year, how titles are increasingly clipped, possibly because of Twitter and the need to get the word out in a condensed way. But compare one-word Philomena to one-word Her. Kinda hard to do a search for Her.

Joaquin Phoenix searches for meaning in "Her."

Joaquin Phoenix searches for meaning in Spike Jonze’s “Her.”

No matter. The nine Best Picture nominees still have a ridiculous monopoly across other categories, and I’ll find some way to back that up with statistics. (Maybe this guy cites the statistics I need.)

However you slice it, the way the Academy focuses on just a handful of films for praise, given the depth of the year’s pool, seems unfair. Lame. Maybe Academy members were also short on time and funds this time around and didn’t see enough movies. Maybe filmmakers were short on funds and ideas and didn’t make enough movies.

The only folks not lazy seem to be Jennifer Lawrence and Leo. Oh, and the marketers / promoters for the nine Best Picture nominees. Someone is being played, and it’s not just the victims of the con artists in American Hustle.

Well, count along with me, and help me decide whether to go for it. As usual, I’ve seen only two Best Picture nominees outta the starting gate (“Gravity” and “American Hustle”) and one other, from the best actress category (“Blue Jasmine”).

Here are all of the nominees, according to the official category hierarchy with no repeats:

  1. American Hustle
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. Dallas Buyers Club
  4. Gravity
  5. Her
  6. Nebraska
  7. Philomena
  8. 12 Years a Slave
  9. The Wolf of Wall Street
  10. Blue Jasmine
  11. August: Osage County (I saw the play; does that count?)
  12. The Croods
  13. Despicable Me 2
  14. Ernest & Celestine
  15. Frozen
  16. The Wind Rises
  17. The Grandmaster
  18. Inside Llewyn Davis
  19. Prisoners
  20. The Great Gatsby (read the book …)
  21. The Invisible Woman
  22. The Act of Killing
  23. Cutie and the Boxer
  24. Dirty Wars
  25. The Square
  26. 20 Feet from Stardom
  27. The Broken Circle Breakdown
  28. The Great Beauty
  29. The Hunt
  30. The Missing Picture
  31. Omar
  32. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  33. The Lone Ranger
  34. The Book Thief
  35. Saving Mr. Banks (rhymes with “Hanks”)
  36. Alone Yet Not Alone (Update: This song has since been disqualified due to shady soliciting of votes. Good for me!)
  37. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  38. All Is Lost
  39. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  40. Lone Survivor (anything like ‘The Lone Ranger’?)
  41. Iron Man 3
  42. Star Trek Into Darkness
  43. Before Midnight

I repeat: All is lost?

And the 15 shorts — always 15:

  1. CaveDigger
  2. Facing Fear
  3. Karama Has No Walls
  4. The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
  5. Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
  6. Feral
  7. Get a Horse!
  8. Mr. Hublot
  9. Possessions
  10. Room on the Broom
  11. Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
  12. Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
  13. Helium
  14. Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
  15. The Voorman Problem

How are you doing? Who’s with me?

Oscar movie date night: Double-dip features

the-oscars_320Finally wrapped up my screening of all nine Best Picture nominees for this year’s Oscars − aptly, “Amour” was a Valentine’s Day morning delight.

Something I noticed about this field’s crop is that they can be paired off thematically. So if you, like me, had a bunch left to see before the Feb. 24 deadline, here is my proposed clumping.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

&

Life of Pi

Animal love.

The movies go marching two by two, so bring on the animals — and the water and questionable boats. Both of these coming-of-age films are visual masterpieces, one from Bollywood, the other the bayou. “Beasts” follows a young girl’s survivalist spirit amid powerful forces of nature, namely floods and flawed humans, although there is no judgment here, only acceptance and shimmering love. The work is primal, pungent poetry, and if you don’t cry puddles — well, I won’t judge. In “Pi,” a lone teen survivor of a shipwreck discovers his manhood via primal fear on the high seas — but the focus is on spirituality and faith, storytelling and myth. In each of these Big Picture pictures, a colorful tale is wildly manipulated, heavily accented narration is riveting, pain gets painted over by emotion-drenched cinematography, and our intrepid protagonists go by funky nicknames: Hushpuppy and Pi. I’d suggest seeing “Beasts” first, as it catches you off guard and leaves you breathless, but is still a mere entree to the more lush (if you can imagine) “Pi,” with its cohesive and slightly more uplifting script — plus, its animals aren’t CGI-generated. The opening titles alone — touring an exotic zoo in 3-D David Attenborough mode — are worth the ticket, as is a goofy meerkat scene and sublime sea shots. For two movies featuring no Hollywood stars, these leave you starry-eyed.

