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Oscarology II: The Oscars

How’d I do?

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actress: Kate Blanchett, The Aviator

A sweep! This wasn’t exactly the most competitive year ever, though, and in retrospect Best Actress wasn’t a race at all. Nobody saw Annette Bening’s movie.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Aviator Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

Damn. After the Red Sox won and the Eagles broke the NFC curse, I thought Scorcese was ripe for his golden idol. If The Aviator had been a huge hit – not insane, just Saving Private Ryan-sized – he might have won.

Best Original Screenplay: Keir Pearson and Terry George, Hotel Rwanda Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Hey, they actually went with my preferred choice! I guess not everyone is as enraptured with Rwanda as Don Cheadle is.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways
Best Cinematography: Robert Richardson, The Aviator
Best Score: Jan Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
Best Song: “Accidentally in Love,” Shrek 2“Al Otro Lado Del Río” from The Motorcycle Diaries

The victims of August and Everything After are avenged!

Best Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker, The Aviator
Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, The Aviator
Best Art Direction: The Aviator
Best Makeup: Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley, The Passion of the Christ Lemony Snicket’s …

Irony, c’est morte.

Best Sound Editing: Spider-Man 2 The Incredibles
Best Sound Mixing: The Incredibles Ray

In retrospect: Duh.

Best Visual Effects: Spider-Man 2
Best Documentary Feature: Super Size Me Born into Brothels
Best Animated Feature: The Incredibles

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Shorter Roger L Simon
If Chris Rock kicks that ball into my yard one more time, I’m keeping it!

(Seriously! I don’t usually read Simon, but I wanted to go somewhere for Oscar liveblogging. How lame and crotchety do you have to be to say “Kudos to Tim Robbins for keeping his mouth shut about politics” and not notice that Chris Rock had just said “We’re all thrilled by his acting, and bored crazy by his politics! Please welcome Tim Robbins!”)

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Oscar thought
As of now, they haven’t played the “those we lost” montage. There’s some controversy over whether Dutch filmmaker Theo Von Gogh makes the montage.

Now, if Von Gogh isn’t in it, Roger Simon et al will be pissed. But if he is in it, won’t the Hollywood crowd (who don’t all follow the warblogs) go “huh?” and clap really quietly? And won’t that offend Roger et al, anyway?

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Oscarology

The Oscar predictions list I posted immediately after nominations looks way silly now, and I decline to state my confidence in it. But that’s okay, because nobody actually voted on the movies til after that post, and as my mood as shifted, so did the voters’.

Pursuant to that post, I failed in my mission to watch all the nominated movies. The “should win/will win” game is beyond my means, this year.

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby*
Best Supporting Actress: Kate Blanchett, The Aviator
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
Best Original Screenplay: Keir Pearson and Terry George, Hotel Rwanda
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways
Best Cinematography: Robert Richardson, The Aviator
Best Score: Jan Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
Best Song: “Accidentally in Love,” Shrek 2
Best Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker, The Aviator
Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, The Aviator
Best Art Direction: The Aviator
Best Makeup: Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley, The Passion of the Christ
Best Sound Editing: Spider-Man 2
Best Sound Mixing: The Incredibles
Best Visual Effects: Spider-Man 2
Best Documentary Feature: Super Size Me
Best Animated Feature: The Incredibles

And … go!

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Book review: “1912” by James Chace
Here’s one of those comfortable reads that folds an intriguing blurt of history into one narrative without rattling any notions or proposing any radical theories. You won’t put this book down and realize that Eugene Debs was right all along. What you will get is a series of thrills followed by a letdown.

The thrills come because the 1912 presidential election was one of the most bizzare and important in American history. As Chace lays out, the contest saw numerous long-delayed social movements bubble up and break the two-party system. Sixteen years earlier, William McKinley had trounced the Democrats and Populists to initiate an era of total Republican dominance. Unions, suffrage movements, and especially civil rights agitators were made irrelevant, along with a Democratic party that was mostly confined to the South and the Great Plains. And the disenchanted barely had a reason to back the Democrats – the last Democratic president, Grover Cleveland, had okayed the most brutal repression of unions in history. The Republicans were the only game in town, and under the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909) there were the first fissures between the conservative senators and congressmen and the increasingly progressive president and his allies.

