And the Oscar goes to…

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I didn’t participate in J.T.’s “Who Influenced You?”  thread yesterday, not because I don’t
have tons of people I should be on my knees thanking every day for their
inspirations.   But really,
it’s the meme thing.   There’s
just something soul-killing about it. 
 Look, the whole reason I
started writing story structure articles to begin with was that I just didn’t
have anything more to say about myself.

But if I HAD participated in the meme that was or maybe
still is going around, “Twenty-Five Things You Don’t Know About Me”, this would
have been one of them.

I win Oscar pools.

I don’t gamble, hate cards, don’t buy lottery tickets, am
bored senseless in casinos… but over the years I have won thousands of dollars
on casual Oscar pools, and have made other friends who took my picks a few
hundred here and there, too.  And let me  be clear – the vast majority of these Oscar pools that I've won have been at parties IN HOLLYWOOD, where I was betting against other screenwriters, directors, actors, agents, DPs, editors, production designers – many of whom were arguably more clued in than I was.

actually won my first Oscar Derby when I was sixteen years old and entered a
contest in the local paper.  
I think that’s young enough to count as evidence of a genetic

Or maybe it was just foreshadowing. 

So I was going to post another story structure article
today, but hell, it’s Oscar weekend, and why should we at Murderati be exempt?   I bet you all want to dish.  And myself, I’m curious if this
talent I have was mostly a product of living in Southern California and just
having it all in the air.  
This year I am NOT in California and in fact just got back from out of
the country, so I don’t feel at all  plugged in.  
In other words, no promises!

All that disclaimed, let’s take a look, here.   And here’s a link to a printable
Oscar ballot
, for your own purposes and so that I don’t have to list all the
nominees, myself.

Best Picture.    I’m not going out on a limb to say that SLUMDOG
MILLIONAIRE is a juggernaut.  
But if you’ll remember, I raved about it the second I saw it.  

Best Director: 
SLUMDOG’S Danny Boyle, whom I’ve loved since the outrageous

Best Original Screenplay:  Dustin Lance Black for MILK.   And anyone who hasn’t seen this one – what are you
waiting for?   Bio pics are
about the hardest genre of all to pull off, and this one lets you live this
history AND a wrenching, uplifting story at the same time.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy for SLUMDOG.   I understand perfectly why
Indians would take offense at the character changes he made to Vikas Swarup’s
novel.   This is a
quintessentially Hollywood film, stereotypes and all.  But as Hollywood films go, it’s magic.

(Note how Oscar ballots don’t list the names of the
nominated screenwriters.   The
“Big Six” Oscar ballots don’t list the screenwriting categories at all.   Now, aren’t you glad you’re an

Best Actress: 
Kate Winslet.   
Haven’t seen THE READER yet – that’s tonight.   Didn’t particularly care for her performance in
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (and the film – not recommended!!)   No matter what
she does in READER, and no matter how much I love her, and I truly do, I cannot
in my wildest imagining believe that she even comes close to Meryl Streep’s
literally breathtaking performance in DOUBT.   But if you’re voting to win, that’s the buzz.   (I heard someone put it
perfectly, in Hollywood terms: 
“The movie’s about the Holocaust.   How can she lose?”)

Best Actor: 
Here’s the real race.  
If I were voting my heart, Sean Penn, hands down.   He didn’t play Harvey Milk – he
became Harvey Milk.   I
completely forgot that was Sean Penn up there.    But Mickey Rourke was heartbreaking in THE
WRESTLER, and Hollywood loves a comeback.    And Frank Langella was truly mesmerizing in
FROST/NIXON, and as another prognosticator put it, Rourke and Penn have the
same fan base so they might split the vote and give Langella the edge (these
are the things you REALLY have to consider when you’re handicapping the
Oscars).   Every one of these
men deserves an Oscar for his performance.    I say Penn, but my guess is as good as yours,

Best Supporting Actress:  Here’s a rule of thumb for voting this category:   “Youngest, cutest.”   Sad, but true.   The race is between Viola Davis
and Penelope Cruz.   
Both stellar, Oscar-worthy performances in polar opposite roles.   I hear people saying, “Viola
might get it because of Obama.”  
This is the kind of talk you hear for months around Hollywood, really,
it’s fascinating.    I’d
love to see Viola, but Penelope was better than I’ve ever seen her (and I’m not
really a fan) in VICKI CHRISTINA BARCELONA.   I say Penelope gets it.

Best Supporting Actor:   And this is no race at all.   Heath Ledger, and it’s really just too sad.

Now, if you’re going for the whole ballot,  there are a couple of other good bets I
can give you. 

SLUMDOG will probably sweep, so you can’t go too far wrong
just marking it down for all the tech categories, sound, editing, effects, it’s
nominated for.  It won’t WIN in all
of them, probably, but if you’re playing to win, it’s still your best bet. 

