Sunday, November 24, 2013

Retconning Doctor Who

[Spoilers throughout if you're not caught up with the Doctor.]

I'm wondering if all the Doctor Who 50th anniversary retconning gives a clue to what's coming up on the show. The 1986 season, "The Trial of a Time Lord," featured the Valeyard, a version of the Doctor who's supposed to come between the 12th and 13th incarnations and embody his darker impulses.

Now that John Hurt is enshrined as an official regeneration of the Doctor, that means all of the NuWho doctors were one number off: that is, Christopher Eccleston is the 10th Doctor, not the 9th; David Tennant is the 11th, not the 10th; and Matt Smith is the 12th, not the 11th.

Twelfth, not eleventh.
We already know Peter Capaldi is going to be the next Doctor (you can even see him in "The Day of The Doctor" if you pay close attention). We've assumed he would play the 12th Doctor, but the addition of Hurt means he would be the 13th (and theoretically final) incarnation of the Doctor. But what if all of that was misdirection? What if Capaldi is actually playing Doctor 12.5, the Valeyard?

12th? 13th? Somewhere in between?
Scroll back to that picture from the 80s: Capaldi has a similar look, and his menacing, intimidating persona (check him out as Malcom Tucker on In The Loop) would make him a natural for the Valeyard.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What Makes You Dutiful

Sorry, I can't sing, so you'll have to use your imagination to put the song with the words. Or, you know, record it yourself it you have that kind of free time.

Anyway, the song:

And my words for it:

[Verse 1]
You’re so secure
Know who you’re made for
Thoughts up above when you scrub down the floor
Don’t need make up
Won’t cover up
Your submission to Him is enough

No one else in the room should see it
Your inner life is true

Sister you please our Father like nobody else
The way you cover your head keeps me self-controlled
And when you clean out our room it ain’t hard to tell,
That you know,
Oh, oh,
Jesus makes you dutiful
Want the whole wide world to see
To understand God loves them so desperately
My kind words to you will make them believe
That you know,
Oh, oh,
Jesus makes you dutiful
Oh, oh,
He’s what makes you dutiful

[Verse 2]
Our ch-children know
I’m always right
You’ll submit to me
And the Lord’s our light
I know why
You’re being shy
Your only desire is for God’s eye-eye-eyes

No one else in the room can see it
Your inner life is true

Sister you please our Father like nobody else
The way you cover your head keeps me self-controlled
And when you sweep out the room it ain’t hard to tell,
That you know,
Oh, oh,
Jesus makes you dutiful
Want the whole wide world to see
To understand God loves them so desperately
My kind words to you will make them believe
That you know,
Oh, oh,
Jesus makes you dutiful
Oh, oh,
He’s what makes you dutiful

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I Don't Want to Write the Next Hunger Games

I don't want to write the next Hunger Games...

 ...or  Divergent...


...or Maze Runner...

...or Knife of Never Letting Go...

...or Uglies...

...or 5th Wave...


...Or even Pure (the best of this lot)...

Now, don't misunderstand me: I've read all of those books, and the series they kick off, and I enjoyed all of them. They're good books. That's not the issue.

Let's play a game. Try to figure out which book I'm summarizing:

Adrift in a world decimated by calamity and struggling to rebuild itself, our protagonist must plumb her untapped reservoirs of inner strength and determination as she faces unimaginable obstacles, as well as the inhumanity of the people around here, in her quest to reassemble the shattered mosaic of her past and uncover the dark secrets behind her world's dystopian state.

If you've read all 7 books, you know it's not The Maze Runner, The Knife of Never Letting Go, or The 5th Wave, because they have male protagonists, but other than that? It could fit any of the four remaining choices. And if English actually had a gender-neutral singular pronoun, I could have made it fit any and all of them.

Dystopian stories have their place on YA shelves. I'm not disputing that. But now that the hordes of Twilight knockoffs are finally slinking off to the remainder bin, it feels like dystopia occupies every spot in the entire section. It's what everyone is writing.

And I don't want to write the book everyone else is writing.

