The Couch Surfer: 'Runner-up again in the Oscars sweepstake. Is this how Robert Altman feels?'

Tim Walker: There's no sure-fire way to forecast the outcome of the Oscar voting
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The Independent Culture

I blame Sean Penn. For the second year in a row, I was the runner-up in our office Oscars competition. The idea is to predict the winners in all 24 Academy Awards categories. The speculator with the most points wins and, just as I was last year, I was a single point off the pace. Is this how Robert Altman used to feel? I made Nashville, people. Nashville, godammit!

Film buffery, of course, is no guarantee of success. There's no sure-fire way to forecast the outcome of the Oscar voting: you can pick the films and the performances you liked best, but most years you will come away empty-handed. No one cared much for A Beautiful Mind, and it won four Oscars anyway.

You can pick a spread of movies across the categories and hope that the Academy will be equally fair-minded. You didn't see Frost/Nixon getting anything, though, did you? Or you can be counter-intuitive and pick outsiders – the Viola Davises (guilty) and the Angelina Jolies – but it turns out that's a mug's game, too. The surest way to success is simply to study the odds and pick the favourites, but there's still bound to be at least one big surprise. Just ask Mickey Rourke.

Even Nate Silver sucks at calling the Oscars. Silver is the prodigious pollster who foresaw every twist and turn on the US presidential election trail last year. His website, www.fivethirtyeight.com, made him the prophet of the primaries, but then his algorithmic Oscars poll went and picked Taraji P Henson for Best Supporting Actress. In case you're wondering who that is, she was in about 15 minutes of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Which, in that particular film (166 mins), is not exactly a big share of the screen time.

Henson was the Dennis Kucinich of the 2009 Oscar races, yet Silver, commissioned by New York magazine, gave her a 51 per cent chance of walking off with the statuette, compared to just 24 per cent for Penelope Cruz. That prediction, Nate, was 100 per cent duh.

It sounds clever to say that coming second in the sweepstake makes me "Best Supporting Actor". This, however, would suggest that I actually got to take home some gold. In reality, I'm just one of those chumps made to smile and clap politely while the other guy rambles on about his wonderful agent until the band strikes up. But no, I'm not at all bitter. The winner's was the outstanding performance of the year, of course. I'm honoured just to be here. No, really.



Twitter, it has been reported, is going to change the way we think. Oh, and give us cancer. Thanks to some disproportionate media interest (guilty, again), the microblogging service's UK traffic has trebled in 2009, entering the top 100 websites. Which means that, yes, it probably is going to start adjusting the brain patterns of even some non-media tweeple. It probably won't give us cancer.

In any case, I'd like to take a moment to pine for the good old days of Twitter. Or rather, the warm, sunny afternoon in mid-2007 when some office-bound colleagues and I stumbled upon the site. This was when StumbleUpon was the in thing, and "tweet" was still a verb reserved for garden birds. Back then, the service included free SMS text messaging in the UK, meaning that – if you so desired – every incoming tweet on your feed would also be sent to your mobile.

Seven of us gaily signed up, and we soon found it necessary to type such witty banter as "Would anyone like a cup of tea?" and "Yes – milk no sugar, please", before pressing return and listening to everyone else's phones beep simultaneously. This kept us amused for weeks. Of course, we eventually got bored, forgot about that obscure and (we thought) defunct idea, and only returned to it when the bandwagon came rolling by again, 18 months later.

Twitter shut down its European SMS service in August, but last month Twe2.com, a Liverpool start-up, said it would be furnishing Euro-Twits with an ad-supported free text service. Paul Kinlan, one of Twe2's developers, claimed the site had 20,000 users after less than a week. When I heard of this, my eyes misted for a moment and I thought again of those heady summer days when the texts flowed like wine. And then I thought: I'm now following 80 people instead of just the six, which would, by my calculations, make something like 1,000 texts a day (many of them from Stephen Fry). Plus ads. So who, exactly, has signed up for this madness?

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