Thursday, February 23, 2012

Six Degrees of Oscar

Let me just start out by saying we need a better method for selecting Best Picture.  The criteria used by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for deciding which movie gets Best Picture are esoteric, at most.  Who are these guys, the Academy members, and how do they decide which picture is “best”? 

It’s a little too hush, hush for me.  According to NBC News’s stealth research team, 94% of Academy members are white, 77% are male, 2% are black, and less than 2% are Latino.  Who do they think they are, the United States Congress?! 

When you go to the Academy’s official website, they just shine you on.  For example, if you’d like to find out for yourself who comprises the 6,000 voting members of the Academy, the website cryptically offers “a short list of individuals from each branch.”   

Well!  I wonder why we all don’t step forward.  I just want to know who picked “Rocky” over “All the President’s Men” and “Taxi Driver.”  How did you decide on “How Green is My Valley” over “Citizen Kane”?  Really.  Come on!  Show yourselves!  

The Academy says of its members that they number among “the most gifted and skilled artists and craftsmen in the motion picture world.”  Isn’t that nice?  Their site goes on to say that “its Award stands alone as a symbol of superior achievement.” 

All right.  Maybe if we, the movie going public, the fans, the unskilled, uneducated out crowd could identify who the Academy’s in crowd is, we would be pestering them to vote for our favorite picture, the one we chose because it made us cry, or made us laugh and cry, or starred our pet actor, you know, that hunky guy who’s still single.  Of course, we have the People’s Choice Awards for this purpose.  They’re terrible.  Point taken. 

But the Academy acknowledges its own internal lobbying: “Each November, an election campaign commences that rivals, at least in Hollywood, the passions and sometimes the excesses of the quadrennial race for the nation’s presidency.  It’s the race for the Academy Award nomination.”  Imagine the hardships voting members must endure - special screenings of nominated films, free admission to commercial runs of films, and the mailing of DVDs. Oh, the humanity.   

All Academy members, whoever they are, can vote for Best Picture.  And what are their criteria for selecting the “best”?  No mention of this on the Academy’s website.  We can only assume that each member has his or her own private yardstick of cherished elements.  For example, I like a thought-provoking movie with a touch of the supernatural.  “Michael Clayton” comes to mind, or “Crash.”  With no stated standards of excellence, maybe Academy members are the ones who choose the movie that made them sniffle, or giggle ‘til they dampened their drawers.  In an information vacuum, we can only surmise. 

As it is we’re supposed to accept the wisdom of that elite cadre of shadowy figures who foisted “Shakespeare in Love” on us when “Saving Private Ryan” was in the mix.  These are the same folks who held up “Ordinary People” in place of “Raging Bull,” and “Chariots of Fire” over “On Golden Pond.”  Seriously.  Which of those “winners” have lived longer in your memory? 

Therefore, in the spirit of “Moneyball,” I propose another, more scientific method for determining Best Picture.  No more voter subjectivity.  No more gut feelings or sentimentality.  Be gone Academy politics!  Let’s just get down to the numbers: 

The Oscar for Best Picture goes to the movie that can get you to Kevin Bacon in the fewest steps.  

You know how it works, right, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?  For example, begin with Patrick Swayze in “Road House” and go to Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in “Ghost.”  Then from Demi in “Ghost” go to Demi in “A Few Good Men” - with Kevin Bacon.  Three degrees.  

Clean, transparent!  No funny business.  No hokey pokey.  Just connect the dots.  

The down side is that by this standard, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” wins with a direct link:  Tom Hanks in “EL&IC” straight to Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon in “Apollo 13.”  Voila!  Done and done.  The A’s win the pennant and a new Hollywood tradition is born. 

OK.  You’re right.  It’s not very romantic.  Yes, I do like a little romance in my movies.  And a little mystery in the process.   


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dirty Deeds Done Digitally

My grandma told me it’s better to be the dump-er than the dumpee.  She was a pretty smart old broad.  She lived her life.  And while she didn’t spell out the details of her quest for love between marriages to my grandpa (that’s right; she married him twice), she did make me the gift of excellent advice when I was evaluating suitors in the meat markets of my youth. 

These days, in absence of wisdom handed from generation to generation, we have new websites and applications offering dumpees a chance to get constructive feedback from the dumpers who, well, dumped them.  Nice.  I just can’t help thinking of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap.” 

But maybe it’s not a bad idea.  After all, 20% of new relationships now begin online.  Why not end ‘em there?  Or at least do a virtual mop up of the digital mess. 

I’m old school enough to say some things simply must be done in person.  But what if you’re the dumpee and the dumper doesn’t want to talk to you?  Or if you’re the dumper and the dumpee doesn’t want to listen?  Stepping in to fill the void of courage and good breeding is a new website: “WotWentWrong.”  

