Thursday, December 07, 2006

Time to Jump Off the Al Gore Bandwagon

No one would make a better Prez than Al Gore. He is wise like Solomon and strong like Samson. At night I dream of living in an Al Gore administration, where my 80-inch super-magnetic-polymer-TV will be powered by a touch of golden Sun, and where Arab children will play hopscotch with Jewish children in peace and harmony. Al Gore was right about Iraq, and he'll be right about Iran too. Al Gore, after all, is the best.

Sadly, Al Gore will now never be elected president. All because of that skank Lindsay Lohan. You suck, Lindsay!

Update: After reading the full text of Miss Lohan's manifesto, I retract all of the above. She's been tragically misunderstood. In fact, Lindsay Lohan is perhaps our best hope of directing the world's attention to the right priorities. She wants to help. Why won't Al Gore help her?

The Horse-Race that Matters Least

Recently, my Wednesday papers have come bundled with a "special section" called The Envelope. In this special weekly fold-out section, we're treated to a blow-by-blow account of the "Oscar season" as it's now known. Urgent questions are raised: Would the voters penalize Leo for his Costneresque accent? Or will the boy wonder finally get his shot with The Departed? Can you hear that deafening industry buzz on Dreamgirls? No? Do you live east of La Cienega, you loser? Is Letters of Iwo Jima a late arriving dark horse, a la Million Dollar Baby? Will Peter O'Toole's refusal to cross the Atlantic cost him his last shot at the elusive award?

Eager for answers? Me neither. Until I started perusing this section one idle morning, I hadn't given these questions a second thought. And considering that I'm a movie geek who can name every Oscar Best Picture winner from 1927 on, I started to wonder: does the general reader actually care about this crap? If so, why?

Since the Los Angeles Times caters to the entertainment industry, you can argue that maybe this section is a local thing. But how to explain the editorial decision of the Paper of Record, which deemed the Oscar horse-race so vital to its readership that it has been hosting a frequently-updated blog called "The CarpetBagger" for over a year? And the hundreds of Oscar sites that obsessively detail the studios' every move? Besides the actual industry insiders, why are there so many people eager to play-act being an insider on one of blogs now tracking the Oscar race? In fact, why "track" the Oscar race at all?

It's one thing to be disappointed at the Oscar party when your favorite loses out to some piece of shit. But if you can't get over Brokeback Mountain's loss last year in a couple of hours -- unless your name is James Schamus or Ang Lee -- you're in need of some serious medical attention. The Oscar results, in the grand scheme of things, mean next to nothing. I know, we care about all kinds of trivialities. How is following the Oscars any different than following sports, for example? First of all, allegiances to sports teams have been formed over years; there's a longstanding emotional attachment, not to mention civic or national pride that you feel about the team from your city or country. Can someone really be that attached to Capote? And so what if a bunch of strangers prefer Crash to your favorite? A more important distinction is that the point of sports is winning. You follow sports to find out who wins and loses, which is settled on the field. The point of movie-watching isn't, or shouldn't be, following "winners and losers". If O'Toole wins his Oscar, does it actually enhance your enjoyment of the movie? Would it make Venus any better, more worthwhile as art or entertainment?

Why not devote that wasted ink to something important, like when we'll be getting out of Iraq, or when Britney will finally start donning knickers again? Vexed as I may be, it's apparent that throngs of people care about the Oscar race as a kind of sport, keeping horse-race sites like Movie City News thriving. Scott Tobias and Noel Murray share my befuddlement, and in their Onionavclub exchange, offer up some terrific points. Noel is on to something when he links the rise of Oscar prognostication to a decline in the esteem of movie criticism. Oscar prognostication/tracking satisfies the reader's temptation to see what's up and down, but does so in a putatively "objective" fashion. Oscar stories end up flattering the reader by offering up buzz instead of expertise, and they provide the reader with handy movie-ranking shorthand. Why bother discussing the merits of a movie when you can now argue about the more "objective" Oscar-worthiness of the movie? "You liked The Good German? Well, I see no nominations besides at best cinematography. Oscar voters would never go for something that dark."

