Why the 2 Ryan Binghams? And other pressing Oscar questions

[12 February 2010]

By Mark Caro

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Now that the Oscar nominations are out, we have three pressing questions that need answering.

1. This year an actor (George Clooney) is nominated for playing a character (Ryan Bingham in “Up in the Air”) who has the same name as another Oscar nominee, musician Ryan Bingham, who co-wrote best song nominee “The Weary Kind (Theme from ‘Crazy Heart’).” Is this a wacky coincidence, or did “Up in the Air” author Walter Kirn know the singer-songwriter?

We’ll let Kirn explain: “It’s stranger than it even might seem at first,” he said on the phone while visiting Los Angeles. “I named the character Ryan Bingham because Bingham is a last name common among Mormons, and I grew up a Mormon, and it was the last name of my first girlfriend. I gave him what is a typically Western name, and the novel was staged out of Denver airport.

“I live in Livingston, Mont., and a few years after the book came out, I saw a flier for a concert over in Bozeman starring someone named Ryan Bingham, and I thought in my reflexively solipsistic way that, oh, this guy named his act or gave himself a stage name in emulation of my character. Maybe he’d read my book. It didn’t even occur to me that there would be a real Ryan Bingham. So I saw that there was this musical act playing there, but I didn’t catch him.

“So then it happens that George Clooney is playing my character Ryan Bingham, and his chief competitor, probably, for best actor, Jeff Bridges, is singing the songs of Ryan Bingham in a movie (“Crazy Heart”), and Ryan Bingham himself is an Oscar nominee. ... What makes it even stranger is that Jeff Bridges lives part of the time in Livingston, Mont., and is an acquaintance of mine.

“And a couple of weeks ago at the Elks club in Livingston, Jeff played a concert in which he played and sang the songs from ‘Crazy Heart,’ and the Ryan Bingham song was sort of the centerpiece of this. I came up to him, and I said, ‘Jeff, did you realize that the guy who’s going to get nominated probably for that song has the same name as George Clooney’s character, against whom you’re probably going to be competing for best actor?’ I saw him look at me like, ‘What?’ “

2. “Up in the Air” and “Up” both got best picture nominations. Is this the first time two nominees in this category have started with the same word? (And, no, “The” and “A” don’t count.)

Yes. Just be glad that in the expanded slate of best picture nominees, “Nine” and “9” didn’t join “District 9.”

3. “The Secret of Kells”? Huh?

The best animated feature category was especially competitive this year, with nominations going to the widely admired — or at least popular — “Up,” “Coraline,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Princess and the Frog.”

But instead of recognizing another high-profile release such as “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” or “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” — or even a critics’ fave such as Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” — the academy gave the fifth slot to Irish director Tomm Moore’s independent production “The Secret of Kells.”

“Kells,” a traditional hand-drawn feature, debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival last February and was released in Ireland, Belgium and France soon afterward.

It garnered raves on the film festival circuit, including its summer New York International Children’s Film Festival-sponsored showing. When its domestic distribution rights became available in November, the New York festival’s newly created spinoff company, GKIDS Films, snatched them up.

GKIDS’ president and the festival founder/ director, Eric Beckman, said his company immediately launched its grass-roots Oscar push, forgoing the standard expensive adbased campaign and instead using social media and old-fashioned word-of-mouth to target the sizable animation community in Los Angeles, where most of the academy’s animation committee is based.

“We did a million industry screenings in LA,” Beckman said. “We invited people to our one-week Oscar-qualifying run in LA. We reached out through ASIFA (the organization that votes on the animation Annie Awards).We got screeners handed out at every animation event we could find. We told everyone we knew to tell everyone they knew to vote for it. The feeling was they saw the film, they loved the film and they wanted to help the film get the nomination.”

Beckman viewed the film’s best animated feature Annie nomination in December as a good sign, but still, he was preparing himself for disappointment as last week’s Oscar nominations announcement approached. Soon his phone was ringing off the hook.

“Man, it put a smile on my face,” he said.

Beckman said GKIDS is now considering opening “Kells” earlier in some markets — the previously planned rollout was set to begin March19 in Boston with other cities following April 2 — but the company still will honor the schedules of venues such as the Film Center that committed early.

“All the people who bought the film before it was an Oscar nominee are going to get to hold it over for as many weeks as it plays,” he said.

“We’re nothing if not loyal.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/120764-why-the-2-ryan-binghams-and-other-pressing-oscar-questions/