The idea with WotWentWrong is that after a first date has failed to produce a follow-up phone call, or budding love shriveled without explanation, dumpees can fill out an online questionnaire detailing what they feel they must know from the dumper – such as ‘Was it my teeth?  My nervous giggle and tic?  Did I talk too much about my gerbil?’  They submit their questions to the website which acts as an intermediary between the star-crossed ex-would-be-lovers.  The dumper responds through the site, avoiding direct contact with the person he or she unceremoniously unloaded.   

WWW even offers a schematic for the process:  Step one comprises a healthy-sounding ‘Proactively Seek Feedback’ (ask where things went wrong); and step two, ‘Be Honest but Respectful’ (give constructive feedback); and concludes with a smiling graphic step three, ‘Look to the Future,’ (develop insights and behaviors to ensure your relationship goals).  Ah!  Sweet Mystery of Life, resolved at last with three clicks of a mouse and a la di dah. 

Other sites related to state-of-the-psyche matchmaking and breaking offer the jilted not peace of mind, but revenge.  Consider CheaterVille, for example, where you can “Fight infidelity!  Post a known cheater now!”  Mug shots and unseemly tales of he-done-me-wrong provide enough degrading dirt to eliminate the need to watch “Maury” for the remainder of the decade.  

Or what about NeverLikedItAnyway, where dumpees can sell off gifts from their exes including engagement rings and wedding gowns.  Here the seller takes glee in downgrading the accoutrement of a withering romance, if not the dumper directly. 

I can’t help thinking of all the ways things could go wrong on such a site, especially with the help of a mischievous nerd with a penchant for misdirection.  Remember the cleric in “Romeo and Juliet” who never delivered the message that would have saved the day?  No?  Well he really messed things up.   

The modern day equivalent, say a hybrid of Allstate’s anarchist, “Mayhem,” and an “Anonymous” hacker, could wreak virtual chaos.  Your cheater might wind up with my cut-rate diamond ring; and we’ve facilitated a perpetrator in committing another crime of the heart!  Oh dash it all! 

Of course technology is already forging the solution to such dilemmas:  Virtual assistants; Artificial Intelligence.  The newest wave of hi-tech gadgets uses voice pattern recognition to determine how likely their users are to attend a first date before scheduling it, or how engaged a prospective Mr. Right is in the content of a conversation by analyzing his gaze and head gestures.  They can detect his mood based on his tone of voice and pacing of words. 

So, if both parties take their PDA’s to their exploratory first meeting at Peet’s, they won’t have to think at all about their prospects.  It’ll be done for them, virtually!  No muss, no fuss, no awkward actual interaction. 

In the trend to make the “human interface” even more user friendly, PDA’s should have the voice of our elders deliver the advice.  Over a latte, and from the palm of your hand, she’ll size him up and say, “Honey, you might as well throw this one back.  He’s got a drinker’s nose and he hardly held your attention anyway.” 

Thanks Grandma.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

St. Valentine's Day in the 21st Century

Having just learned the origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced all the way back to a mid-February fertility festival named for the she-wolf of Rome, I can see why a person might have conflicted feelings.  I’m not sure how much chocolate it will take to eradicate from my tender thoughts of love the image of the mother-wolf Lupa in a cave with Romulus and Remus, even though she saved their lives and they went on to found Rome itself.  OMG.

Even after that the stories wax a bit medieval.  Legend has it that Valentine, a Roman priest, defied his Emperor Claudius by continuing to marry young lovers in spite of Claudius’s wartime decree against marriage, intended to keep men on the battlefield.  Made a martyr by his imprisonment and sentence to death for his defiance, Valentine received countless gifts of roses and sweets from those whom he’d dared to wed. 

It’s said that Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter.  And on the day of his execution, he sent her a note signed, “Your Valentine,” and voila!  The tradition was born of suitors dying with expressions of sweet, if unrequited love. 

We can’t impugn Valentine for our predicament today.  He couldn’t have known from that messy point forward, he’d be canonized, and the rest of us would be duty bound to spend $448 million per year to show our affections. 

Even though an element of coercion clings to the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day, I do enjoy shopping for cards for my loved ones.  Every year I browse the aisles of red and pink, collecting ever so carefully the perfect sentiments for my husband and son, my father-in-law, each of my brothers, my nieces and nephews, my cherished friends, my elderly neighbors, and my cats.  More than once I’ve gotten home and set about addressing the envelopes only to find the cards can’t have been perfect after all.  I don’t remember which one I intended for whom!  Oh well.  It’s the obligatory thought that counts.

I don’t think my husband will get me candy this year as we’ve been hiding candy since the day after Halloween.  It’s the only way not to eat what we didn’t drop into the bags of boogey men or those stockings hung by the chimney with care.  I put it out of sight, or he does.  Then we each forget where we put it.  If we’re lucky, by the time we run across it again in the hall closet or the laundry room, it’s all filmy and undesirable.  One less hour on the treadmill.