My native genre is science fiction, and I gravitate toward YA because I think it's the best genre for exploring how characters form and develop; I just don't want to invest my time and energy creating a world that doesn't work. I'm interested in places different from the scenes of my daily life, but that are also functional on a fundamental level.

The closest I've come to finding the kind of book I want to write is Lauren Oliver's Delirium series, which have a sinister edge to them (people can't feel emotions after they reach adolescence), but also have intact families, a reasonably stable government, relationships that aren't based solely on survival, and a rather low body count.

As much as I admire Lauren Oliver's writing, which really is excellent, her series falls into the "girl book" trope of the protagonist meeting the mysterious outsider and eventually falling in love with him. There's nothing wrong with that kind of plot, provided the girl is actually a character and not just a passive mush receptacle; but it's not the kind of book I want to write.

I want to write about guys.

Guys who aren't action heroes.

Guys who obsess over cartoons and play video games and spend more time scouring the internet for crazy theories than they do working out or getting a tan.

Guys like me, in other words.

So that's what I'm doing.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Tribute to Elmore Leonard

I'm a bit ashamed to admit I haven't read any of Elmore Leonard's novels, but I've watched several of the shows and movies that were adapted from his stories, and after I heard about his death a few weeks ago, I was drawn to learn more about him in a way I hadn't been before. In particular, I was intrigued by his essay, "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle," which is a list of the rules Leonard employed to "help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story."

Here's a condensed version of Leonard's rules:
  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said."
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6.  Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Good writing advice, to be sure. But no matter how carefully I might try to follow them, I'm sure I would mess up along the way. (I did in the previous sentence, for example.) So, instead of trying (and failing) to imitate Elmore Leonard's style, I decided to go in the opposite direction; to break as many of the rules as many times as I could in a single story.



The clouds rolled in suddenly over the summer-scorched Kansas prairie the day Leonard gave me the most important advice of my life! He was a stoop-shouldered man, his formerly erect posture burdened by the unrelentingly inexorable march of the years. “Now, you gon’ listen up right and proper-like, y’hear?” Leonard declaimed, flecks of spittle hanging precariously from his bulbous lower lip.

“Yes’m, I’s listenin’,” I asseverated reverently!


Years after that day, when my son, a bald-headed ex-marine with a tattoo of his vociferously forgotten ex-wife on the backside of his left calf, who served one tour in Iraq and then another one immediately following the first, slammed the white-trimmed screen door I had carefully repainted just a month before, stripping off the old faded sky-blue paint before sanding it smoothly with the sandpaper I had purchased from the hardware store on the corner of Jay and Chamberlain, the one the arthritic old owner who searched you menacingly with his one good eye staunchly refused to sell to the big chain store no matter how encroachingly they presented the offer, all hell nearly broke loose! And I don’t mean the rain-signaling air with its precipitously lower pressure that the aforementioned door slamming unceremoniously let in.

“Dagnabbit! C’mon back now, Sonny!” I ejaculated after him imploringly, hoping my words might convince him to turn tail and come back in open-mindedly, ready to hear me out. “I ain’t toldja Leonard’s advice none yet!”

Miraculously, he suddenly stopped and turned tail to come back inside, just as I had asked him. He tremblingly grabbed the handle of the screen door and opened it up, the door swinging creakingly on its hinges, and walked back in, one step at a time. He crossed the room tentatively, his workbooted feet taking steps roughly two feet shorter than he typically strode, the scuffed soles rebounding harmlessly off the weather-worn wood floor, until he stood in front of the sofa. He sat down slowly, and I haltingly began to speak.

“Now, I knows this ain’t what you wantin’ to hear none right this now,” I pronounced gravely, “and I knows just as well as you knows things ain’t always been sunshine and dandylions twixt us’n, but I need ya t’ hear me out, Sonny. C’n ya do that fer me?”

Sonny nodded agreeably. “Yes’m, Pa. I reckon I can do that.”

I cleared my quickly to speak, not wanting to let this exceedingly rare moment between us pass. We didn’t often get moments like this, when Sonny’s temper didn’t make the veins appear bulgingly across his forehead, in a way that I was mostly sure kept his ears from hearing anything or anyone else might say to admonish him.

