I don’t have to get up early this Sunday, which is great because it’s going to be a looooonnnggggg day. The middle part — my wife and I watching the Daytona 500 and screaming like maniacs as we cheer for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Danica Patrick — you probably don’t care about. The evening’s activities, however, are more appropriate for this forum. Yes, indeed, it’s Oscar night!
There could be just as much cheering during the Academy Awards as there would be during the NASCAR race, but it’s a different kind of cheering. NASCAR is more of a beer and chicken wings event whereas the Oscars lean more toward wine and champagne. NASCAR pits 43 cars against each other and sometimes a dark horse such as Trevor Bayne sneaks through for an unexpected win. At the Oscars, 10 movies have the chance to be named the best of the year. No last minute write-ins, no final lap crashes that take out all the leaders. The nomination process is more like the playoffs or the NASCAR “Chase for the Championship.” We know who is in the running and even though there are other movies and other racers, the field of who can be the best is limited.
Who will be the best? I don’t know, but let’s keep this going and compare the Best Picture nominees to a handful of drivers.
• “Lincoln”: Steven Speilberg has been around and has won Best Picture and Best Director in the past. Abraham Lincoln is idolized and the kind of president many politicians aspire to be. “Lincoln” is Jeff Gordon, a four-time champ whose glory days might be in the past. There’s always hope for one last run to the top.
• “Les Miserables”: This year’s musical entry has been highly touted by critics and took home some Golden Globes. Whether it can win the biggest race of the year has yet to be seen. Since musicals have been to the top of the mountain before, “Les Miz” has as good a chance as any to win this race. It pains to say it, but this is a lot like Dale Jr. Expectations are always high and he’s making a huge comeback. He’s won the 500 once and, like a good musical, is always a favorite to win. Unfortunately, he gets more close-ups than he should, just like the camera work in “Les Miserables.”
• “Django Unchained”: You know who has won a ton of races at Daytona but never won the big race? Tony Stewart. You know who always seems to get nominated and often wins some of the smaller prizes (screenwriting) but has yet to break through and win Best Picture? Quentin Tarantino. Never count Stewart out of a Daytona race and never assume Tarantino won’t win Oscar gold. But don’t bet the farm on it, either.
• “Beasts of the Southern Wild”: A nine-year-old girl earned an acting nomination from this movie. Some people think she’s too young for such praise. Talent knows no age. Danica Patrick earned the pole position for the Daytona 500. She earned it. No one slowed down for her. Talent knows no gender. If that girl wins an Oscar, she will have deserved it. If Patrick wins this race, it’ll be because she beat the other drivers.
• “Argo”: When this movie came out, no one expected anything from it. Ben Affleck directed it. Those low expectations have been met and surpassed. Last year, Clint Bowyer, driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, finished second in the championship standings. He’s steadily gotten better and, despite his easy-going demeanor, should be taken as a serious threat to win this race. Just like “Argo” should be taken seriously as a threat to win Best Picture.
• “Amour”: It’s French and, from what I know, is about how old people can still be passionate. It’s a nod to foreign cinema. In NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya pretty much represents the rest of the world. At last year’s 500, he made a huge impact. With a jet dryer. It was something to see and delayed the race for a couple hours. Big explosions don’t equal wins. Don’t count on “Amour” to win Best Picture.
• “Life of Pi”: Ang Lee has taken this trophy before. Kevin Harvick is a former Daytona 500 winner. Sometimes we get the best from these guys (Harvick’s first win after replacing the deceased Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Lee’s direction of “Sense and Sensibility”) and other times, we get disappointed (Harvick’s 2010 season, Lee’s version of “The Hulk”). So it’s hard to tell if they’re going to be at the top of their games or will just let us down again.
• “Silver Linings Playbook”: Some people think it is too soon to proclaim Jennifer Lawrence the new queen of Hollywood. She’s had some hits, won some awards, but she’s still so young. Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship last year. But he’s driving a Ford this year instead of a Dodge. And “Silver Linings Playbook” might be a drama, but it might be a comedy. It’s too soon to tell.
• “Zero Dark Thirty”: It’s the favorite and its leader, Kathryn Bigelow, is a trailblazer. She’s the first woman to have won Best Director. Jimmie Johnson is a trailblazer. He won five championships in a row. And that’s the problem with both of them. I feel like I’ve seen this show before. Bigelow’s big win was for the war movie “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” is a war movie variation. Dominance is an amazing accomplishment, but I’d rather see someone new win.
See that? You didn’t know NASCAR and the Oscars had so much in common, did you?
• Backstage Pass is a new blog on www.yakima-herald.com covering pop culture from Hollywood to your backyard. T.J. Tranchell is a freelance journalist and student at Central Washington University.