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January 29, 2007

Picking the Winners

Picking the Winners

By Michele Martinez

True fact: I come from solid gambling stock.  My abuela Pepa Martinez gambled away the entire inheritance, such as it was, at the casinos in San Juan.  She did it in grand style.  There was a bit of Imelda Marcos in her (finally, a scientific explanation for my shoe addiction!), and by being a good customer, she was making sure that the casinos always sent a limo to pick her up.  But it was my maternal grandparents, Yetta and Leonard, who taught me how to handicap a race.  I spent my childhood at Aqueduct and Belmont on fine summer weekends, splitting two-dollar bets with them and cheering on my chosen pony.

Hence my lifelong fascination with picking the winner.  At first it was the big four -- Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Universe, and Miss World.  I always had a candidate, and if she got eliminated, I'd pick another.  After all, what was the fun of watching if you weren't rooting for somebody?  In early adolescence, I briefly switched to handicapping figure skating on Wide World of Sports before finding my true passion, electoral politics.  Here's one contest I'm fascinated by at the moment:

   Go to fullsize image       VS.    Go to fullsize image

That said, this isn't a political blog, and it's a heck of a long time until 2008.  The Oscars, on the other hand, are just around the corner!  Go to fullsize image

I don't know about you, but I love handicapping the Oscars race.  I try to see as many of the nominated films as possible.  Since I have young kids, that generally translates to being really well-informed about Best Animated Feature.   However, our child-care situation has improved dramatically in recent times, and this year I've managed to catch more movies than usual.  Ace handicapper that I am, I have prepared a chart, and I now present to you Michele Martinez's Picks ("Pix") for the 79th Annual Academy Awards.


  • Babel -- didn't see it; in previews it looked overbearing.
  • The Departed -- saw it; Leo was hot; story was incoherent.
  • Letters from Iwo Jima -- haven't seen it yet because it hasn't come to Pristine Hamlet; but Clint Eastwood is the best director working today, and he had the cojones to make a movie in Japanese for American audiences.  That's good enough for me.
  • Little Miss Sunshine -- saw it; really funny and well-made but too self-consciously quirky for my taste;
  • The Queen -- brilliant and engrossing.  I loved it, but then I'm somebody who can't imagine a better topic for a movie than the relationship between the Queen and the Prime Minister in a constitutional monarchy


  • Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima.  See above discussion.
  • Stephen Frears, The Queen.  Would be totally acceptable to me.  Would even make me happy.
  • Paul Greengrass, United 93.  Didn't see it, but if he really did such a great job, why isn't this film nominated for anything else?  Won't win.
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel -- again, didn't catch it. I would love to see a Latino Best Director, but in my book, the guy who really deserves it is Alfonso Cuaron for Children of Men.  (Or we could nominate both. Two Latino best director noms -- yeah!)  Talk about a travesty.  Children of Men was totally stiffed.
  • Martin Scorsese, The Departed --  Yes, he's one of the greatest directors in American film history.  Yes, he should have three Oscars on his shelf by now -- Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas.  Wait, make that four -- The Age of Innocence.  Yes, he's been robbed repeatedly in the past.  Sorry -- he doesn't deserve to win for this one.
  • MICHELE'S PICK -- Clint Eastwood.  Go to fullsize image


  • Penelope Cruz, Volver -- Haven't seen it yet.  I did recently see All About My Mother, another Almodovar, and Penelope was very moving playing an AIDS-afflicted nun who's in love with a tranny prostitute. (That Pedro, he's crazy!)
  • Judi Densch, Notes on A Scandal -- Haven't seen it.
  • Helen Mirren, The Queen --  Yes.  Her.  Totally.
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada -- It's always a pleasure to watch her.  I saw this movie alone in a hotel room on tour and it made me happy.  Does she deserve to beat Helen Mirren?  No.  Would I begrudge her?  Never.
  • Kate Winslet, Little Children -- Haven't seen it.  I generally think she's pretty good.
  • MICHELE'S PICK -- Same as everybody else's -- Helen Mirren.

BEST ACTOR -- Honestly, I haven't seen a single one of the nominated performances, so I'm casting a write-in vote for Clive Owen in Children of Men.

Go to fullsize image  Isn't he spectacular?  Beats blonde Bond any day.


  • Adriana Barraza, Babel -- haven't seen.
  • Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal -- haven't seen.
  • Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine.
  • Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls.
  • Rinko Kikuchi, Babel -- haven't seen.
  • MICHELE'S PICK -- Jennifer Hudson is an astonishing vocal talent with presence that just leaps off the screen.  But as an actress, she's too over-the-top for my taste.  I'm going against popular opinion and casting my vote for Abigail Breslin, whose performance showed real craft and subtlety. 


  • Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine --  This is probably the single best-written character in any movie I've seen this year, and Alan Arkin played the role brilliantly.  Also, hilariously.
  • Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children -- haven't seen.
  • Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond -- haven't seen.
  • Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls -- I was astonished.  Take off that fat suit, Eddie, you're a brilliant freakin' actor.  One of the best performances of the year.
  • Mark Wahlberg, The Departed -- He was good too!
  • MICHELE'S PICK --  As far as I'm concerned, competition is fiercer in this category than any other, although that may be because I've seen more of the performances.  Tough call, but I'm going with Eddie Murphy. 

Okay now, when I told you how I love handicapping races, I neglected to give you my stats.  I have to admit, my picks don't always win.  (And my grandparents did not end up retiring on what they won at the track, either).  So, go ahead, feel free, tell me I'm wrong.  I'm ready to hear your picks.



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Michele, first of all----I love that you're a track kid! What a hoot!

But you are wrong, wrong, wrong, honey, on a lot of these picks, but it's not your fault because you haven't seen Babel yet. Adriana Barazza deserves Best Actress, not just Best Supporting. She was the best performance I saw all year. (Okay, so I couldn't force myself to see The Departed or Iwo Jima.) And I really, really liked Helen Mirren, but you have got to see Adriana before you decide. Also---Brad was robbed in Best Supporting. Rinko was unbelievably good, too, in a part that was kinda repelling, so I guess that knocks her out of the competition, but she was brave and put her whole self on the line.

I read Little Children. Thought all the characters needed to buck up.

It is a weird Oscar year, hard to pick a best picture yet, but I see it shaking out this way in other catgories - -

Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hutson (sp?) will bring honor to "Dreamgirls." Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker ditto for Best Actress amd Best Actor. I've been leaning towards Scorsese as best director - but I have a feeling that Clint Eastwood may get another award.

Best cinematography?
"Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Illusionist" would have won if they did not compete with each other.

Was their a best song?

It is a weird Oscar year, hard to pick a best picture yet, but I see it shaking out this way in other catgories - -

Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hutson (sp?) will bring honor to "Dreamgirls." Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker ditto for Best Actress amd Best Actor. I've been leaning towards Scorsese as best director - but I have a feeling that Clint Eastwood may get another award.

Best cinematography?
"Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Illusionist" would have won if they did not compete with each other.

Was there a best song???

CASINO ROYALE got totally dissed. 'Nuff said.

Michele, only because I've loved Clive Owen since he was in a fab adapt of LORNA DOONE (one of my favorite brain-busting books) am I letting you slide on that Blond Bond crack. Your blurb about The Queen will make me laugh all day.

I have one sentimental favorite to mention: Jackie Earle Haley. Remember him as the little bitty guy from Breaking Away? Haven't seen Little Children but he was so menacing in All The King's Men that he stole the movie. Okay, so it wasn't much of a movie to steal (sorry, Carville) but he was great. And everybody loves a comeback, so go Moocher!

I saw The Queen over the weekend, and thought it was excellent. I love Helen Mirren, so I'm definitely on the bandwagon for her. I haven't seen any of the other movies, although Little Miss Sunshine is on Pay Per View, so I will probably check that out.

I do need to check out Dreamgirls as well, and Jennifer Hudson has really been cute so far about the awards, she seems so overwhelmed and grateful. I also liked a certain quote I read recently, in which she said (I'm paraphrasing here) that she has gone from a size 22 to a size 12, and even though people still compare her size to all the other Hollywood actresses out there, she feels she represents the average American woman, and they don't, so she's happy the way she is. Go Jennifer.

Ramona, you know I only put that blonde Bond crack in there to wake you up this morning!

OK, I will consider seeing Babel. It just looked in the preview like one of those Movies That Thinks It's Really Important. I hate preachiness, but preachiness and Nancy Martin are so incompatible that I'm thinking maybe I was wrong.

Jennifer Hudson WAS great and I agree -- I love the back story. I wouldn't be unhappy if she won. My basic problem with that movie was that the music sucked. If only they could have used old Motown hits, it would've been so much better.

I simply loved "The Departed", but haven't see "The Queen" yet. Jennifer Hudson absolutely knocked me out, as did Eddie Murphy. He was fabulous, and he can sing!! I loved his character, a cross between James Brown and Little Richard, I thought.

We try to see all the nominated films, too, but the last year that happened was the year "Million Dollar Baby" won, which was my favorite. I wish we had managed to miss "Sideways" that year. yuk

Ooh, I just heard the results of the SAG awards. "Little Miss Sunshine" for best ensemble performance (their equivalent of Best Picture). And the acting awards went to Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson.

