Archive | February, 2013

The first annual TPY Oscar review spectacular

26 Feb

The Oscars happened! I’m going to talk about them! The amount of words wasted on Oscar recaps on the internet is beyond human comprehension!

My predictions were terrible. Oops. Almost no one I was rooting for won. As per usual.

All the talk is about campaigning and how Argo rounded up votes and the media storylines etc. I hate that people talk about this as a legitimate thing and not as a testament to how stupid the Oscars are. Everyone agrees that Argo wasn’t the year’s best movie, but media people all just shrug and say, “Good job Argo! Can’t wait to see how the campaign goes next year!” This makes me feel like an idiot for caring even though I care about who wins very little.

Related media storyline analysis: If Ben Affleck had been nominated for Best Director, Argo wouldn’t have won Best Picture. It seemed like there was this dumb protest vote campaign against his perceived snub and then all of a sudden it won. Again, stupid.

George Clooney was one of the producers of Argo. He’s been nominated for Oscars in six categories: Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. I doubt he was doing any heavy lifting on his (co-written) screenplays and his name certainly helps, but I can’t think of anyone else with nominations in six categories. Good for him.

I don’t like that Argo won, but I did enjoy seeing Spielberg’s big Oscar grab mostly go down in flames. This was as Oscar-bait a movie as there ever has been and I think it would have been a much better movie if there were no such thing as awards. Way too much of it felt like watching people try to win awards. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tony Kushner can pull that off. Everyone else, not so much.

One thing I love about the Oscars is video montages. Who doesn’t love a good montage? This year there was only one: the In Memoriam. I think they should scrap that. It’s all people no one’s ever heard of and it’s oversentimental and borderline ridiculous. I also feel bad for the dead people who don’t get much applause in the room. In conclusion, this year’s montage situation was dire. Hey Oscars: more montages, fewer host-related comedy bits.

I don’t know why they have host-related comedy bits at all. They’re never ever ever good.* Host-related musical numbers, cold opens, etc. also fall in the never ever ever good category. Just stop already. Get someone sharp to host who can make funny ad-libs etc. and then get your entertainment from all the unscripted parts of a live awards show.** That’s the good part. That’s why people watch. No one’s watching to see Seth MacFarlane do anything. Whether he’s good or not is mostly irrelevant.

*Exception: David Letterman. This was a long time ago, but I thought he was great. Mostly because I think he’s great generally. People who both remember and didn’t hate his weeks-long Oprah/Uma thing are my kind of people.

**and video montages

There’s your comedy, folks

The main thing I thought Mr. MacFarlane brought to the show was clapping. I’ve never seen a more enthusiastic or frequent clapper.

In my Oscar preview I said that Jennifer Lawrence comes off as dumb sometimes. I kind of feel bad about that. After more analysis I think that may have been a misreading. I think she is, in addition to being very young, just much less guarded and more open than most famous people. That is to say I think she cares less than most celebrities how people like me perceive her. Maybe that’s also a misreading. Who knows.

Jennifer Lawrence thank you for being interesting

I liked how they used snippets from movie scores instead of generic interstitial music. They should do that every year.

I thought the live music was pretty good. The Chicago/Les Mis things kind of dragged. Would have worked better as a montage. Simple fact.

This video from the internet was much more entertaining than any part of the Oscar broadcast. HINT.

I’ve seen 63 of the 85. How many have you seen?

The first annual TPY Oscar preview spectacular

21 Feb

There are one thousand of these on the internet this week. I don’t care. Here’s mine.

Best Motion Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Who will win: Lincoln. It’s the quintessential Oscar movie. People will vote for it lest their peers think they approve of slavery. Plus it’s actually a pretty good movie. The movie with the most overall nominations usually wins. The sense of inevitability surrounding it might actually be it’s biggest weakness. If I were a voter, I could imagine going against a movie if everyone always talked about how it would win. I hear Argo is getting a lot of heat. Roger Ebert thinks it’ll win. I don’t see it. It wouldn’t be the worst choice ever. I don’t think the other nominees have any chance.

Who I hope wins: Amour. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I think it’s pretty clearly the best movie nominated. The acting, the director, everything about this one was great. It’s hard for me to imagine a foreign language movie winning, but last year a silent film won, so who knows.

Who should win: The Master. This was the best movie of the year. Amour might be close. In twenty years, people will be talking about them as classics and no one will give any thought to Lincoln or Argo. Unfortunately I think that’s pretty common. If you look at the list of past winners, there are some really embarrassing choices. Maybe I’ll write a post about that sometime.