Roosevelt retired hopefully when Taft won the White House, and tried at first to cross his fingers and hope his replacement would … well, govern exactly like Roosevelt. But Taft, as Chace portrays him, was the worst possible man to run the party and the country. He was politically lazy and easy run by party insiders and conservatives in the House and Senate. When Roosevelt returned to public life in 1910, he was a firebreathing progressive who endorsed pretty much every policy proposal right of Socialism. He took over parts of the Republican national committee (it’s interesting to read how easily such things were done in those days), lost by playing close to the White House, and began navigating toward taking the party’s nomination for himself. The nomination was basically stolen from him, so Roosevelt and a sizable coterie of Republicans (including his running mate, the governor of California) formed the Progressive “Bull Moose” party and hit the hastings.

Meanwhile (Chace tells these stories in alternating chapters), Woodrow Wilson was falling upward into Democratic leadership via a few powerful jobs. Chace lays out the case that Wilson was a racist, conservative Jacksonian before he got into politics. And that’s true – in the 1912 primary campaign, opponents excerpted parts of his books that bashed European immigrants as “sordid and hapless.” As president of Princeton, Wilson picked the wrong fights and was basically ousted just in time to worm his way into New Jersey’s Democratic party machinery. He promised a great raft of things to the party hacks, and then he won the nomination and broke all his promises to become a progressive. As governor he pushed through some very progressive legislation before Republicans won seats and overrode his vetos. So Wilson left New Jersey to campaign for president, and eventually got the nomination on the forty-sixth ballot.

The accountings of these nomination fights and the following campaign are packed with fun anecdotes and quotes, although they aren’t brought to life the way, say, William Manchester brings to life similiar events in his books about Winston Churchill. Chace includes a fairly breezy history of the Debs campaign and unionism, but it doesn’t mesh as naturally with the stories of the big three candidates.

As I said, the book is mostly thrilling. What’s the letdown? Reading stuff like this:

On September 9, Wilson gave his opponent an opening when he declared in New York: “The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.”

Quoting the damning sentence, [Roosevelt] called it “the key to Mr. Wilson’s position” and labeled it “a bit of outworn academic doctrine which was kept in the schoolroom and the professional study for a generation after it had been abandoned by all who had experience of actual life. It is simply the laissez-faire doctrine of English political economists three-quarters of a century ago.”

From this to “Global test!” and “Hope is on the way!” in 92 years. Sigh.

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You people voted for Hubert Humphrey, and you killed Jesus!
A sign of the times from my alma mater’s newspaper obit of Hunter Thompson (curiously filed at the Campus desk):

While visiting Medill, Davidson sat in on a History and Issues of Journalism class where they were discussing Thompson’s article on the Kentucky Derby.

“I’d never really read anything by him before,” Davidson said. “It was so witty and wonderful and the story behind it was so incredible.”

Davidson, a self-described creative writer, was on the fence about journalism school, but Thompson’s example showed him that “journalism could be rewarding and fulfilling.”

Alhough he is currently transferring out of Medill, Davidson said Thompson remains one of his favorite authors.

Sigh.

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Bully blowback
I never took seriously the idea that if liberals “got tough,” conservatives – who were used to rolling them over like a stack of Colmeses – would be flustered and confused. I still wouldn’t say there’s a new trend forming, but two things have given me cause to wonder. First there was Howard Dean joking to a meeting of the black caucus (all Democrats) that Republicans couldn’t get so many “people of color” in a room unless they “invited the hotel staff.” A few days later, there was a burst of press released outrage from folks like J.C. Watts and Michael Steele demanding Dean apologize.

(There’s actually a terrific article by W. James Antle III in the new American Conservative about Republicans trying on racial politics – I forget the title, but the conclusion is something like “Republicans haven’t made much headway as the colorblind party, so they’ll see what they can get as the party of Johnny Cochran.)

A far more amusing incident is happening on the right-wing blogs now as they percolate with indignition about the Jeff Gannon affair. Without going into details on the whole Gannon mess, the gist of some conservative blogs is that the issue is a case of terrible liberals, without morals, run amock. The post that struck me was on the fantastically overrated Powerline by John Hinderaker.

The American left has been guilty of many contemptible actions over the past twenty years, but few are so deeply offensive as its treatment of Jim Guckert, aka Jeff Gannon (His real name is Guckert, but he adopted Gannon as a pen name). Gannon is, apparently, a homosexual with a rather sordid past, including stints working as a gay escort. He is now trying to make a career for himself as a reporter; until a week or two ago, he worked for the online Talon News Service. He was able to get one-day-at-a-time passes to attend White House press briefings, where he committed the unpardonable sin of asking questions that had a pro-Bush administration twist. (Sort of like Helen Thomas, only in reverse, and nowhere near as one-sided.)