At one time, the Oscar race was interesting as a parlor game. But now it's been inflated to such a degree that the Oscar campaign itself is worthy of extensive news coverage. We now have innumerable weirdos, folks who aren't even film aficionados, now versed in the Best Supporting Actress race, which means being experts in predicting how a bunch of old farts will feel about unseen female supporting performances. The end is nigh, I say.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hail to the Baby Bears + BCS

Congrats to the LA satellite campus for pulling off one of the more satisfying upsets of the college football season, using an unpredictable blitzing scheme that knocked the $C quarterback on his booty time and time again. By outwitting a physically superior team, the Powdered Blues bought beleaguered coach Kevin Dorrell more time and put UCLA football back on the radar. Oh, and they knocked the Spoiled Children out of the national championship race. Ha ha.

SC will play in the BCS consolation game, aka The Granddaddy of Them All, against the Wolverines, who were sorta jobbed out of the championship game by the shameless lobbying of Florida head coach Urban "Mack" Meyer. Few believe that the SEC champ is a better team than Michigan -- rumors on message boards suggest that Vegas would make Big Blue six point favorites against the Gators on a neutral field. From parts of four Gator games I've seen, Florida is a fast, athletic team that relies too much on trickery and played to their opponent's level (South Carolina, Florida St.). I think the Buckeyes will destroy them. And the custom in determining who's the more deserving one-loss team, absent games vs. common opponents, is to see who had the better loss: Michigan fell to the #1 team in the country on the road in a competitive game; Florida fell to the #8 team on the road, in an equally competitive game. Advantage Michigan. But I can't deny that the Gators prevailed in the toughest conference, had a tougher schedule, and that, all things being equal, you'd knock out the team that "already had its shot".

In the end, it's probably better for the overall BCS championship game that Florida got in. If the Buckeyes were to prevail a second time over the Wolverines, and Florida routs its opponent (as would have been likely if its opponent were the Foldin' Irish) in the Sugar Bowl, we'd never hear the end of it. (Though imagine what would happen if Florida ekes out a sloppy win against an uninspired OSU, and Michigan destroys the Trojans?)

Is this controversy yet another reason to scrap the BCS system and go to a sixteen team playoff? Let me defend the BCS for a sec. The college football season is the most exciting in American sports because regular season games take on immense stakes. Each game becomes a kind of playoff, as one stumble may torpedo your chances for a national championship/conference championship. With a playoff system, would Texas-Ohio St. in September be so crucial? Or Louisville-Rutgers? The NBA doesn't really start until the playoffs. The NFL doesn't start until the 14th week. Whatever its flaws, the bowl system eliminates the "meaningless game" for contending teams. And it keeps people debating well into the night.

That said, my preferred approach is the oft-proposed BCS+ system. Either a 4-team or 8-team playoff, rotating existing bowls, makes a whole lot of sense. The 8-team playoff works like this: you play 4 bowl games in late December featuring 8 qualified BCS teams (6 major conferences and two at-large bids) using the present system. The four winners square off in the 2 bowl games in early January, leading to a championship game on January 9 or 10th. By adopting this approach, you'd be sacrificing some of the drama of the regular season. But the bowl games would be much more meaningful -- they won't be a bunch of exhibition games. And it'd cut down on the annual BCS controversy (nobody would really argue that Notre Dame or Arkansas "deserves" a shot to be the national champ).

The other way to do it is to keep the present system, but have a four-team playoff. If this format had been enacted for this year, you'd have Ohio St. v. LSU in the Rose Bowl and Michigan v. Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The winners of each game will play in the BCS championship game. The benefit would be to keep the intrigue of the BCS and the excitement of regular season games, but avoid the main problem we see every two years: screwing over an equally deserving third team or fourth team. I think this makes the most sense, being the least disruptive and radical way of addressing the #2 vs. #3 problem. Why not do this?