Achievement in Directing
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Michael Haneke, Amour
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Who will win: Spielberg. One of his periodic big prestige pieces. This one was a lot better than some of this others. Good for him I guess.

Who I hope wins: Haneke. To me what he did in Amour was more difficult and more impressive than what Spielberg did in Lincoln. Amour takes place entirely in an apartment. There are really only three characters. It’s a story that could easily drift into schmaltz. Haneke managed it all perfectly.

Who should win: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master. Again, I think Haneke is a close second. Maybe I’ll change my mind after I see these again. Anderson will eventually win this in 2022 or something for a movie not as good as The Master and everyone in Hollywood will congratulate themselves for giving him the award. But there will be a younger director in 2022 with a better movie who should have won and the cycle will repeat all over. This happens all the time. The Oscars really are stupid.

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Who will win: Day-Lewis. I think this is the lock of the night. He’s a really good actor.

Who I hope wins: Day-Lewis

Who should win: Day-Lewis. Although Jean-Louis Trintignant should have at least been nominated. He was better than any of the other four.

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Who will win: Lawrence. It’s not really her fault she’s ten years or so too young for the role. She was good. I’ve been impressed with Ms. Lawrence in every movie of hers I’ve seen. She has a surprising amount of emotional intelligence. I say surprising because if you’ve ever seen an interview with her, she comes off as kind of…well…dumb. Sorry Jennifer. Maybe that’s just a function of her being 22. I think voters will give her a little extra credit for Winter’s Bone two years ago. Most years that would have been a winning performance. Best actress that year was the most stacked acting field I can remember.

Who I hope wins: Riva. This movie wouldn’t have worked without a great performance from her. It’s hard to be as affecting as she was without anything flashy to do. She hardly moves in the entire movie. Probably the most memorable performance of the year.

Who should win: Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz. She should win every year. The best actor working in Hollywood. This wasn’t a great movie, but that didn’t really matter. Ms. Williams brings so much accessibility and vulnerability and general emotion to her roles that I don’t know if there’s anyone else who can compare. I just love watching her in movies. I like her so much that sometimes I wish I had watched Dawson’s Creek when I was in high school.

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin, Argo
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Who will win: Arkin. He was the best part of Argo, and in the supporting categories you’re allowed to be funny, which is his strong suit.

Who I hope wins: Hoffman. His self-job description was one of the best things in the movies this year. I’d be fine with any of these guys winning. Tommy Lee Jones would probably be my least favorite.

Who should win: Hoffman. He had sort of a tightrope to walk in that he played a cult leader and still spent a lot of time playing straight man to Joaquin Phoenix. He’s a really good actor.

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams, The Master
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Sally Field, Lincoln

Who will win: Hathaway. Seems like a lock. I didn’t see Les Mis, so I can’t really comment. I do like her generally.

Who I hope wins: Adams. She’s been nominated in this category four times in the last eight years. Why doesn’t anyone offer her good starring roles? She’s terrific.

Who should win: Adams

Best Animated Feature Film
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Who will win: Wreck-It Ralph. I didn’t see any of these. I’d like to see this one. I hear it was good.

Who I hope wins: Don’t care.

Who should win: Don’t know.

Original Screenplay
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

Who will win: Boal, Zero Dark Thirty. Seems like a good consolation prize for Zero Dark Thirty. It was a good enough screenplay I suppose.

Who I hope wins: Anderson/Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom. I don’t think Mr. Anderson will win any time soon, but I’d love to see it. It would also be cool to see Mr. Tarantino win. I’m really surprised that Flight was nominated. I didn’t think that was a good script at all.

Who should win: Haneke, Amour. I think. It’s hard to evaluate a screenplay in a different language. I always wonder how much gets lost in the subtitles. The fact that this movie was so powerful without dialing up the tears was quite an accomplishment. I was surprised it worked as well as it did.

Adapted Screenplay
Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

Who will win: Kushner, Lincoln. I don’t think this is much of a competition.

Who I hope wins: Kushner, Lincoln. For me this was the best part of Lincoln.

Who should win: Kushner, Lincoln

Best Foreign-Language Film
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Amour (Austria)
No (Chile)
War Witch (Canada)
Kontiki (Norway)

Who will win: Amour. When in doubt go for the movie with other nominations. I didn’t see any of the others.

