Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Number cruncing the Oscars

Some great Oscar predictions from Nate Silver, proprietor of FiveThirtyEight.com, crunched some numbers for the Oscars. Woo hoo! His predictions lend some credence to conventional wisdom; Heath Ledger is a lock for Best Supporting Actor, and Slumdog Millionaire is going to take Best Picture and Best Director. By his calculations, Slumdog has a 99% chance of winning Best Picture, while Danny Boyle's chances of winning Best Director are, if you can believe it, even better - 99.7%. Don't bet against those odds! (Complete list of nominees is here.)

For Oscar predictions I use what I call the "Zero Sum Karma Theory of Oscar Predictions." This theory says that there are some movies that deserve some kind of recognition at the Oscars, and will win at least one major award (i.e., not one of the technical or craft awards). A corollary of the theory is that all the recognition that some movies deserve is to be nominated, so they won't be winning anything, because, to paraphrase the cliche, it's an honor to be nominated for them. I put Frost/Nixon in this category. A good movie, but not great, and everyone involved should be happy with their nominations. I thot Frank Langella was very good as Nixon, but this year, Heath Ledger trumps everyone else. And not just because he died - it was just a mind-blowing performance. As a coworker puts it, this year, if I were one of the living Best Supporting Actor nominees, I wouldn't want to win.

I put Milk in the category of "good enough to deserve a major award." I think it will take Best Original Screenplay, which is sort of like second place for Best Picture or Best Director. It's particularly apt as second place for Best Director if the director is one of the screenwriters. This is one reason Quentin Tarantino won Best Screenplay for Pulp Fiction; he lost Best Director that year to Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump, so winning Best Screenplay was sort of a consolation prize. Although, in that case, I'm not even sure it was a consolation prize, because I think the screenplay for Pulp Fiction really did deserve an Oscar, and Tarantino's screenplay may have been better than his diecting for Pulp Fiction. His directing was solid, but the screenplay was, of course, brilliant.

So if Milk wins Best Original Screenplay, which it probably will (I thot the screenplay was excellent), then it will have won one major award. Which means that Sean Penn will not necessarily win Best Actor, although I think his performance was amazing. Which means that Mickey Rourke might win Best Actor simply on the strength of his performance. That's been known to happen - see Swank, Hillary, for Boys Don't Cry.

Silver predicts Tariji P. Henson will win Best Supporting Actress for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Again, the Zero Sum Karma Theory comes into play here. Another name for the Zero Sum Karma Theory is the "It's Gotta Win Something Theory." Benjamin Button is a huge, gorgeous movie, with some wonderful performances, but it falls short of greatness. I haven't seen any of the other movies (Doubt just sounds too depressing), so I can't make much of a comparison, but playing the adoptive mother of a man growing backwards is certainly a challenge. Button should win something, and this would be a good one; other than the two stars, Henson is at the core of the movie.

For Best Actress, Silver predicts Kate Winslet for The Reader. Again, haven't seen it, although I understand that she is naked for parts of it. That's interesting, but, then again, we saw Kate Winslet naked in Titanic. Oh, wait, this is supposed to be about the Oscars. Kate's main competition is Meryl Streep in Doubt, who of course is serious competition. The It's Gotta Win Something Theory says that Doubt does not have to win something, because it doesn't have a lot of nominations - four for acting, one for Best Adapted Screenplay. I have a feeling that for Meryl Streep to win her third Oscar, it has to be for something really stunning. I don't think this is it. I'm going with Kate.

Thanks Nate for the numbers! See you on Sunday, February 22, at 8:00 PM Pacific Time!

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