Roses are nice.  He used to send me roses at work, from a florist.  That was the best!  I was the object of envy.  Now that I’m retired, our florist is Safeway.  He carries a bouquet home in its cellophane wrap and sneaks it onto the kitchen counter.  But be clear:  I’m not complaining.  I’m blonde, but I’m not stupid.   

I wouldn’t mind a dinner out.  You know, white tablecloths, two forks.  Champagne flutes and a toast to us.  But I know him well enough after 21years to accept that he hasn’t made reservations and now there are none to be made.  All the posh eateries booked themselves full up a couple of weeks ago. 

We’ll have take-out in front of the TV.  A TiVo’d movie and a clink of soft drinks across the end table.  And you know what?  I’m looking forward to it.  He’s the greatest, really.  As his mom told me so long ago – he’s as comfortable as a pair of old shoes.

My favorite old shoes are my go-to fleece-lined boots.  They keep my toes toasty all the way up to my calves.  They’re not really made to wear outdoors, but I do sometimes, to get the paper or feed the dog.  They have a tough soul, er sole, and stand up to the elements. 

He bought them for me actually.  No surprise.  I circled a picture of them in a catalog and left it on his chair.  He took the page and ordered online.  When UPS delivered the box, he wrote on it with a Sharpie, “I love ya, Honey!”

He does.  Of that I’m certain.  And Honey, I love you too.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don't You Just Hate It When That Happens?

Of course the Park Police would patrol the parking lot on the day I forget to take my park pass out of the glove box and hang it on the rear view mirror.  It’s easily 4”x10” and creates a distraction for driving, not to mention an aesthetic crime.  So I pack it away and pull it out every time I go to walk in the park.  Well, almost every time. 

I paid $90 to park on the premises for my daily hour and a half trek, when I could park on the street all day, for free.  But I felt duty bound to support the parks.  Could have paid the $6 daily fee, but that’s more expensive, and I felt proud of my official advocacy.  Now with this check, paying the fine for failure to display my parking pass, I’ll be backing them again to the tune of $71.  Gosh I feel good. 

Few things are more exasperating than a parking ticket.  Once, I inadvertently gave a parking attendant an $11 tip.  I thought I was giving him two ones.  Turns out it was a ten and a one.  I remember thinking he had an odd smile when I handed him the bills.  He knew.  I didn’t find out until later when I reached for the ten and it wasn’t there.  Then I was the one who had the odd look.  I wouldn’t call it a smile though.   

I ran into a former student working at Sport Mart once.  She had grown up so much in the few years since I’d seen her!  We chatted over the cushioned insoles I needed for those aforementioned walks in the park.  She seemed very knowledgeable about the products on display and I left the store with a pricey pair of inserts, happy, anticipating cushy comfort on my next perambulation.   

I crossed the bridge, dashed into the house, and went directly to my walking shoes to put my new hi-tech insoles in place, only to find they were tiny.  I thought they were the one-size-fits-all/trim-to-fit-the-masses type of shoe insert.  But my size 9.5 clodhoppers engulfed those petite pillows.  I could hang ten.  I made a detailed search of the packaging and a squinty-eyed second scan before I found the sizing information printed on the upper right-hand corner in a font suitable for the head of a pin.   

Why my sweet, smart former student hadn’t thought to mention sizing to me remains a mystery, unless I take into account her pronounced scatter-brainedness from our past association.  That was irritating. 

A while ago my friend and I went to the indie theatre to see a 2:30pm showing of the quirky and acclaimed film “Garden State,” only to find that it had started at 2:05pm.  The teenager in the ticket booth shrugged, “Oh, sorry, the paper must have been wrong.”  We watched “Jane Eyre” instead, a dark and brooding period piece of unrequited love.  It was so true to the book. 

A recurring aggravation is the trend at supermarkets to shuffle the locations of their groceries.  It felt like I was in the Hunt for Red October recently, desperately seeking my favorite granola.  I can think of no defensible reason why the cereal aisle should be moved from the back-right of the store to front-left.  What’s the logic in putting the Cheerios next to the cheese?  Unless of course you’re into alliteration.   

Come to think of it, alphabetizing would be more helpful than the obscure marketing schemes that put the color red on virtually every package and the good stuff either too high to reach without exposing your belly, or too low to stoop for without showing your behind. 

My dentist convinced me that my teeth had become beige, instead of the bathtub porcelain white so exceedingly desirable these days.  So I bought the molded trays and peroxide gel.  But after a couple of sessions I saw patches of white on my teeth that did not blend with the ecru to which I’d become accustomed.  I didn’t want to display a patchwork of earth tones, so I quit using the stuff. 

Next time in his office, six months later, I mentioned it.  “Oh,” he said, “that’s normal.  The patches are just dry spots that come up.  But they blend in quickly.  No need to worry.  It all evens out.”  Thanks.  That’s good information to have.  Today. 

Seems that writing the check for this parking ticket brings up such maddening memories!  It’s not my habit to dwell on such things, but it appears that I have.  How exasperating! 

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?!