“Here’s what I gots to say t’ ya’,” Sonny. And you remember now, these’r them words Leonard imparted to me with his speaking mouth all them years ago,” I impelled hopefully. “’If it sounds like hooptedoodle, you best rewrite those words firing synaptically through your thinking brain afore all hell breaks loose!’”

Sonny nodded comprehendingly. “I understands, Pa. I for sure most definitely does!”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

One Direction's Infinite Causality Loop

After hearing about the alleged feud between The Who and One Direction, I got roped into listening to the 1D song in question, "Best Song Ever," which indeed sounds a lot like The Who's "Baba O'Riley," and scrolling through some of the kind of psychotic 1D fan tweets.

The feud itself doesn't interest me that much, but "Best Song Ever" does. As I listened to it, I realized it is not only a half-decent pop song, it's also a quantum causality loop. As you may already know, this isn't their first song to employ "infinite fractal recursion," as Stephen Colbert explained brilliantly in his deconstruction of "What Makes You Beautiful."

The chorus to the song is as follows:

And we danced all night to the best song ever.
We knew every line. Now I can't remember
How it goes but I know that I won't forget her
'Cause we danced all night to the best song ever.

I think it went oh, oh, oh
I think it went yeah, yeah, yeah
I think it goes oh

Based on the admittedly spotty memory of the band, the "best song ever" could be the New Kids on the Block classic "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," but I believe that's too simple an explanation. Instead, in a brilliant display of Jedi mind trickery, the best song ever refers to "Best Song Ever." 

Here's where things get a little complicated.

When 1D refers to this halcyon night in which they danced to the best song ever, a song which goes both, "Oh, oh, oh," and, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," you'll recall, they are talking about their own song "Best Song Ever," which indeed goes both, "Oh, oh, oh," and, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But how could this be? How could Harry and co. have listened to their song in the past, while also recording it in the present? 

That's right: infinite causality loop.

Of course, it's impossible to say which came first, the dancing to the song or the recording of it, because temporally speaking, neither one came first. They are two separate yet mutually dependent events. At the same instant they recorded the song, they had already danced to it all night, and when they were dancing to it all night, they had already recorded it.

Less enlightened peoples--from the 1990s, say--would certainly have decried such a quantum paradox as incontrovertible evidence of witchcraft, but in the enlightened, post-Harry Potter 2010s, we know better than to jump to the "black magic" explanation. Instead, as Speed Levitch said in Waking Life, "[we] can learn to love...the paradoxes that bug [us]."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Matt Bell: In the House Upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods

An hour or so after I started reading, I tweeted this:

Now that I’ve finished Matt Bell’s novel, I’ll admit that early impression was a bit hasty. The Antichrist parallels are there, but the book is more than that. I also felt echoes of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Phantastes by George MacDonald, but In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods ends up standing out on its own terms, and being something quite different than I expected when I started.

The setup for In the House is simple: a husband and wife (not named, directly at least) move out to a house whose location you can figure out from the title. They want to have a child, but the wife keeps suffering miscarriages, and pain of loss drives a wedge in their relationship. The husband tries to deal with his grief by subduing the land and hunting it bare, while the wife sings objects into being in an attempt to fill the empty space the child would have occupied. (That’s right. This is a fantasy novel.)

This is where I first saw the Antichrist parallels. It’s a movie about a husband and wife (also not named) whose child dies in the very first scene. In an attempt to deal with their grief, they move to a remote cabin in the forest. If you know anything about Lars von Trier’ movies, it won’t be a surprise to hear things don’t turn out well for the couple.

Where Antichrist revels in the pain of its protagonists, keeping them locked in spirals of increasingly destructive behavior for nearly the entire running time, In the House has a plot. Eventually, at least. It takes a while to get going, but by the end, neither the husband nor the wife is anywhere close to where they began the story. Also, animals play important and mysterious roles in both In the House and Antichrist

(Since I like to mention the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky whenever I get the chance, von Trier dedicated Antichrist to Tarkovsky. The entire movie can be seen as an adaptation of an idea Tarkovsky mentions in the documentary Voyages in Time when he's asked if there are any movies he wishes he could have made but didn't.) 


