City Lights: Oscar picks not incredibly close

Well, we all got blindsided by Meryl Streep.

That was my one consolation as my dream of being Orange County's greatest Oscar handicapper crumbled steadily throughout the 84th annual Academy Awards on Sunday.


Earlier this year, I challenged Independent readers to beat my predictions for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. As a longtime Oscar historian and careful tracker of the Golden Globes and other pre-show awards, I figured I had the race all squared away.

As it turned out, four people emailed me their picks, and two of them mopped the floor with me. The others each got three out of six right — my total as well, as I wrongly guessed Viola Davis ("The Help") for Best Actress, George Clooney ("The Descendants") for Best Actor and Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") for Best Supporting Actress.


I should have figured that McCarthy didn't stand a chance against Octavia Spencer, who racked up the early awards for "The Help," and that momentum for "The Artist" would push Jean Dujardin to a Best Actor win. The two readers who beat me guessed both of those categories right.

Streep, though, turned out to be the evening's upset — and no Oscar show is complete without one. Granted, her performance as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" was excellent. But the award may have been a sympathy prize as much as a recognition of her work; after 12 consecutive losses since 1983, did the voters simply get tired of watching her smile and applaud her peers?

Anyway, the two winners of the Independent's Oscar pool both guessed five out of six correctly, nailing every category but Best Actress. One of those lucky prognosticators was Larry Trusley, a sports handicapper who lives in Newport Beach and was recently hailed as the "Wiz of Odds" in an Orange County Register story. Go figure.

Some other thoughts regarding the show:


1. After the brutal reviews of last year's telecast, and hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway in particular, the producers seemed to play it safe this year. Not only did they bring back veteran host Billy Crystal, but he fell back largely on tried-and-true bits: inserting himself into clips of the nominated films, working the Best Picture nominees into a song and pretending to read the thoughts of audience members.

2. The material was certainly an improvement over last year. But aside from a parody of focus groups featuring Christopher Guest's troupe of actors, there were no outright side-splitters — nothing to compare with Hugh Jackman's low-budget production number in 2009 or Jon Stewart's mock attack ads by the nominees in 2006.

3. Remember half a century ago, when theaters used to screen cartoons before the main feature? Why don't they do that now with the short-film nominees — you know, so the viewers will actually have heard of them before the Oscars?

4. The most entertaining acceptance speech came from Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor for "Beginners"), who said his wife deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for putting up with him over the years.

5. Uggie, the dog from "The Artist," wore nothing to the ceremony but a bowtie, making him only slightly the most underdressed mammal on stage.

6. Considering that the movie industry is a business above all, and that the Oscars exist essentially to promote that business, the voters have shown remarkable taste and restraint in recent years — honoring the low-grossing "The Hurt Locker" over "Avatar" in 2010 and choosing a black-and-white silent film this year. It's one night of the year Hollywood can feel good about itself as it bankrolls the next sequel to "Twilight" or "Transformers."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at