Spurlock’s Super Size Lawsuit; Which Critics Beat the Odds?

It’s been almost a year since the release of the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me, but it has not been long enough for attorney Samuel Hirsch. On Feb. 23, Mr. Hirsch filed a summons against the director of the film, Morgan Spurlock, and its distributor, Samuel Goldwyn Films, with the New York State Supreme Court, intending to sue them for defamation of character due to his portrayal in the film.

Mr. Hirsch made a brief appearance in Super Size Me, due to his involvement in the headline-grabbing obesity liability case first brought against McDonald’s in 2002. He represents the two Bronx youths who allege that the burger chain made them fat.

Ostensibly, this would make Mr. Hirsch a prime ally in Mr. Spurlock’s quest to edify the nation as to the adverse affects of eating junk food. The film, however, was not flattering to Mr. Hirsch in his brief cameo. In his only appearance on camera, Mr. Spurlock asks Mr. Hirsch about his motivation for being involved in the McDonald’s litigation. Mr. Hirsch’s reply? “You mean, motive besides monetary compensation?” He then added, “You want to hear a noble cause?”

Super Size Me featured Mr. Spurlock, whose wife is a vegetarian, eating nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days. In that span of time, his health declined drastically. The film was recently nominated for an Academy Award and has earned over $28 million worldwide, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. It was reportedly made for $65,000.

Mr. Hirsch alleges that his portrayal in the popular documentary was tantamount to “Negligence, Unauthorized Use of Likeness, Disparagement to Reputation, and Defamation of Character, Fraudulent Inducement, False Misrepresentation, Damage to Business Reputation.” Mr. Hirsch is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, along with a “disgorgement of profits.” Co-defendants Mr. Spurlock and Samuel Goldwyn Films have been given 20 days to respond.

Neither Mr. Hirsch nor representatives of Samuel Goldwyn Films returned calls for comment. Mr. Spurlock was in transit, returning to New York from the Academy Awards.

As for McDonald’s, the company’s lawyers will still be seeing plenty of Mr. Hirsch. Although the obesity liability case has been thrown out twice before, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned the previous decision. It appears that Mr. Hirsch intends on spending a lot of time in court.

Oscar Odds

Ho-hum was the pervasive reaction to this year’s Academy Awards. Why? Because it was so predictable. At least that’s what the Monday-morning critics claim. A quick tally of the plethora of Oscar predictions-and some of the laborious formulas that produced them-in major media outlets, however, proves that, well, nothing, not even the Oscars, is a sure bet.

According to a front-page feature in the Friday, Feb. 25, Wall Street Journal by Conor Dougherty, Million Dollar Baby’s win over The Aviator for Best Picture was “the biggest upset … of the past 20 years.” That is if you plug the two films into their “Oscar Formula,” which was 90 percent accurate in predicting best pictures over the last 20 years. It is now 86 percent accurate. “Looks like our model was outgunned by Dirty Harry. Congratulations, Mr. Eastwood,” said Paul Steiger, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

But do not fret, Mr. Dougherty, your formula was not the only one to fail. USA Today’s “Oscar Oracle,” based on a weighted point scale which takes into account previous awards and nominations for all nominees, gave Sideways and The Aviator a better chance of winning Best Picture than the actual winner, Million Dollar Baby. A humble Monday article in USA Today reported, “It was the first time in five years that the Oracle did not accurately predict best picture.” This is what it sounds like when hard-bitten journalists eat crow.

It was also a tough night for Times critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, who left themselves open to even more than the standard ridicule due to their supposed integrity-saving, patented “Will Win”/”Should Win”/”Should’ve Been a Contender” format. Mr. Scott fared only slightly better-with two correct picks-than Ms. Dargis, who was one for six. You could say that they just got off on the wrong foot. For Best Picture, Mr. Scott put his money on Ray, Ms. Dargis on The Aviator. Both, however, chose Million Dollar Baby as their “Should Win.” A little defeatist, aren’t we?

To be sure, there were the victors of this year’s tacit National Oscar pool, none of whom use a highfalutin formula. (See? We’re not all about schadenfreude here.) Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger and US Weekly’s Thelma Adams scored a perfect eight out of eight, in the major categories-Picture, Director, Actors and Screenplays. Anne Thompson of the Hollywood Reporter ditched the screenplays, plugged in an easy one with The Incredibles for Best Animated feature, and came up with a tidy seven out of seven, while CNN’s Oscar poobah Paul Clinton managed a perfect six out of six.

For the spate of Web sites that dedicated themselves to everything Oscar, it was a mixed bag. Tom O’Neill, who contributed to Goldderby.com and is a senior editor at InTouch Weekly, escaped Sunday night with only one wrong out of eight. David Poland, the head of MovieCityNews.com, got a healthy 73 percent correct-he ventured far more guesses than your average prognosticator. (Full disclosure: Mr. Poland’s Oscar prediction chart proved immensely helpful in researching this article.) In the lead-up to the Academy Awards, Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells was happy to remind everyone that he called the Best Picture race over in early December, when he proclaimed Million Dollar Baby an unstoppable force. And for Sasha Stone at Oscarwatch.com, well, she put all her money on The Aviator-and lost. She escaped with a mediocre 62.5 percent correct in the top eight categories.

In the end, some of the more clueless critics didn’t seem to mind their losing record. “Who gives a shit that I’m wrong?” Ms. Dargis said over the phone, laughing. She then defended herself by invoking the William Goldman truism that “nobody knows nothing” in Hollywood. “I just thought it was going to be a pity fuck for Marty.” Touché!