How To Win Oscar Pools & Influence People

Tonight’s Academy Awards are expected to go chalk. 

Although I myself am not a gambler, I have listened to enough sports-centric podcasts in which the art of placing bets is a running subplot, and from there I’ve gleaned the meaning of the term: the chalk is the favorite, the most predictable outcome. 

This dates back to early horse racing culture when old-timey bookies recorded their bets on a blackboard. “The odds would change over and over as more and more people bet on the favorite. The horse became known as the “chalk” because the horse’s name would disappear in chalk dust as the bookie constantly erased and lowered the horse’s odds.” 

There you go, some solid fun trivia you can share at any Oscars party you might attend tonight. It will probably be super appreciated by your fellow guests, because the ceremony itself might otherwise be a bit snooze-y, at least when it comes to the major categories: 1917. Mendes. Zellwegger, Phoenix, Pitt, Dern. All of them, their names absolutely covered in metaphorical chalk dust as they have racked up wins in the precursor events, each on their own inexorable march towards the Oscars.

Which isn’t to say that they aren’t deserving. 1917 was a genuine feat of filmmaking, and its precise execution is owed entirely to director Sam Mendes. In a movie year of phenomenal performances, the acting frontrunners do stand a cut above the rest, although full disclosure that I have not seen Judy (has anyone?). I’m not advocating upsets purely for the sake of them, and I understand that there is value in consensus– if Zion Williamson is on the board, you don’t draft Cam Reddish just to make things interesting. 

But is it so wrong for me to want a little chaos with my Oscars ceremony? Some slight surprise, an underdog who comes out of nowhere, a victor who has not even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. “Moonlight, you guys won best picture. This is not a joke, come up here. ‘Moonlight’ has won best picture.” — something like that. 

Alas, in the likely case that nothing of the sort happens at the Dolby Theatre tonight, I’ve prepared a contingency plan to keep things interesting: some mildly controversial takes. Just because there is apparent harmony among the members of the Academy is no reason not to try and sow discord between your viewing companions, I always say. 

Some of these are more defensible than others, and some of them are entirely half-baked. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to lob these same conversational grenades between commercials at your own Oscars gathering. Worst case, someone dumps popcorn on you, in which case your night is a lot of things, but it isn’t boring.           

More movies should be TV shows

Image result for television tumblr

Fight me: roughly half of the Best Picture nominees would have been better as limited television series. This is a common refrain for me whenever I leave a movie– I recently watched (and adored) Taylor Swift’s Netflix documentary, and even that I thought would’ve been better served by an episodic format. 

Apologies to cinephiles everywhere, television just makes for better storytelling. There is more time to develop characters, to explore themes, to accomplish everything an auteur set out to do. 

Unless your story is deliberately narrow in scope (as with Marriage Story, centered around two people going through a divorce) or intentionally adhering to a specific time frame (the three days of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood; the eight-ish hour journey of 1917) I believe that television is the way to go. 

Now that bonafide movie stars are making the switch to television (see: McConnaughey comma  Matthew; Witherspoon comma Reese) and that television’s former so-called lack of prestige is no longer a factor, we should see more and more filmmakers consider the change. 

Six more hours of Greta Gerwig’s wonderful screenplay could’ve done full, proper justice to Louisa Alcott’s original Little Women. Ford vs Ferrari stretched out over a number of episodes would’ve better captured and conveyed the gruelling length of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Martin Scorcese is basically already there with The Irishman’s three and a half hour runtime– what’s an hour or two more?       

The kid in Marriage Story was not worth the legal fees 

Image result for marriage story tumblr

I am not a parent, so maybe my attitude on this will one day change, but I think sometimes a person just has to acknowledge that their kid is kind of a terrible one, and cut their losses. 

Henry Barber, the kid in Marriage Story, is one such kid. Adam Driver’s character, Charlie Barber, nearly bankrupts himself, antagonizes his soon-to-be-ex-wife and subverts his otherwise thriving career all to maintain custody over a child who literally steps over his prone body while he bleeds out on a kitchen floor. I’ve heard that parental love is unconditional but man, in this case, I think an Apple contract worth of terms and conditions ought to apply.

