Attention, Office Oscar Pool Players


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Workers moved an Oscar statue on the red carpet for the 87th Academy Awards. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

It’s predictions day at the Carpetbagger blog and as you pore over your Oscar ballot, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

— The Bagger’s predictions are here. In the neck-and-neck race between “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” she’s choosing the former.

— Her colleague David Leonhardt at The Upshot has already explained why the Oscars make such a good subject for prediction markets. And now, for those who’d like a little help, he has a ballot marked with odds-on favorites that may give you a head start on your office Oscar pool.

— For the contrarian view of the best picture race, Deadline.com reports that Senzari, described as “a big-data company specializing in movies and music,” says that “American Sniper” has the best chance of winning best picture, followed by “The Imitation Game.” The argument hinges on box office performance and an analysis of the movie’s elements, rather than the usual prognosticator benchmarks of precursor prizes and the like.

— For the cineaste view, Kevin B. Lee at Fandor asks not who will win, but who deserves to win, in his annual video essay examining each of the nominees here.

What if regular film fans, not Academy members, could vote on the Oscars? Twitter’s answer, based on tweets and the context of the messages, was “Selma.” But according to a survey conducted for The Upshot using Google Consumer Surveys, it’s “American Sniper.” Reporting on the survey, Mr. Leonhardt writes, “42 percent of respondents cited ‘American Sniper,’ while no other movie received more than 12 percent.

Finally, for those tired of odds and predictions and the guesses surrounding best picture, here’s a sure thing: Vocativ took a look at who gets thanked in acceptance speeches here and found that “the Academy” has been name-checked in 43 percent of all speeches (or at least the ones archived by the Academy here), followed by Mom and Dad (28 percent of speeches).

And the individual most often thanked? Harvey Weinstein beat out God (winners mentioned the producer 34 times; the Almighty, 19). But the Oscar thank-you award goes to: Steven Spielberg, name-dropped 42 times.

How It Came to Be ‘Birdman’s’ Night


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Alejandro G. Iñárritu backstage at the Dolby Theater.Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Well, there you go. With the Academy Awards, sometimes you just never know. Or, rather you do, if you know where to look.

The victory lap for “Birdman” at the Oscars on Sunday night, scooping best picture and director, presumably away from “Boyhood,” made sense to people well versed in the Academy’s ways. The organization often is deaf, even resistant, to the inclinations of critics, many of whom crowned “Boyhood” the year’s best. Entertainment Weekly’s January cover story anointing the film as “this year’s Oscar front-runner” probably didn’t help the film’s cause (or, since we’re on the topic, a not-so-flattering piece in The New York Times the weekend voting opened).

“Birdman” had so many elements for actors and below-the-line craftspeople to chew on: the ballyhooed long shots, which won the cinematographer an Oscar; the actors having to work with clockwork precision; the storyline itself. Seasoned Oscar watchers said they knew it was over for “Boyhood” when “Whiplash” took the editing award: the Academy’s respect for how Richard Linklater’s film was sewn together by the editor would have to be paramount in order for the picture to win. There was some surprise that Mr. Linklater didn’t collect best director, but as others have noted, the Directors Guild Award – which went this year to Alejandro G. Iñárritu – is often the bellwether of where that Oscar will land.

But it was clearly the night for “Birdman” – to the great joy of the folks at New Regency and Fox Searchlight, who were behind last year’s winner, too, “12 Years a Slave.” “Birdman” even won best original screenplay, a surprise, since Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” had a story line that was at once more sweeping and more delicate, and collected a Writers Guild Award. Yet every film that had been nominated for best picture collected some kind of award, a nice outcome.

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Alexandre Desplat with his prize.Credit Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

And, hurrah, Alexandre Desplat finally won an Oscar for best original soundtrack, for his yodeler-laced compositions for “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” this after getting nominated eight times. (Mind you, two of those nominations were from this year; even he was worried they’d cancel each other out.)

It’s good to note, for those still mourning the losses of “Boyhood,” that a small independent film about the passing of time wouldn’t have had a chance in many other years, something Mr. Linklater noted on the red carpet.

“I think if ‘Birdman’ and ‘Boyhood’ are duking it out,” he said, “that’s pretty amazing.”

Oscars 2015: The Numbers, the Backlash and More


As awards season mop-up operations continue, here are a few developments to catch up on:

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Patricia Arquette accepting her Oscar on Sunday.Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Viewer Gap: The ratings for the Oscar telecast were down nearly 15 percent from last year, reports the Bagger’s colleagues Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, who write that the dearth of box office hits in the Oscar mix was a big factor. “It’s sad, but most people have to finally accept that the Oscars have become, well, elitist and not in step with anything that is actually popular,” Philip Hallman, a film studies librarian at the University of Michigan, tells them. “No one really believes anymore that the films they chose are the ones that are going to last over time.” Read more.

Patricia Arquette Backlash: Meryl Streep and other stars cheered the supporting actress Oscar winner when in her acceptance speech she championed “wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” But her backstage remarks in the press room afterward were not so roundly hailed. “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now,” she told the assembled news media, a comment that drew rebukes from several quarters, Variety reports. Read more.