Django Unchained

&

Lincoln

For those not into bondage, an anti-slavery pair.

Attention, even Civil War re-enactors: You need to see “Django” first, to summon proper outrage over slavery, before “Lincoln” tackles the seed of a solution. As campy as Quentin Tarantino’s gory frolic is — no question he was influenced by Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” — there is a moment in which he lays out stark horrors like a plantation owner’s best china. It’s not during any of those exploding-body-parts parts, but at Candieland when Laura Cayouette as Leo DiCaprio’s “beloved sister” Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, delicate in her corseted finery and doting on petticoated youngsters, contrasts with a naked and tortured Kerry Washington, a serial runaway slave who is lifted from a living grave to be primped as a drop-in guest’s sex toy. It’s akin to seeing fresh-faced German children playing in the commandant’s yard on the other side of the wall at Auschwitz. Powerful stuff, even if some of Tarantino’s touches border on sophomoric, anachronistic and iMovie-ish. Contrast the near lawlessness of his Wild West and ridiculously high body count to the marbled “law”ful pillars of Washington and a lawyerly drama, all climaxing with one famous murder, only alluded to. The shadowy, internal, parched tones of “Lincoln” prove a departure for typically vivid filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and while he turns the mechanics of lobbying into a spy thriller, it gets a little mopey and droopy at the end. My two cents: “Lincoln” is either overhyped or overdone this year. Granted, the acting chops in both movies prove jaw-dropping. But freed slave Django is every bit as heroic as the Great Emancipator. And given neither Jamie Foxx nor DiCaprio was nominated, Christoph Waltz and Daniel Day-Lewis should win their races uncontested.

Argo

&

Zero Dark Thirty

Undercover heroes.

Speaking of history, two suspense-packed docudramas for which we all know the endings go head to head, newsreel to reel. They each retrace special-ops daring-do’s under much-maligned Democratic administrations. But government is not what’s glorified — rather, two headstrong, non-political CIA agents, played biting-lip coolly by Ben Affleck and Jessica Chastain, get their due. Grainy footage helps legitimize “Argo,” and its excellent editing plus authentic costume and production design make it the better film. It also helps resurrect Jimmy Carter’s legacy, a bit. “Zero Dark Thirty,” while closer to the audience’s heart and memory (how can a dusty Iranian hostage crisis compete with 9/11 villains?) seemed timed as part of a campaign to cement Barack Obama’s legacy. It was billed as part journalism, but someone should have found a better editor. Some of the dramatization, of course, can neither be confirmed nor denied. Just odd how everything covert has become overt this year. I’d watch chronologically: 1970s then 20-aughts to tens.

Silver Linings Playbook

&

Amour

Crazy in love.

For better or worse, in sickness or in health. “Amour,” an Austrian film in French with English subtitles set in the romantic cauldron of Paris, has got the ” ’til death do us part” part down. Old people and pigeons, right? Wrong. This opus, about a piano teacher in frail health whose patient husband rises to the challenge of diapering and spoon-feeding her, testifies to love’s greatest test. The irony is all we see of Paris is through veiled windows; their suspended-animation love never leaves the flat. Arresting in that there is no score, not during titles or credits — the only music are piano strains integral to the flow. The silence at times is deafening. Compare that to the boisterous “Silver Linings Playbook,” a twisted Cinderella story that evokes both “Garden State” and “Pulp Fiction” (for me) and follows love’s glorious gestation, in all of its noisy, messy madness. Again, I’d watch chronologically: new love, then vintage love.

Les Misérables

A love-hate relationship.

One might pair this Frenchie-themed flick with “Amour” or even one of the historical treatises … but “Les Miz” is its own monster, more of a revolutionary third wheel, and needs to be seen by itself so you can either retch or rave, unrestricted. I personally found the movie version more palatable than the stage version, even rapturous. But, as they say, all’s fair in love and war, and vive la différence, if you find any.