Who I hope will win: Amour. I’ve talked enough about it already.

Who should win: Amour

Original Score
Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli
Argo, Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Lincoln, John Williams
Skyfall, Thomas Newman

Who will win: Desplat, Argo. This is his fifth nomination. He’s due.

Who I hope will win: Anyone but John Williams. His kind of big dramatic orchestral music is the worst thing about this kind of movie. Dial it down a notch pal.

Who should win: Desplat, Argo. He also did the music for Moonrise Kingdom and Zero Dark Thirty this year. Prolific.

Original Song
“Before My Time,” J. Ralph; Chasing Ice
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” Walter Murphy and Seth McFarlane; Ted
“Pi’s Lullaby,” Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashri; Life of Pi
“Skyfall,” Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth; Skyfall
“Suddenly,” Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boulil; Les Misérables

Who will win: “Skyfall”, Adele. This is the only song any of the voters will know.

Who I hope will win: Anyone but Les Mis. Adding a new song to an adaptation of an established stage musical to try and win this Oscar is a well-established practice. It’s stupid and should never be rewarded.

Who should win: “Skyfall”, Adele. Were there any good rap songs in movies this year? I like when they’re nominated but I can’t think of any.

Achievement in Production Direction
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi

Who will win: Les Mis. It has to win something.

Who I hope will win: Anna Karenina. Go underdogs. This would be a good category for this to win. It seems foolhardy to try to adapt a Tolstoy novel into a movie in most aspects other than production design.

Who should win: Moonrise Kingdom. This is what really makes Wes Anderson movies. He’ll never get recognition here because his movies aren’t big and flashy. That’s too bad. Although a Wes Anderson period drama could be incredible.

Achievement in Cinematography
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Who will win:Kaminski, Lincoln. Seems like an easy choice for lazy voters.

Who I hope will win: Deakins, Skyfall. This is his tenth nomination. He’s never won. He shoots all the Coen brothers movies and a lot of other good movies also. A shame he’s never won.

Who should win: Deakins, Skyfall

Achievement in Costume Design
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror, Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood

Who will win: Les Mis. See above.

Who I hope will win: Anna Karenina. See above.

Who should win: Don’t know.

Best Documentary Feature
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for a Sugar Man

Who will win: Searching for Sugar Man. I’ve heard this is really interesting. I haven’t seen any of these. It should be easier to see documentaries.

Who I hope will win: Don’t care

Who should win: Don’t know

Best Documentary Short Subject
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart

Who will win: ?
Who I hope will win: ?
Who should win: ?

Achievement in Film Editing
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Who will win: Zero Dark Thirty. I don’t know how to tell if a film editor did a good job. I think this is a good guess.

Who I hope will win: Don’t care.

Who should win: Don’t know.

Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables

Who will win: The Hobbit. Lots of makeup in these movies, right?

Who I hope will win: Don’t care.

Who should win: Don’t know.

Best Animated Short Film
Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”

Who will win: ?
Who I hope will win: ?
Who should win: ?

Best Live-Action Short Film
Buzkashi Boys
Death of a Shadow

Who will win: ?
Who I hope will win: ?
Who should win: ?

Achievement in Sound Editing
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

Who will win: Argo. In the telecast this year they should scrap one of the montages and instead explain how this award works. Unless you’re in the industry, how can you tell if a movie’s sound editing is good? Could they at least explain what’s good about each of these nominees in more than a sentence fragment?

Who I hope will win: Don’t care.

Who should win: Don’t know.

Achievement in Sound Mixing
Les Misérables
Life of Pi

Who will win: Argo. I don’t know how this is different from sound editing.

Who I hope will win: Don’t care.

Who should win: Don’t know.

Achievement in Visual Effects
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel’s The Avengers
Snow White and the Huntsman

Who will win: Life of Pi. Just because it’s a “serious” movie.

Who I hope will win: Not Life of Pi. I like to see big dumb blockbusters beat “serious” movies in these categories.

Who should win: Don’t know.

Thanks for reading, folks. Check back next week for the first annual TPY Oscar review spectacular.

Basketball officiating is in crisis

19 Feb

I like to watch basketball. I haven’t watched as much this year as I have in the past, but I have watched many many basketball games in my life. Lately I’ve been watching mostly Big Ten and NBA games. The one thing those two basketball environments have in common is distractingly bad refereeing.