I always--and especially when I've hardly seen any of the pictures in question--favour people I've actually worked with or
am related to or have seen on stage.

Which, this year means I'm rooting for:

Jackie Earle Haley
Kate Winslet
Helen Mirren

I leave it to you to figure out which one falls into which category!

I must respectfully disagree with most of Ms. Martinez's picks! I'll lay my $2 on the following ponies:

Little Miss Sunshine for best picture - C'mon! The whole industry went gaga for this film!

Scorsese for best director - No, it's not his best film, but Hollywood must be wracked with guilt for not having given him an Oscar last year. In the Eastwood v. Scorsese rematch, the Academy will attempt to play fair and give a statue to ol' Marty.

Helen Mirren - Duh. Like Cate Blanchett winning last year for playing Katherine Hepburn (and Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf), when you give an Oscar for someone playing a historical figure, you feel like you're giving the Oscar to both of them. Since Hepburn, Woolf, and Elizabeth II are both Oscar-worthy themselves, the faboo actresses portraying them are always a shoo-in.

Best Actor - Oh, if only the Blond Bond were nominated. His pecs alone deserve an Academy Award.

Jennifer Hudson for best supporting - Remember Reese Witherspoon winning for Walk the Line?? Hollywood loves singing actresses who overcome adversity to be good in the movies !

Djimon Hounsou - Haven't seen the movie, but he's so striking in the posters that I've gotta vote for him.

Lula, you didn't like Sideways? I found it laugh-out-loud.

Loved Sideways!! That was the all-time most stiffed movie.

I am happy to be disagreed with by Cassie or anybody given that I am merely mouthing off. All opinions welcome. And OK, Daniel Craig's pecs probably beat Clive's, but Clive is still just so sublime.

Here are my guesses for Margaret's mysterious query:

Haley -- related to
Winslet -- worked with
Mirren -- saw on stage

Think of all the ways we could play 6 Degrees of Separation with Margaret!

I like the Margaret Game. Is there a prize?

related to: Winslet
worked with: Haley
saw on stage: Mirren

I loved Sideways, too, too!

Okay I couldn't resist

Best Picture - The Queen
Best Director - All hail Dirty Harry
Best Actor - Forrest Whitaker
Best Actres - Helen Mirren
Best Sup Actor - Eddie Murphy
Best Sup Actress - It's a toss up between Cate Blanchett & Jennifer Hudson, but I really hope Jennifer Hudson wins.

Ramona wins, she aced it! And so fast I didn't have time to get a prize.

Michele was correct about Mirren.

When playing "6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon"--I can get to Kevin Bacon in 1, through Meryl Streep. (Not as great a story as you'd expect) I bet there's somebody around here who has 0 degrees of separation from him.

I have a soft spot for Little Miss Sunshine, but I don't think Oscar will know how to reward it...so I'm glad so many other ceremonies did.

We're all so well-connected here at TLC that the "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" game has morphed into how far are we from *meeting* him. The real game is, you name an actor or actress from any time period and see how many steps it takes to get from one of their movies to a Kevin Bacon movie. This works because Bacon is ubiquitous -- he's been in everything.

Ah, Margaret, you gave it away. I figured no relative of Jackie Earle Haley's would "favoUr" people. Other two--just guesses, but someday you must tell us about Cousin Kate.

Michele, I love you like a sister, but Clive Owen (and I love him like a brother) has nothing on Blond Bond. I'm with William on this one.

Well, Lipstickers, I'm ready to play My Oscar Obsession Beats Your Oscar Obsession. This year (for the ninth time) I'm hosting a pre-Oscar dinner party the Saturday before the big event for eighteen to twenty of my fellow buffs. I do all the cooking except for cakes from Portos, a fabulous Cuban bakery in L.A. frequented by Andy Garcia, although I've never seen him there, dammit. (their mango cake should win an award for art direction). After dinner, we each have to name our choice in every category (yes, even sound editing and mixing) and then defend our choices.

None of my top five movies were nominated: Half Nelson, The Lives of Others, Dreamgirls, Pan's Labyrinth, and Sweet Land. Of the nominees, I'm rooting for The Departed, Martin Scorsese, Ryan Gosling, Kate Winslet, Rinko Kiutchi, and Eddie Murphy.

Michele, I'll forgive you for dismissing Daniel Craig as that blond Bond because you were deprived of watching him rise from the sea in his little blue shorts . Have to agree about Clive, though. Hot and debonair... a lethal combination.

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