The presence of a Bush-friendly journalist in the White House press corps was taken by the left as a deep affront. A study conducted a few years ago found that the White House press corps is 90% Democratic; apparently the left won’t be satisfied until the figure is 100%. So liberals began “investigating” Gannon. They found that he was a homosexual and started posting photos of him on their web sites, along with vicious personal attacks. Gannon, stunned by the virulence of the left’s attack on him, quit his job at Talon. Subsequently, a low-life named John Aravosis who is a gay activist and has a web site, found nude photos of Gannon and posted them online.

For insights like this (they continue for a few grafs and end with “Rarely have I seen such deeply contemptible conduct”), Hinderaker was booked on Howard Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources.”

Now, I’ve been idly watching this Gannon mess from the beginning. After Gannon’s “divorced from reality” question at the WH press conference, initial exposes of what “Talon News” was started appearing on sites like “Media Matters.”

After this initial blitz, Gannon made a fatal mistake that has been mostly forgotten since. On jeffgannon.com, he updated his front page with a dig at “left-wingers” who were going after him. He made sarcastic thanks for all the attention, noting he’d gotten more interview requests than ever. Gannon has scrubbed his homepage since then, but in his first Gannon post the blogger at World O’ Crap excerpted another round of the site’s updates.

The hard-core Lefties are conducting an exhaustive search for me in cyberspace, which has produced an entertaining mosaic of conspiracy theories. I appreciate all the attention, but I can do without the threats on my person, property and family.

The title of Gannon’s message, by the way, was “HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT.”

Basically, Gannon had sealed his fate by pulling a Gary Hart – he dared liberals to go after him. Like Gary Hart, he did it even though he knew there were mountains of dirt out there about him. But it was his mistake. And the response from the very influential Powerline blog … is a lot of sniveling and whining.

Keep in mind, Hinderaker is the kind of blogger who was no problem likening liberal journalists to Nazis. What we have here is a textbook case of people who can dish it out but can’t take it. So it’s interesting to see what’ll happen if liberals (especially liberal bloggers) continue acting as mean and hardcore as they are with Gannon.

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Foot-in-mouth – it’s contagious
Most people reckoned that Howard Dean would embarrass himself as DNC chairman. Who thought he would simply inspire other people to embarrass themselves? I mean, if a Republican party boss can get a headline like “GOP BIGS CAUGHT IN ‘FILM’ FLAM” in the New York Post – the New York Post – he’s really stepped in it.

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DVD Review: Degrassi Junior High
Many years ago – before google – I was reading Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” comics and hung on a short trip in which the titular Harvey raced home to catch “Degrassi Junior High.” What was this show? It sounded familiar, like I’d accidentally caught it on channel 12 or something. But as I said, the world had not yet coughed up google, and I had no way of checking it out on my own.

More recently, around a year ago, I flipped through the new channels added to my parents’ cable service and found a show listed as “Degrassi.” Woohoo, I thought! But it turned out to be a show called “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” started in 2001, syndicated on MTV-spinoff channel The N. Not a bad show – and indeed, crafted by the same people who had made Harvey Pekar’s favorite show – but not what I was looking for.

But as it happens, that new show has proven popular enough to rekindle interest in the original “Degrassi Junior High.” The first season of this is now available on DVD, and it’s wonderful.

The gist: Degrassi Junior High is a school for 7th and 8th graders in a nameless suburb of Toronto. (We do know it’s on Degrassi St.) The start of the 1986 school year has welcomed a group of newly-elite 8th graders and newly-lowly 7th graders. Our window into this is a pair of siblings, Stephanie and Arthur Kobalowsky. But in the first minute of the first show, we learn (via a rant by Stephanie) that their parents are newly divorced, and she wants to take her mother’s more WASPy nomme Kaye, and deny Arthur three times before the cock crows. (“Look, I’m in grade 8. That means I’m cool. You’re in grade 7. That means you’re, urgh, embarassing.”) In doing so, she wants to enter Degrassi social life like a comet.

And thus we have Stephanie Kaye, one of the best characters in TV teen history, if not the best character. She’s a tragic character – it’s obvious that, given a few years and some tutelage, she’d be one of those Academic decatheletes collecting college applications like Pokemon cards. But she’s 14 and it’s 1986, so she thinks she wants to be popular. This entails bringing cut-off tops and lyrca tights to school under her “home clothes,” changing in the bathroom, and running for school president with the power of her new sluttasticness. She has a dumpy immigrant friend (Voula) who BEGS to be her “executive assistant” and write speeches, but she sells out quickly when a semi-cute boy named “Wheels” says he’ll vote for her if she lets him kiss her. And she does! Soon Stephanie decides to lock up the hetero male vote on a platform of “All the Way With Stephanie Kaye!” She dumps Voula as campaign manager and hires Joey Jeremiah, a poor man’s cool kid who says things like “Joey P. Jeremiah at your service! P for ‘playboy’!”