The Big Ten is widely regarded as the best college basketball conference, and it’s being destroyed by a terrible brand of ref-baiting clutch/grab/flop/dive anti-basketball. The most obvious example of this strategy is Wisconsin, which is an essentially unwatchable team. The strategy is this: commit several fouls on every possession. When there are so many fouls, the refs simply won’t call all of them. If you play like this in every game for several seasons, the refs will adapt and see your style of play as normal, and will call hardly any of the fouls at all. Some idiots praise this as “hard-nosed defense” or “fundamentals” or some such nonsense. I hate these people.

The NBA’s biggest referee problem is the well-known star system. It’s an open secret that the rules are applied differently for different players. If you don’t watch the Heat, you might be surprised that LeBron James never travels or fouls anyone. It’s one thing to have lax enforcement of traveling and moving screens etc., as long as that lax enforcement is consistent. It’s a total joke. NBA game commentators will openly talk about which players get “respect” from the referees during games. “Player X hasn’t been around long enough to get that kind of call” and such. A lot of people see that as part of the game and it drives me crazy.

I’m sure it’s difficult to call basketball at a high level. I don’t expect perfection. But I do expect consistency and competence. One of the key factors in both the college and NBA problems is the level of familiarity the referees have with the coaches and players they’re officiating. These guys see each other over and over every season. This is a structural problem.

Here’s what I would do if I were the czar of basketball.

Right now NBA officials are employed and supervised by the NBA. College officials are employed and supervised by the various NCAA conferences. They should all be employed and supervised by USA Basketball. USA Basketball should be in charge of refs from high school up. Referees would start at the bottom and move up. They wouldn’t be tied to a specific league or conference or level. The best refs would call NBA games, big college games, D-League games, etc. This will obviously never happen. One thing that would be a necessary prerequisite would be standardizing the rules between levels,* and the NCAA and NBA would never give up their authority over the rules, let alone over their referees. They’re much more concerned with protecting their little fiefdoms than improving the quality of play. The NBA officials union would also presumably stop this even if everyone else wanted to do it.

*Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about how to do this.

Think about how glorious it would be. Instead of refs with longstanding grudges against certain players/coaches, refs becoming desensitized to foul avalanches, refs dealing with crazy travel schedules to meet league demands, you’d have refs calling the rules disinterestedly and consistently, at all levels. Lots of people watch all kinds of different levels of basketball on TV. Knowing that games would be called the same way from high school to the NBA would tremendously increase the pleasure of watching. To say nothing of the benefit of players. They could focus on playing instead of working the refs.

I could do some research and find all kind of anecdotes about officials being swayed by their relationships with players, or studies about foul rates and all kinds of other nonsense but I won’t. This seems like such a self-evident problem and such an easy solution that a single paragraph would have been enough. I stretched it out just for you, dear reader.

The moral depravity of TV timeouts

8 Feb

I have a whole series of posts about basketball coming up. This is a small one, but get ready for more.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about the various ways in which the NCAA is terrible. Capricious and inconsistent rules enforcement and the continuing exploitation of football/basketball players are the most common areas of complaint. The big issue is that colleges rake in gargantuan sums of money, and it’s in their interest and the NCAA’s interest not to expose the unsavory characters who could damage everyone’s reputation or stop pretending that their whole enterprise is about amateurism or whatever. The main goal in both of these cases is to keep the money spigot turned on.

Colleges can’t help making money from sports. TV networks and fans line up to throw money at them. In a lot of ways, colleges have almost accidentally stumbled into operating athletic departments that are increasingly separate from the universities themselves and make a lot of people in academia uncomfortable. I’m not going to get into all of that right now, but I can see a lot of good reasons for maintaining the current status quo. Except in a few areas. TV timeouts in basketball is one. They need to go right now if the NCAA wants fans to take their “amateurs playing just for fun!” nonsense seriously.

College basketball games have eight designated TV timeouts. After the first dead ball with the clock under 16:00, 12:00, 8:00, and 4:00 in each half. TV timeouts are so pervasive that even games that aren’t broadcast on the TV or radio or anywhere else are played with them. It’s part of the game at this point. It’s reprehensible. TV timeouts make the game experience noticeably worse for fans in the stands, fans watching at home, the players, pretty much everyone except the coaches.* They exist for the sole purpose of earning money for colleges. Once upon a time you could make an argument that without the TV timeouts, games wouldn’t be on TV at all and so they were a necessary evil. That’s no longer the case. ESPN and CBS College Sports Network and NBC Sports and The Big Ten Network and the PAC-12 Network and all the various Fox Sports Net stations would still love to broadcast college basketball games without TV timeouts. They just wouldn’t pay as much for the privilege.