House of Leaves is a sprawling, deliberately messy book, full of footnotes, appendices, text crawling every which way across the page, and a few annoying frame stories. (I think frame stories are almost always annoying.)  But the good part of the book is an extended essay about The Navidson Record, a documentary about a house with a door to a spatially impossible, ever expanding universe.  The inhabitants of the house set out to explore the world behind the door, and end up nearly losing themselves in the process. 

In the House also features an impossible interior world, but where the Navidsons can never figure out where their door came from, In the House’s domestic landscape is literally sung into being by the wife. Bell devotes numerous pages to describing the house’s rooms—to varying effect, I thought—with paragraphs beginning, “And in this room…” Eventually, we do get to the bottom of the house, while the Navidsons’ abyss is never fully explored. 

I don’t want to go into much detail on the Phantastes aspects of In the House, because those parallels only become apparent later in the novel, and discussing them would spoil more of the story than I want to do here. What I will say is that when I read Phantases—a mythic novel about a man’s journey from selfishness to sacrifice—I always expected it to reach some point of catharsis, and I was satisfied when it did. I didn’t expect the same from In the House (especially given my Antichrist impressions), which made the novel’s conclusion all the more effective.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Replay Value

Edgar in a cave. (Final Fantasy III)
In most Super Nintendo RPGs (role-playing games), you infiltrated an enemy castle or investigated a cave that appeared to be devoid of life. Every few steps, however, the game triggered a random battle and you found yourself fighting monsters who had been invisible (or nonexistent, depending on how you looked at it) a second earlier. Unless you acquired a special item, like Final Fantasy III’s Moogle Charm, that nullified random battles, there was no way to avoid whatever obstacles the game threw at you. Chrono Trigger, released by Square Soft in 1995, was different. You could see, and often avoid, the monsters onscreen before going into battle against them. When you explored the mysterious Ocean Palace, for example, you could see its denizens, and prepare for their attacks, before the fight began.

Crono and co. sidestep an enemy encounter.
Another of Chrono Trigger’s RPG innovations was its replay value. Most RPGs told a linear story—you started as a young, inexperienced warrior, gained power and weapons throughout the course of the game, and defeated the final boss at the end—that remained largely the same each time you played through the game. But after destroying Lavos, Chrono Trigger’s final boss, for the first time, the game allowed you to roll over your levels and equipment and start over, beginning the game as a buffed-up übermensch. This allowed you to complete the game in a fraction of the time, but there was more. Chrono Trigger’s plot involved traveling from one time period to another, fixing problems in the past and then visiting their repercussions in the future. One of the time periods was the “Day of Lavos,” where you confronted the parasitic alien and beat the game. When you started the game over (the option was called “New Game +”), you could access this time period from the very beginning of the game onward, and depending on where you were in the storyline, you would unlock a different ending when you defeated Lavos. For example, if you went to the Day of Lavos right before you defeated the nefarious Reptites in the prehistoric time period, the ending showed your characters transformed into Reptites themselves, because your non-intervention in the distant past altered the development of life on Earth. 

Reptite Crono's mom tries to wake him up.
I defeated Lavos more time than I can count, trying as many different strategies and ideas as I could think of to unlock all of the game’s endings and maximize its replay value. I wanted to master the game, uncover all of its secrets, learn how to beat it from the inside out. I was an obsessive kid, so I also did the same thing with games like EarthBound, Final Fantasy III, and Secret of Mana, which have little replay value compared to Chrono Trigger. Those games remained the same each time I played them, allowing me to memorize lines of dialogue and the attack patterns of enemies; the games could not surprise me, and rather than swallowing me in a mire of boredom, playing a game I had already mastered was a source of comfort. I knew exactly what it could do to me, and I also knew I was strong enough to overcome it.
I continued playing and re-playing games all throughout high school and college. In grad school, though, I became too busy to do anything beyond reading, writing, and grading. I told myself this was evidence of my growth and maturation into an adult. As soon as I finished my last project, however, the itch to play a game surfaced again. I wasn’t interested in finding a new challenge, though. I wanted to re-play Secret of Mana. At the time, I thought it was a mere bout of nostalgia for one of the greatest games ever created. 