Animated Feature: 
WALL-E – unbeatable. 

Best Editing: 
almost always wins along with director.   Chris Dickens for SLUMDOG, in case you were thinking
of voting for something else.

This is the one that I think has a chance of going elsewhere.   This might be the one big award
that BENJAMIN BUTTON gets.  
But that’s a lot about my personal taste.

Best Song:  I’d
go for the one from WALL-E, but haven’t heard it.

Art Direction, Makeup, Visual Effects – SLUMDOG’S out of the
running for all of these and it’s going to be a battle between BENJAMIN BUTTON
and THE DARK KNIGHT.  As a matter
of fact I’m most curious about these production awards.   I found BUTTON a very
unsatisfying movie but the look of it was just stupefyingly lovely, and I’d like
to see it rewarded for that.   
There’s sort of a backlash against the film, though, a lot of grumbling,
and a lot of Hollywood talkers think THE DARK KNIGHT hasn’t been recognized

Documentary feature, short feature, animated short:  the handicapping rule of thumb here is
– Is there a Holocaust movie?  Vote
for that one.    This
year I know nothing about any of them but I have heard people rave about MAN ON
WIRE, for whatever that’s worth.

So there you go.  
Not all-inclusive, but if you don’t generally have luck at these Oscar
pools, it might help you.   Or – not.   That's why they call it gambling.

Me, I actually have other plans tomorrow night, so I’ll be
speeding through the show on DVR later.  
If you’re not at an actual Oscar party, and drinking heavily, it’s the only way to get through
it.   ;) 

I do have to say that I’m grateful for some truly
exceptional films and performances this year.   I can’t remember when I was last excited about so many
WRESTLER, GRAN TORINO (but I definitely don’t want to get into THAT debate
right now!).   

If you haven’t seen some of these, do yourself a favor and
go.  Sometimes Hollywood just gets it right.

Okay, people – let’s hear it.   Your favorite films?   Writing?  
Production design?  
Who should win, and who do you think WILL win?

Are there any other Oscar pool pros out there?

And Monday, we can talk about the clothes.






23 thoughts on “And the Oscar goes to…

  1. R.J. Mangahas

    Well Alex, I may have to get in on that clothes discussion too 😉 Unfortunately, I don’t get to the movies as often as I would like, but here are some of my choices.

    Film: SLUMDOGActor: MICKEY ROURKESupporting Actor: HEATH LEDGERActress: (Didn’t see listed movies :-[ )Supporting Actress: PENELOPE CRUISEOriginal Screenplay: IN BRUGESDirector: DANNY BOYLEAnimated: WALL-E

  2. Neil Nyren

    I think you’re spot on, Alex. And, yes, MAN ON WIRE is an extraordinarily good movie — it’s a lock for the doc award.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    R.J., I have some screenwriter/producer friends who are in almost murderous rages that IN BRUGES hasn’t gotten the noms and awards it deserves.

    I am ashamed to say I haven’t seen it yet but things have been so crazy, I just missed it.

  4. Louise Ure

    It does say something about my life that I haven’t seen any of the nominated films, but I’m holding Slumdog close to my heart because of your recommendation, X.

    Have a good time at whatever Oscar party you’re attending or throwing!

  5. Stacey Cochran

    Hey Alex,

    I am an Oscar Party Sunday at my house. If you and Michael would like to come, you’re totally invited. We’d love to you!


    P.S. This year, I did a YouTube search for all the short films… several of them are online.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Louise, I hope that some of these movies might give you comfort and distraction, when you need it. Let us know what you need.

    Thanks, Stacey, but we really do have a birthday party that trumps the Oscars, not to mention that Michael would rather – well, maybe I won’t mention what he’d rather do than watch the Oscars. Let’s just say it’s not a priority for him.

  7. Allison Brennan

    Sad, but true: I haven’t seen any of the movies you listed except WALL-E and THE DARK KNIGHT. I haven’t looked at the ballot yet. But honestly, I always get so mad when I watch the Oscars because the movie I want to win rarely does. And I was furious when Russell Crowe didn’t win for A BEAUTIFUL MIND. (Hmm, I think that was the one???) I remember thinking he was brilliant in that movie and truly became the character. I think that movie won, and the movie I loved the best (LOTR) lost. Probably because it didn’t have a resolution. But it was epic.

    But I’m a populist when it comes to movies. I seem to remember my favorite movie of 2007 was dissed, too. (THE DEPARTED.) But it’s hard to be a good judge when you don’t see all the movies up for an award.

    I did like THE DARK KNIGHT though every scene went on about two minutes too long, and the ending could have been edited down as well–I didn’t need the moral of the story to hit me over the head so many times . . .