Stephanie wins the election but loses her soul. More on this later. Importantly, her campaign has introduced Joey into the school heirarchy and into our hearts. Joey, as I said, is supposed to be cool. In actuality, he’s a black hole of lameness tossed amid a group of reasonably cool friends. There’s Wheels, who parlays his sick flirtation with Stephanie into a series of horribly failed dates. There’s Snake, who’s absurdly tall and sought-after. And there’re some tangential friends like Rick, who escapes an abusive (and apparently alcoholic) father to become a hated “class criminal.” And there are the 7th grader, tied together by Arthur and his Chinese friend Yick, who have the most useless b-plots ever.

There actually are some intricate, interweaving plots that go through the entire first season of “Degrassi.” But the appeal of the show is the impossibly awful luck of the protagonists, who manage to get into after school special-esque scenarios every week. Stephanie’s plots are always the best. There’s a fun espisode wherein she gets knackered on sherry before heading to the school dance to meet Wheels and ends up puking her soul out while hapless Voula gives an important speech. There’s an even better episode wherein she goes to a soap opera star’s book-signing, tells him she’s 16 (she’s 14), and sees that he’s written his phone number on her autograph. Obviously, she calls the number and sets up a date which ends with her barely avoiding a rape in a motel parking lot and calling her mother to pick her up afterward.

Later in the season we get to know Spike, who’s nowhere near as hapless as Stephanie but makes up for it by being 10 times less lucky. She lets her boyfriend Shane nail her at a party (“I wanted him to like me!”) and immediately gets pregnant. Thus follows a pretty heartbreaking (and banned in the UK) episode where she listens to idiotic friends claim you can’t get pregnant the first time and sits outside a clinic with her mom to engage in the most awkward conversation since Appomattox. As the season ends, the fates of Spike, her really pathetic boyfriend, and Stephanie are up in the air.

For her troubles playing Spike, actress Amanda Stepto was allowed to host an episode of the Degrassi spin-off “Degrassi Talks!” OK, you won’t believe this. “Degrassi Talks!” was a magazine show wherein members of the show’s cast travelled Canada talking to seemingly random people about teen issues. Three episodes of this are included on the DVD set. This was the theme song:

We’ve all got our problems
but can’t always solve them
we need someone to listen
cause we all need some talkin’
no time to ignore
but we’ve got to explore
we can’t have it all the way
let’s do this together
I’ll talk to you
and you’ll talk to me
We’ve got to reach out to set us free
Degrassi Talks
Coast to coast we we hear real stories from real people
Degrassi Talks
Degrassi Listens
You’re not alone
Let’s do this together
Degrassi Talks

I should point out that this was sung by members of the cast.

Hopefully I can stop spoiling the show now and sit back, satisfied that I’ve painted a picture of why this is such a fine and edifying television program. I don’t know how soon WGBH Boston Video can put out season two, but I want it now.

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WTF?
From a blog approvingly linked by Jonah Goldberg.

First of all, I have a lot of respect for the Japanese people and the Japanese military. Look what they have done in the last 125 years, and especially what they have done in since WWII.

My emphasis, of course. And: What the fucking fuck? Someone respects what Japan has done in the last 125 years? No. Respect what they’ve done in the last 60. Go back further than that and you get this.

The source posts by Goldberg are pretty nuts too, come to think of it. Jonah approvingly reposts an email that says this:

I’ve always liked the nuclear Japan trump card for several reasons. One, you know they’d make them cheaper, more reliable, and with more options than the American nukes, so we’d have to catch up from the 30 year old technology in ours. Two, they’d turn them out like Toyotas and Hondas, so any hopes of regional dominance by China would be dashed. Three, if Japan went nuclear, how long till South Korea and Taiwan followed (China’s worst nightmare)? Four, with all of the others, we wouldn’t have to send a carrier group over every time China got it’s nose out of joint over the existence of Taiwan and decided to act like Asia’s BSD. In the prophetic words of the Derb, “I don’t see how you can ever have enough nukes”.

You know what? Screw John Derbyshire. I agree with Ronald Reagan on this one.

It is my firm conviction that preventing the spread of nuclear explosives to additional countries is essential to world peace and stability. It forms an indispensable complement to the efforts we have undertaken to bring about deep reductions in strategic and intermediate-range nuclear weapons. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of mankind may well depend on the achievement of these goals, and I intend to pursue them with unflagging determination and a deep sense of personal commitment.

What’s wrong with some of these pro-war bloggers, anyway? Goddamn!