Now, I know it was more than that. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree, or where I was going to work, or live, or even who my friends would be. I was transitioning from having nearly every element of my life scripted in syllabi to knowing practically nothing about my future; I wanted something I knew I could handle, and Secret of Mana provided an unthreatening challenge.
Secret of Mana is a fairly long game, and beating it usually took me a week or two. In my post-grad school frenzy, though, I blitzed through it in three days. As I watched the ending sequence play out on the screen, I was sad, knowing I would have to tackle a new test now. But I had not played Chrono Trigger in years. What if I had somehow missed an ending? The internet and its libraries of walkthroughs and strategy guides wasn’t around to help me back then, after all.
I started making a list of games, both those I had played before and ones I had missed, to track down and use as a distraction. The list has grown quite long. It might be years before I exhaust it, and by then, I'm sure I’ll be itching to fire up Secret of Mana once again.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Finding Jesus in Star Trek Into Darkness

***Spoiler Warning if you don't already know who's who and what's what in Star Trek Into Darkness***

I've been hearing speculation that Captain Kirk is meant to be a Christ figure in Star Trek Into Darkness (STID). The theories have some merit, since Kirk sacrifices himself to save his crew/followers and is then raised from the dead a little bit later, but they also ignore the STID character with even more direct Christological characteristics: Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison/Khan. 

Consider, first of all, Khan's motivation for his admittedly outlandish plot: He wants to his followers, whom he has secreted away in the special-edition photon torpedoes on the Enterprise. Right there, we have one of the same markers cited in defense of Kirk's alleged Christology. But the evidence with Khan goes further. Do you recall how many followers Khan had? 72. And where else have you seen that number? 

Luke 10:1
"After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go."

 That's right. Jesus sent out 72 followers, and Khan had 72 followers cryo-sleep-stored in the torpedoes. Coincidence?

It goes beyond that, though. This next piece of evidence is even more compelling. In fact, I can’t imagine anything that could be more convincing. 

At three different points in the movie—with the sick child near the beginning, a Tribble near the middle, and with the dead Kirk close to the end—Khan’s blood is used to bring dead things back to life. Strangely, STID chooses not to dwell on this point, but the evidence is nonetheless clear: Khan’s blood can cure death, thus granting whoever has it eternal life.

Does that sound like anyone else you know?

John 6:56
“Whoever…drinks my blood has eternal life…”

Now, I will admit that Khan does a few un-Jesus-like things, such as killing lots of people, lying, manipulating, being the villain of the story, and crushing skulls with his bare hands, but those are minor quibbles--Tribbles? :)--compared to the mountains of evidence showing Khan as Jesus. So, the next time you have trouble picturing what Jesus might have looked like, just think of Khan instead. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Star Trek Into Harkness

I would be more excited for this, honestly.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

@PrayForBoston: The Marathon Bombing and Sandy Hook

Note: I created this as a PowerPoint presentation to show to my classes. We're discussing how to evaluate arguments and evidence.


In the hours after the Boston Marathon bombing, the hashtag #prayforboston was trending on Twitter. People used it to express their support and sympathy toward the victims of the bombing.
Also on Monday, a Twitter account with the name @PrayForBoston posted two photos that quickly started trending, as well.

R.I.P. to the 8 year-old boy who died in Boston's explosions, while running for the Sandy Hook kids. #prayforboston

R.I.P. to the 8 year-old girl who died in Boston's explosion, while running for the Sandy Hook kids. #prayforboston

Each of the two photos were retweeted tens of thousands of times.

When I saw them, though, something seemed off.

 Finding Facts

The Boston Marathon honored victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting by dedicating each mile of the race to someone who was killed (there were 26 Sandy Hook deaths; a marathon is 26.2 miles).

A group of runners from Newtown, CT (where Sandy Hook is located) participated in the Boston Marathon as a way of honoring the victims.

