Friday, February 20, 2009

Camera Obscura: Nate Silver Predicts The Oscars; Fans Put Whedon in Orbit

The baseball and politics stats analyst and mega algorithm maker Nate Silver has turned his machine and his mind towards Sunday night's Oscar awards. (Though no predictions on whether or not the show will actually attract or interest viewers in general. More on that later. And more later on Weirdest Oscar Nominations.)

Hollywood and the AMPAS folks seem a most likely area for Silver to root around in, as it blends the elements of politics (of the studios and guilds) and baseball's emotional resonance as an American pastime all into one stew. Silver posted his take at his blog FiveThirtyEight, and expanded on how he came to his choices in a story for New York Magazine here.

Formally speaking, this required the use of statistical software and a process called logistic regression. Informally, it involved building a huge database of the past 30 years of Oscar history. Categories included genre, MPAA classification, the release date, opening-weekend box office (adjusted for inflation), and whether the film won any other awards. We also looked at whether being nominated in one category predicts success in another. For example, is someone more likely to win Best Actress if her film has also been nominated for Best Picture? (Yes!) But the greatest predictor (80 percent of what you need to know) is other awards earned that year, particularly from peers (the Directors Guild Awards, for instance, reliably foretells Best Picture). Genre matters a lot (the Academy has an aversion to comedy); MPAA and release date don’t at all. A film’s average user rating on IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) is sometimes a predictor of success; box grosses rarely are. And, as in Washington, politics matter, in ways foreseeable and not."

I'd say he's right on the most part, but seldom do folks who predict the Oscars score 100%. Here is the breakdown:

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (86% chance of victory)
Best Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (51% chance of victory)
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (71% chance of victory)
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader (68% chance of victory)
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire (99.7% chance of victory)
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire (99.0% chance of victory)

I have to say a word here about Heath Ledger.

I hope he wins for his performance as The Joker in "The Dark Knight". He sadly died prior to the film's release (which jump-starts the emotions, true enough), but his work on screen really defines that movie and is the most notable performance I've ever seen in the sub-genre of superhero/comic-book movies. His work is deceptive. done with such seemingly effortless ease which is in reality a very studied and carefully controlled performance. And he really fills out the notion of what a Villain does in all tales of Good vs Evil -- create chaos for it's own sake, challenge every element of what Good there may be in the world, and as Batman's longtime friend and butler Alfred explains: "
He thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

In many ways, it was a once in a lifetime performance, a benchmark which others will try for some time to reach and surpass.

In a related Oscar-buzzing idea, I ran across a simple question about their Best Picture winners: how many (if any) of those movies do you watch often? Just at a glance, I know that the winners and many nominees from the 1970s are movies I've seen often and will see again -- Patton, The French Connection, The Godfather, Godfather Part 2, The Sting, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - to name a few. (Of course, two I will never see again won that decade, The Deer Hunter and Kramer vs Kramer, both movies of mediocre value today). Nominees include Star Wars, Chinatown, Jaws, Nashville, A Clockwork Orange, American Graffiti, Network, Taxi Driver, etc etc.

The 1980s list sure seems proof there was very little of worth to watch outside of a few exceptions, like Amadeus or The Last Emperor. Who seeks out repeated viewings of "Chariots of Fire" (the winner in 1981) versus a competing nominee like "Raiders of the Lost Ark"?

And for the first time in, like, ever, they have an actual actor hosting the show - Hugh Jackman, who has been hosting the Tony awards for several years, has an accomplished stage background and even takes roles like the comic-book cult hero of Wolverine of The X-Men. Is that enough to attract an audience? I doubt it. It's usually the movies nominated that determine how large the audience for the broadcast will be. And awards shows in general are falling in viewership.

I watch because I am an unrepentant movie-addict.


Fanboys and girls like myself are making NASA jump to our tune. They recently announced a chance for folks to vote on what name should be given to Node 3 of the International Space Station, asking just as they have for the other two (named Unity and Harmony). This time, fans of Joss Whedon and his sci-fi TV show "Firefly" and the movie from it "Serenity" got the name "Serenity" on the list of nominees for Node 3.

When I looked this morning, Serenity is winning with 89% of the vote. You can vote too, until March 20th, at this link (voting box is on the lower right hand side of the page).

Take that, Science!!

And be sure and tune in tonight for the continuing episodes of Whedon's new show "Dollhouse". (NOTE: I am not saying this show is spectacular, but I will watch at least five or six of them before I assume to give it praise or not. Just sayin' ...)
The Spaceship Serenity from 'Firefly'


Just a bit more Oscar oddities for your review -- Did you know that nominated movies include:

SHANKS, a bizarre, macabre fantasy about a deaf mute puppeteer (Marcel Marceau) who learns how to revive and manipulate the dead via an electrical gizmo. Alex North’s music was nominated for Best Original Dramatic Score."

or that --

"CHARIOT OF THE GODS nominated for Best Documentary?"

These and others get a thorough review at the Movie Morelocks Blog. Quick, which Steven Seagal movie was nominated for an Oscar??

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