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City Lights: The Oscar pool is on

January 25, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Jean Dujardin, as George Valentin, and Berenice Bejo, as Peppy Miller, in Michel Hazanavicius's film "The Artist."
Jean Dujardin, as George Valentin, and Berenice Bejo,… (The Weinstein Company )

Everyone has at least one skill that doesn't have a practical use.

Mine is the ability to name every movie ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

I absorbed that knowledge from years of reading critical studies of the Oscars, to the point where, if someone blurts out any year from 1928 to the present, I can pinpoint that year's winner within three seconds. Go ahead, try me — my number is at the bottom of this column.

I guess having that photographic memory has one practical use: It gives me a leg up in making Oscar predictions. The last time I can remember wrongly handicapping the winner was in 1998, when I picked "Saving Private Ryan" over "Shakespeare in Love," but I don't think even Shakespeare's descendants predicted that upset.

In many ways, the Best Picture race is similar to a presidential primary. Both are contests ostensibly about choosing the "best" candidate, but more often award the most politically prudent and least divisive choice. Sometimes, a movie will top the list because it's a popular smash ("Titanic"); sometimes, voters will favor it over a volatile contender ("Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain"); other times, the Oscar serves as a consolation prize (would "The Departed" have taken the gold without Martin Scorsese's name on it?).

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This year, the field seems more open than usual, without one film that seems a sure bet to win it all — you know, like "Saving Private Ryan" or "Brokeback Mountain." And so, with the Oscar nominations having come out Tuesday, I propose the Independent's first annual Outguess the City Editor Contest.

Between now and the Feb. 26 ceremony, email your predictions for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress to michael.miller@latimes.com. Whoever gets the most right will get a mention in this column after the show. The only catch is that you have to do better than me. Here are my picks:

Best Picture: Under recently adopted rules, the Academy now nominates up to 10 movies for this award — which just means there are more also-rans than in the past. Of the ones with a fighting chance, "The Help" has too many outspoken detractors, "Midnight in Paris" is lightweight, and "The Descendants" may be too talky and low-key to entice enough votes.

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