Reports confirmed that an 8-year-old died as a result of the bombing. Identity was not immediately disclosed.
The girl’s picture shows her wearing a bib for the “Joe Kinsella 5K." 
Captions for both pictures assert that the boy and girl were running in the Boston Marathon.
Runners must post a qualifying time in a previous marathon in order to qualify for Boston. (Most marathons are open to the public.)

The youngest qualifying age group is 18-34 years old. (
The Newtown runners announced on Facebook that no one in their group had been injured, because “all runners completed the race before the explosions.”  
A day later, Twitter had suspended the @PrayForBoston account, as well as other similar accounts.
Reports circulated that the 8-year-old victim was named Martin Richard, and he was waiting for his father at the finish line.

The last detail was false: Martin’s father did not run the race, but the family was gathered to watch at the finish line.

His mother and sister were also seriously injured.

"No More hurting People. Peace."

-Martin Richard

 Rush to Retweet

Imagine if you knew one of the kids in those two pictures. How would you have reacted?

What do you think motivated someone to create and share those pictures?

Why did they spread so quickly on the internet?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Daylight Saving Sequester

Think the sequester only applies to money? Think again.

The United States Department of Watches and Clocks (DWC) has announced that the 2% across-the-board cuts mandated by the sequester will also apply to Daylight Saving Time.

Thus, instead of the standard one hour "Spring Forward" tonight, US residents should only set their clocks ahead 58 minutes and 48 seconds.

At this morning's press conference, DWC spokesman Lazar Willard explained, "Most computers and cellphones update the time change automatically, and manufacturers did not anticipate anything like the sequester actually coming to pass. This means that all US residents will need to manually adjust the time on their digital devices."

When asked what would happen to the missing 72 seconds, Willard answered, "The missing time cannot go toward something like paying down leap year, obviously. That would just be silly. A committee led by DWC official Harry Bemis has been convened to evaluate our chronoptions."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Oscar Predictions

  I haven't done Oscar picks in a while (can't remember how long it's been, actually), but I have more free time right now--finishing grad school has that effect--so here goes. If for some reason you care, I'm listening to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis while I write this.

What I think will win is in Red.
What I think should win is in Blue.
If will and should are the same, it will be in Purple.
And because this is my list, the "should win" can be a write-in.

Best Picture:
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Les Miserables"
"Life of Pi"
"Django Unchained"
 Write-in: Moonrise Kingdom

I've seen every nominee except Amour, and I have issues with all of them. In fact, there are several additional movies besides MK--The Master, Looper, maybe even Cabin in the Woods--that I liked more than any of the nominees. My favorite of the nominees is Life of Pi, because it tried more things (there were a lot of safe movies this year), and was the most visually impressive.

Best Supporting Actor:
Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Alan Arkin, "Argo"
Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"

 My preference is close between Waltz and Hoffman, because they're both great in roles that are familiar territory for them. I think the Academy is happy De Niro was good in something again.

Best Supporting Actress:
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"
Amy Adams, "The Master" 

Hathaway is very good in Les Mis (I didn't like her "I Dreamed a Dream" the first time I heard it, but have come around since), but she's not in the movie all that much, and her character doesn't require a lot of range emotionally. Adams had a more challenging role in The Master--one I didn't think she would be able to pull off--but she impressed me in a big way.

Best Director: 
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
Michael Haneke, "Amour"
Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Write-in: Paul Thomas Anderson, "The Master"

Spielberg didn't do anything really new or difficult in Lincoln, which is why I think he will (but shouldn't) win. Anderson maintains a tightrope in The Master; it could have gone off the rails many times, but didn't (at least for me).

Best Actor:
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Denzel Washington, "Flight"
Hugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master" 

Easiest category to predict. Day-Lewis is excellent as Lincoln, but for all the praise he gets for changing his voice and the way he carries his body, I think Phoenix did the same kinds of things in The Master, but better.

Best Actress:
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" 

Might be the hardest category to predict. I haven't seen Watts or Riva, but I feel like this is Lawrence's coronation as the new queen of Hollywood. Sure, Wallis is super cute and really young, but she carried Beasts in a way that really impressed me.