Heath Ledger’s Joker remains undefeated 

Image result for heath ledger joker tumblr

Joaquin Phoenix is a generational talent who is using his awards-season platform to bring awareness to climate change, to call out racial inequality and to comfort poor little pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse. Also, he once played a phenomenal Johnny Cash– he is already an MVP in my book, and I do hope to see him win tonight. 

However, in the pantheon of Jokers only one can stand the tallest, and to me that will forever be Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

The word “iconic” gets thrown around with a cavalier incongruity but in Ledger’s case it is justly applied. That greasy green hair, those morbid bits of Chaplin-eque slapstick, that manic flickering of tongue. His interpretation of the Joker  is viewed now with an added weight because tragically it was his last, and this performance is our consolation prize to what should have been a longer, even more impressive career. 

Phoenix obviously can’t compete with that extra emotional layer, but he does bring his own reckless intensity to the role. He transforms himself physically the way that Ledger once contorted himself emotionally. He invites the audience to empathize with the Joker, to understand him and know him, while Ledger kept the character at a deliberate, enigmatic distance. In many ways it’s unfair to compare the two performances because even if they’re portraying the same character, they’re each trying to say something different. 

By now,  hundreds of accomplished actors have taken a swing at playing Hamlet, regardless of the acclaim for any performance that came before them. The same will probably be true for the Joker– Ledger wasn’t the last rendition and Phoenix certainly won’t be either. The character is too richly nuanced for any performer to resist. 

The thing about iconography though, is that it belongs to the intangibles. Are there more impressive paintings in the Louvre than the Mona Lisa? Absolutely, but they’re not the one thousands of tourists flock to see. In the same way, and for the same nearly imperceptible reasons, Heath Ledger’s Joker will always be the best.  

The recipe for the perfect Little Women cast: equal parts 1994 Little Women and 2019 Little Women

Image result for 1994 2019 little women
via catchplay
  • Jo: Winona Ryder (1994) vs Saoirse Ronan (2019)  (honestly very close to a pick’em)
  • Amy: Kirsten Dunst/Samantha Matthis (1994) vs Florence Pugh (2019)
  • Meg: Trini Alvarado (1994) vs Emma Watson (2019) (a landslide victory) 
  • Beth: Clare Danes (1994) vs Eliza Scanlen (2019)
  • Laurie: Christian Bale (1994) vs Timothée Chalamet (2019)
  • Professor Baehr: Gabriel Byrne (1994) vs Louis Garrel (2019)
  • Marmie: Susan Sarandon (1994)  vs Laura Dern (2019)
  • Aunt March: Mary Wickes (1994) vs Meryl Streep (2019)

Comparing art in the hope of appointing a conclusive winner is a ridiculous and futile exercise where nearly everyone leaves unconvinced and disappointed, BUT it is very fun to see everyone’s dresses.     

Image result for oscars tumblr
via OscarsSunday

Of the nominees, Little Women and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood were the ones I enjoyed best. Again, I am not a gambler in the tradition of Kenny Rogers, but I know the difference between my favorites and the prohibitive favorites. It is extremely unlikely that either of my picks will walk away with that coveted Best Picture trophy. 

But in a field this varied, how can you possibly pit them against one another and declare any of them the best? Mere paragraphs earlier I struggled to make the case for one performance being superior to another, and that was in regard to people who were playing the same character. What criteria could you reasonably use to judge all of these films? 

The movies nominated tonight across the 24 categories will each mean different things to different viewers, just as each of their creators had different intentions in making the films. Some were technically impressive, some featured wondrous performances, and some were marked by narratives that struck right at the soul. 

The Academy voters don’t have stats or hard data points to look at while they determine their winners, only the emotions that each film provoked. Maybe that’s as valid a measure as anything. After all, is there anything less predictable than the human heart?

Perhaps this Oscars ceremony will involve some chaos after all. Although I still wouldn’t bet on it.    

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s