  8. Neil Nyren

    Oh, and Best Foreign Film! A great contest between two truly stellar movies, WALTZ WITH BASHIR and THE CLASS. BASHIR has the edge, I think, because it’s so innovative and portrays a superheated political question with great humanism, but THE CLASS is the most exciting movie about, of all things, a Parisian middle school classroom that you’ll ever see. Push comes to shove, the money’s on BASHIR.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, gosh, I knew I’d forget something important. Thanks for those!

    I’m really hoping the local art houses will do what they often do and screen all the nominated Best Foreign Films over a month. So often those are the best movies of the year, period.

  10. Gayle Carline

    Saw Doubt as a play, and I have to tell you, I didn’t care for it. Felt like the playwright had rolled up their morals like a newspaper and was hitting me on the nose with them. But I love Meryl. I’m really going to just sit back tomorrow and enjoy the Oscars, no matter who wins. There are so many fine films this year.

    But I’ll definitely chime in my two cents when you start talking about the clothes. I’m no fashionista, but I know a “Don’t” when I see it. After the Grammies, I sat at my laptop and gave an impromptu commentary about each of the red carpet pix for my teenaged son’s benefit. His comment to me was, “You’re so weird. I need to videotape you when you do this.”

  11. pari

    Another boring person here — haven’t seen any of these films. How lame is that?

    But then, I haven’t seen a new movie in, um . . . oh, it’s just too depressing.

  12. toni mcgee causey

    The thing that makes the Oscars (and other awards shows) worth watching is to also watch the liveblogging from — there is some heavy snarktastic commentary going on over there on a regular basis.

  13. Andi Shechter

    I’m usually wrong except once on Oscar night when i have a fist-pump moment because i agree with one vote that i thought would never happen. i don’t see a lot of movies, but I read a lot.

    This year, I’m emotionally invested big time. See, I lived in Oakland in he mid-1970s and was involved in politics and was at the Parade and worked against Prop 6 and I was there, i was there. As i’ve no doubt bored every person I know, that’s my friend Frank in the movie (he’s the guy in the hat you see in just about every scene at Castro Camera, or at a party, meeting at Harvey’s house, speech. Those of you who know science fiction might know Frank M Robinson) . it’s a very very weird feeling watching a movie where you can actually say, holy wowie, I was THERE. I was though.

    And as you say, Alex, Sean Penn didn’t act. I hear he’s a good actor, I simply haven’t seen him in anything until now (I cannot get myself to watch “Dead Man Walking” and have zero interest in “Mystic River”, etc.) But honest and true and for real and cross my heart, i don’t know that I have ever seen a better acting job in my life (and that counts Peck as Atticus Finch, a role he played flawlessly) but yeah, Sean Penn WAS. And that’s hard to do. I hear Langella was fine (and i bet he was from the trailers) but I still was aware of “Actor Frank Langella”. I lost Sean Penn in his portrayal of Harvey Milk and had to remind myself at times that i was watching what i was watching. Folks, he’s that good. He’s stunning. He’s a damn miracle and should win because no one can match that. Whhooo boy.Anyone who believes they have juju and don’t mind shoving it in that direction, give the man the award he deserves. Never mind that the suunuvabitch made me cry for a ridiculously long time.And yeah, i think Van Sant deserves some credit for how he made it happen.And the weekend after we saw that we went to “Defiance.” I’m officially emotionally wrung out for the winter. Check back with me in the spring.

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Andi, it does not surprised me in the slightest that you were there, helping making this movement happen.

    Thank you for your story, and thank you for your work.

    I cried all the way through the film. I am so grateful that good people keep uniting to do the right thing.

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Gayle, there really are SO many fine films this year. There are some years that almost nothing deserves to win… I wish we could give some of this year’s films some of last year’s Oscars.

    Pari, it’s just not acceptable that you’re not seeing some of these films. It’s part of your JOB as a writer to see the best movies.

    Oh, sorry, the caffeine just kicked in. Let me try that another way.

    You deserve to see these movies. Please don’t deprive yourself, as a person or an artist.

  16. Andi Shechter

    Oh gosh, I just assumed that half the reason some of us (ok, me) watch the award show is to be snarky about the clothing on our own, right? I mean does anyone but me remember the Year of the Peplum? (I think I had to go research what that flouncy thing was called. I can’t actually watch other people being snarky. I’m awful enough as it is!)Alex. Thank you. What a fine thing to say. And i’m glad to know I wasn’t the only person crying all the way through. I’d warned Stu it was going to be emotional. i had no idea how much. It was ruly WEIRD to feel, at times, like I was watching a documentary that any second, turning a corner, would show me standing over there with my friends.”I am so grateful that good people keep uniting to do the right thing.” No kidding. No matter how scary. The guy changed our lives,just by starting small.And talking about this film with another friend who’s a mystery writer i went and actually looked the guy up. Sean Penn’s father was blacklisted. Makes you wonder what growing up with that must have been like (and his mother’s an actor.)Thank you for what you said to me.


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