Best Original Screenplay:
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Django Unchained"
"Moonrise Kingdom"
Write-in: "Looper"

 I see this coming down to a showdown between two Oscar outsiders--Tarantino and Wes Anderson--and I'd be okay with either of them winning, honestly. Rian Johnson did some really interesting--and complex--things with the time-travel genre, and also built an emotionally-involving story at the same time.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Life of Pi"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Argo has become this year's juggernaut. I'm not a huge Lincoln fan, but the screenplay is quite good when it works (although kind of bad whenever Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on screen).

Best Animated Feature:
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
"Wreck-It Ralph"

Brave wins because it's not weird, and Pixar made it. I'm a video game kid, and Ralph gets it's world-building right; it might be the most fun I had at a movie this year.

Best Foreign Feature:
"A Royal Affair"
"War Witch"

I live in a small town, so I have to wait until foreign movies get to DVD before I can see them, which means I haven't seen any of these yet. The foreign movie I'm most looking forward to, however, is Romania's "Beyond the Hills."

Best Visual Effects:
"Life of Pi"
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"The Avengers"
"Snow White and the Huntsman"

Avengers wins because everyone liked it and it's a special effects movie. As I mentioned before, I think Life of Pi is the best-looking movie of the year, and the effects are a big part of that.

Best Cinematography:
"Anna Karenina"
"Django Unchained"
"Life of Pi"
Write-in: "The Master"

Possible upset for Skyfall here, but I think Pi will win. The Master has a terrific balance of close-in and wide shots.

Best Costume Design:
"Anna Karenina"
"Les Miserables"
"Mirror Mirror"
"Snow White and the Huntsman"

Don't care enough about this category to have an opinion. I've only seen two nominees, too. This is the one place I would've like to see Cloud Atlas nominated, though.

Best Documentary Feature:
"Searching for Sugar Man"
"How to Survive a Plague"
"The Gatekeepers"
"5 Broken Cameras"
"The Invisible War"

 Sugar Man is the only one of the five I've seen, and I think it's great. Might not be "important" enough to win, though. The Gatekeepers is about Israeli military secrets, by the way.

Best Documentary Short:
"Open Heart"
"Kings Point"
"Mondays at Racine"

 Haven't ever heard of any of these. When in doubt, go with the most heartwarming-sounding title.

Best Film Editing:
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Life of Pi"
"Zero Dark Thirty" 
 Write-in: The Cabin in the Woods

 ZDT's consolation prize.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"Les Miserables" 

 Don't care, but glad Cloud Atlas didn't get nominated.

Best Music (Original Score):
"Anna Karenina"
"Life of Pi"
Write-in: "The Master" 

Would have liked to see Moonrise Kingdom in here, but it got disqualified because the Academy's rules don't make any sense. No one knows why The Master wasn't nominated. It might be the best thing in the movie.

Best Music (Original Song):
"Before My Time" from "Chasing Ice"
"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from "Ted"
"Pi's Lullaby" from "Life of Pi"
"Skyfall" from "Skyfall"
"Suddenly" from "Les Misérables"

Haven't heard half of these. This category is another victim of weird Academy rules, which is why the worst song from Les Mis is the only one that could be nominated. 

Best Production Design:
"Anna Karenina"
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"Les Misérables"
"Life of Pi"

Haven't seen Anna yet, so I can't say it should win, but the concept for it sounds really interesting. 

Best Short Film, Animated:
"Adam and Dog"
"Fresh Guacamole"
"Head over Heels"
"Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare'"

Paperman wins because people have seen it (it played in front of Wreck-It Ralph). Check out Adam and Dog if you can; it's excellent. 

Best Short Film, Live Action:
"Buzkashi Boys"
"Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)"

Total shot in the dark.

Best Sound Editing:
"Django Unchained"
"Life of Pi"
"Zero Dark Thirty"

Best Sound Mixing:
"Les Misérables"
"Life of Pi"

I've never understood the difference between the two sound categories, and I don't believe anyone who says they do.