*Coaches love TV timeouts. They love timeouts generally. I think if it were up to coaches, there would be a mandatory timeout after every possession. That’s a topic for another time.

So what we’re left with is colleges and their governing organization claiming that their non-profit, tax-exempt basketball enterprise exists for the betterment of their unpaid students and in no way compromises their academic mission. They also significantly altered their basketball rules in a way that makes their product noticeably less enjoyable for their fans in a transparent and shameless effort to make more money. They do this with a straight face.

Public perception and the Postal Service

6 Feb

I don’t know if this is at all interesting to anyone but it’s something I was thinking about today.


This post will feature pictures of stamps featuring bridges

Today’s big news is that the US Postal Service is ending Saturday delivery. The goal of this is to save money. The Post Office has a huge budget problem. The problem stems from two things: decreasing revenue, and increased overhead costs. Some people would say that the latter problem only exists because of peculiar accounting rules that the government makes the Post Office use, but that’s a political argument and I don’t know very much about it and even if I did I’m not interested in writing about politics.

Everyone says that there’s less mail now than there used to be. That seems crazy to me. I get mail constantly. Everyone does. At least everyone who I have ever shared a mailbox with. I think the biggest problem is that most mail used to be first class letters with first class stamps, and now most mail is junk with bulk rate postage. I have no data to support this assertion.


A related news item about the US Postal Service is that postage rates just increased. First class stamps now cost $0.46. For my entire life people have complained about the cost of stamps. This seems like the dumbest thing in the world to me.

First, a little bit of math. I was born in 1983. The price of a stamp then was $0.20. So, since then the price of stamps has increased by 230%. In 1983, The Consumer Price Index was 99.6. In 2012 it was 229.594. Since 1983 it has increased by 230.516064257%. You might notice that the price of stamps has increased almost exactly as much as the price of everything else in the last 29 years.

That last paragraph should be enough to demonstrate that anyone complaining that stamps are expensive is an idiot. But I’m going to keep writing. I have two questions: Why do people complain about the price of stamps, and are stamps actually expensive?


I think idiots complain about stamps instead of milk or toothpaste or whatever other consumer good because it’s easy. There’s one universal price for stamps. Everyone knows what it is. And since it doesn’t fluctuate like other prices, it’s easy to remember what the old prices were.

Digression: The other price that people constantly complain about is gas. I think a big part of that is that giant signs advertising its price everywhere, which makes people remember how much it used to cost more so that other goods.

The second question is more interesting. Are stamps expensive? I don’t think so at all. For 46 cents you can have a document hand-delivered anywhere in the United States. Depending on the distance involved, it takes two to four days. This service is incredibly, almost unbelievably, reliable. To me that’s a bargain. I think the Post Office essentially has a large public relations problem. I think that a big part of the problem is that everyone assumes stamps are overpriced because dumb people are always unwarrantedly complaining about it. This problem gets worse every year because the Post Office keeps raising prices. Just like every other business. This creates a terrible feedback loop. People complain about stamps being expensive for some reason. This is common enough that most people agree with the proposition. Then everyone feels like they’re being ripped off by the Post Office. Then the USPS raises stamp prices, and people feel even more aggrieved, since they thought the old price was already too high.

This is all a good MBA case study. I should be a business professor.

The other problem the USPS has is a terrible reputation for customer service and reliability. People always joke about things being lost in the mail or damaged in transit or whatever. Just look at Newman on Seinfeld, for example. I don’t know why this is the case. The Post Office truly does have a huge problem with in-person customer service at the physical Post Office, but I don’t know why that reputation extends to mail delivery. I can honestly not remember a single instance of anything that I’ve ever mailed or had mailed to me being lost or damaged en route. I think this falls under the same category as stamp prices. People joke and complain about it so everyone assumes it’s true, even if they don’t have any actual evidence for it.

If I were the Postmaster General, I would raise the price of a stamp to $1. This seems to me like an eminently reasonable price. Erase your conception of historical stamp prices and think about it. You can have a document hand-delivered pretty rapidly anywhere in the US. For $1. If no one had an idea in their head of how much a stamp “should” cost, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at paying a dollar to mail a letter. Then I guess I would do some MBA stuff. Advertising to change public perception or whatever. That doesn’t really interest me though. I just wanted to float my stamp proposal.