Let's Talk Oscars

Is Kate Winslet Having Her Tracy Flick Moment?
All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 20 2009 5:13 PM

Let's Talk Oscars


Cher Collègue,

There's a line from somewhere (I like to think it's the Marx Brothers, but I suspect it's really Car Talk)—"Do two people who don't know what they're talking about know more or less than one person who doesn't know what he's talking about?"—that I always think of when Oscar time rolls around. The answer, of course, is that the solo ignoramus and the paired ignoramuses have the same knowledge quotient, zero. But the two know-nothings are happier, because instead of monologuing at the water cooler, they can build beautiful castles (of bullshit) in Spain. (Oops, sorry if that hit a nerve. My condolences on the whole pepper spray thing.)


You and I aren't the only dolts—when it comes to the Oscars, there's no such thing as expertise, and received wisdom is as reliable or unreliable a guide as "logistic regression." Everybody knows what the locks are this year—Heath Ledger for supporting actor, Slumdog for best picture, Boyle for best director, Wall-E for animation. Then there are the tossups: Penn and Rourke, which is a true dead heat, and increasingly, Winslet and Streep. Kate has been coming off as something of a Tracy Flick in the press, overly earnest and grasping about her lust for that statue. And even voters who'd like to see her win may simply be too skeeved out by The Reader's icky premise to give it vicarious praise by awarding it anything. I know if I had an academy vote, I would blanch at checking off any box that appeared next to that title.

Anthony Dod Mantle, the garbage-heap-gilding wizard of Slumdog Millionaire, seems to me most likely to take the prize for best cinematography. This raises the question of whether garbage heaps should be gilded in the first place—I'm of the camp that found Boyle's aestheticization of Indian poverty unsettling. But moral quandaries aside, there's something irritating about automatically handing the cinematography award to the movie that looked the prettiest. (This happens with costume design too; as my Slate colleague Julia Turner has pointed out, period films always, always, always win in this category, even though contemporary costumes, like the vaguely Goth windbreakers in the unnominated Twilight, are arguably harder to do well.) Maryse Alberti, whose handheld work in The Wrestler was both virtuosic and almost unbearably intimate, wasn't even nominated, and I can't help but think that's because no one in The Wrestler stood around backlit train stations haloed in golden light, with their chromium-yellow scarves wafting in slow motion. They were too busy barfing in VFW hall locker rooms.

As for best short: yes, that sly bunny in Presto, the Pixar cartoon that preceded screenings of Wall-E in many markets, is a keeper. But I agree with Brian Tallerico at Videohound that allowing a polished, expensive high-profile Pixar film into this category is "sort of like bringing a gun to a knife fight." Shouldn't the breakthrough success of Wall-E open doors for more than just Pixar? So I'll root for Oktapodi, on behalf of underrepresented cephalopods everywhere. Its chief animator, Julien Bocabeille, has just landed a job at DreamWorks, so maybe we'll see more lovelorn flying octopuses in 2009. A girl can dream.

'Til Sunday night,

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.