Yalies gawk at celebs, win big at Oscar parties

The writers’ strike has finally ended and, come next Sunday, America will celebrate the 80th annual Academy Awards. While the Oscars draw millions of viewers across the nation every year, this year’s show seems to be more highly anticipated than any before it. Coming off the 100-day drought-of-television, Americans are looking forward to seeing some entertaining programming — and there is no better way to get the gears turning again than with the Oscars.

Eric Tsytsylin ’10 is one of a few students on campus who is actually excited for the 2008 Academy Awards. He’s planning an Oscars party in his suite for the second straight year. Last February, he had over 20 of his friends pack into his common room for the event — crammed together on the couch, munching popcorn and discussing the show during commercial breaks.

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But there was an added incentive to this party — a betting pool. Tsytsylin and his friends each pooled money and predicted the winners. The person with the most correct predictions at the end took all.

“It forced people to pay attention to lesser known categories,” Tsytsylin said, “Instead of rooting for who you want to win, you’re rooting for who you think will win … and people get really competitive about it.”

Although he’s a big fan of the awards show himself, Tsytsylin said without a betting pool, food or drinks, the show is simply not worth it for most of his friends.

“I don’t know if seeing your favorite celebrities warrants spending four hours watching the show,” he said.

Chris Mejia ’10 was at Tsytsylin’s party last year — in fact, he won the pool. Mejia spent a few minutes researching his picks online, choosing films based on the favorites of different critics. He admitted that he had not even seen most of the nominated films last year and that it was also his first time watching the entire show. Otherwise, he said, “I would probably just look at who won online the next day.”

When asked what he looks forward to in this year’s show, Mejia replied with a smirk on his face, saying, “Winning the pool again.”

In contrast, Emily Flaxman ’09 does not feel students need any extra catalyst to get together and watch the Oscars. She and her friends are satisfied with just watching the show — and talking about it. Flaxman thinks the show is really all about the stars and what they’re wearing.

“While the awards are supposed to be the main attraction to the Oscars, the films normally take the back seat,” Flaxman said, “It’s the celebrities that people want to see.”

Kate Philip ’10, who solely enjoys the show’s celebrity aspect, chooses not to watch the show at all. She would rather catch the highlights online or look at pictures later. Philip said, “I’ll probably just buy People magazine and look at the best dresses.”

The millions of people who are drawn to this program every year, students say, seem to do so because they enjoy the superficial aspects of the show: the hair, the makeup, the red carpet, the dresses — and, of course, the stars.

Cathy Lew ’11 agrees. She has no plans to watch the show on Sunday night, and feels like the purpose of the show was lost a long time ago.

“The biggest factor that determines whether or not people watch is whether or not people have seen the films that have been nominated,” Lew said.

With fewer blockbusters than usual in contention for the top awards, Lew feels that people will lose interest in the Awards. Yet she said the “general population” will always tune in regardless of how great the films are.

“American culture has an unnatural obsession with celebrities,” Lew said.

But this year’s show could be a major turning point for the film industry. This year is highly competitive in the top categories. George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp are all solid candidates for Best Actor. Critics say new favorite Ellen Page of “Juno” will be in a close contest with Cate Blanchett for Best Actress. But the real toss-up is which film will win Best Picture. More violent films like “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” would make for a tough decision alone, but with the surprise box-office success of “Juno,” everyone will be on the edges of their seats waiting for this award.

The success of the 2008 Academy Awards — which depends on who wins and how the decisions are received — will be a telling sign of where the film industry is headed next, at least in the minds of Yale’s student body. And this, in turn, will determine whether or not America breaks its “unnatural obsession with celebrities.”

And if that isn’t a compelling enough reason to watch, at least there will be hundreds of beautiful stars to gawk at, right?

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