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Pawel Pawlikowski, the “Ida” director, accepting the Oscar on Sunday. The orchestra tried to play him off, but he won that battle.Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Celebration in Poland: By winning the foreign-language Oscar, “Ida,” the period drama about an 18-year-old novitiate who discovers she’s Jewish, broke the country’s nine-film losing streak. As the Bagger’s colleague Rick Lyman reports, news of the victory dominated Poland’s television channels on Monday, with politicians and experts debating the country’s international image in film and other important matters (like Oscar fashions). “Ida,” directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, had drawn controversy from nationalist critics unhappy with how Poland’s role in the Holocaust was portrayed. But Mr. Lyman notes, “For the most part, though, the controversy was pushed aside Monday in a huge national wave of congratulation.” Read more.

Lamentation in Italy: The opening-night selection last year at the Venice Film Festival was “Birdman.” But the jury of that event passed over the eventual best picture Oscar winner and awarded its top prize to “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” the Swedish drama. Now Italian newspapers and other commentators are bemoaning the oversight, according to Variety, citing headlines like this one in the daily La Stampa: “’Birdman’ and its missed Venice opportunity.” Read more.

A Joan Rivers (Non-) Explanation: After the In Memoriam segment concluded without a mention of the death of the top fashion cop, outrage poured forth on Twitter. The Los Angeles Times checked in with the Academy on Monday and received this statement that doesn’t exactly explain the omission but is probably all we’ll get: “Joan Rivers is among the many worthy artists and filmmakers we were unfortunately unable to feature in the In Memoriam segment of this year’s Oscar show. She is, however, included in our In Memoriam gallery on Oscar.com.” Read more.

Last Thoughts on a First Season


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The focus was intense in the months leading up to the 87th Academy Awards.Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The Hollywood Reporter just published a list of films that could prove Oscar worthy or baity in the coming year, but the Bagger can’t bring herself to read it. After three months of increasingly fevered speculation over who might win best picture, director and actor; of controversies over campaign tactics and stories told; of exhaustive poring over the tics and proclivities of 6,000 anonymous members of what remains an old boys’ club, it’s fair to say that anyone who pays much attention to this stuff, let alone covers it, deserves a break.

Some say the season has been a ho-hum one, with no big wow-factor film riding to the fore. Others say any season wherein indie gems like “Boyhood,” “Birdman” and “Whiplash” are competing for best picture should hearten us all. (Though, with the Indie Spirit Awards deeming “indie” as anything made for $20 million or less, it’s easy to raise an eyebrow; in fact that should be encouraged.) The Bagger falls in the second camp: love ’em or hate ’em, those three films, along with a few others in the race this year, felt like labors of love, sweat and tears, regardless of whether the Academy’s vote was a reflection or distortion of movie audiences and its own oft-criticized self.

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Peace out: Julianne Moore post-Oscar win.Credit Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As for the season itself, the Bagger was rightly forewarned by her predecessors that it was a long slog, though she has yet to form the opinion proffered by the dearly missed David Carr that postseason, the propagandists all seemed, in his words, like “monsters.”

In looking back, the brightest spots included tea with Tilda Swinton, who’s all limbs, elegance and gregarious, gangly energy; Julianne Moore’s enthusiastic and disarming “Thanks, guys, for coming!” directed to her tablemates at a Midtown Manhattan lunch promoting her Oscar campaign; and the small, sweetly human discovery that Patricia Arquette’s boyfriend is a fellow member of the Park Slope Food Co-op.

The culminating event was, of course, Sunday’s Oscars. And several people have asked the Bagger her thoughts on the show, on its host Neil Patrick Harris, on Sean Penn’s jab at his old buddy Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who cast him in “21 Grams,” on Patricia Arquette’s widely celebrated, and denounced, acceptance speech and backstage remarks.

But the Bagger didn’t really see the show – she was back in the press room, where the live broadcast of onstage happenings was repeatedly interrupted by Q. and A.’s with the winners.

Broadly speaking, the Bagger believes that way too much importance and attention is given to these awards (while being very aware that that very attention is why her job exists) and to what the coddled celebrities trotted up for them do or don’t say. We can’t help but pay attention to these “stars,” though; their outsize place in our culture tricks our brains into paying them a whole lot of mind.

Movies do matter, their messages do too — but the whole thing, the awards thing, seems more to serve like a giant coffee-table book that we can gather around, sift through, admire, deplore – and, most important, and deliciously, widely talk and kvetch about. The entertainment business serves up distractions from our lives, and refractions of them, too; it’s not for nothing that the seat of it is known as La-La Land.

In any event, reeling things back, the Bagger bids you adieu till the cycle kicks back into gear, in what doubtlessly will feel like far too few months from now. Right now she’s typing from the Laurel Canyon dog park, patient canine at her side, and is looking forward to staring off into distances beyond her iPhone and laptop, into vistas not populated by publicists, studio machinators and movie stars.

Bye for now, and see you next season.