When we root for favorites, we're mostly rooting for ourselves.
So on Sunday night we'll be parked in front of the flat-screen rooting for George Clooney (what a great guy!) or against Meryl Streep (again? No!) or for everything connected with "The Help" (yeah, OK, I cried. Twice.)
Every year we have our Academy Awards favorites, perhaps because we like the actor, or the role or the movie.
In fact, we're not really pulling for them, says local psychologist and movie buff Peter Zelles, but for ourselves.
"We go watch films that are confirming our values," Zelles said. "We see the world through those values, and we're drawn to them, to things that are similar to us. We say, 'I recognize that. I'm familiar with that. That is a good guy. This is the kind of film that tells it like it is, by God. This is real.'"
So we sit through boring production numbers, shopworn Billy Crystal quips and the "who the heck was that?" memorial reel to get to the competitive categories and have our choices validated. Or to get outraged when they are not.
Often, it's not even the performance we're cheering for, but the person. Some actors become iconic, on and often off the screen, and build a huge fan base. Many folks pulling for Clooney in the best-actor category Sunday haven't even seen "The Descendants."
"It's the singer, not the song," said Zelles, who frequently uses the "dynamics" of a movie when talking with patients at his St. Paul office. "People identify with George Clooney. They think he's a good guy. There's something about him they identify with, either that he's like them or they would like to be like him."
Identifying with a person, or even a type of person, could be a major factor among this year's Oscar viewers. The supporting categories alone could find plump people cheering for zaftig nominees Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") and Jonah Hill (who also might get nerdy support for his work in "Moneyball"), the GLBT crowd pulling for Christopher Plummer's spirited depiction of a seventy-something gay man in "Beginners" and black people backing Octavia Spencer ("The Help").
Films that provide a personal touchstone resonate for local movie buff Denny Haley. "The movie that sticks with me, that's the one I'm pulling for," he said. "'Tree of Life' is about an Irish Catholic family growing up in the '50s, so for me, who was the same age as the kids in the film, it felt like the home movies of an era, like the sorting of old memories."
Highbrow sorts might also be rooting for "Tree of Life"-like small-budget "prestige films" that tend to do well on Oscar night, Zelles said. "A very big segment of the population is interested in the literature of these films. They're more likely to be book readers than film watchers and say, 'I'm not interested in a big blockbuster that's based on their market research.'"
Like most everyone else, Zelles noted, they are hewing to their own predilections and beliefs. That's even true of the more casual movie fan who has seen just one nominee's performance and knows that he or she deserves the statuette.
"There's an old saying, 'Beware of the man with one book,' because that's all they know and everything can be answered by that," Zelles said. "They are validating their own choice because that is the one movie that they chose to see. It's a self-selected decision."
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