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Data drives Lincolnwood actor to ‘Outguess Ebert’ honors

85th Annual Academy Awards - Backstage

85th Annual Academy Awards - Backstage

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Updated: April 18, 2013 6:24AM

Alex Kazhinsky of Lincolnwood is this year’s grand prize winner in the annual Outguess Ebert competition, and he tells me, “It’s a big thrill to win your contest after playing it for so many years!”

His prize includes a round trip for two from Delta Vacations, including hotel and accommodations, to the world premiere in Hollywood of Marvel’s “Iron Man 3,” starring Robert Downey Jr. He’ll also win a Marvel gift package. And I’m throwing in an autographed copy of my “Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2013,” which includes my reviews of more than 800 new films, so he can get an early start on the 2014 Outguess contest.

Kazhinsky, a computer programmer turned actor, had a perfect score across all the contest’s categories — even though he saw only one of the nominated films this year.

His advice — which apparently doesn’t involve seeing the films, but never mind, lots of people don’t see them all: “Perform research. This is true whether you have seen the nominated films or not. In recent years, I have visited various websites where the Oscars were discussed. Some websites listed odds for various categories. Other websites kept people up to speed on all of the precursor awards. I also followed online message boards where people analyzed everything ad infinitum. This year, there were a LOT of hard categories. Perhaps the hardest were adapted screenplay and best actress.”

He’s been playing the Outguess Ebert contest since the 1992 Oscars: “That was the year in which ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ won five Oscars, including best picture. Very few people saw that coming. I think I scored only two or three out of nine in your contest that year.”

He’s come close before: In 2000, he got nine of nine, but for the tie-breaker, he predicted that “American Beauty” would win the most Oscars, with six. It took five.

“So I came very close to getting a perfect score,” he said. “And I would’ve gotten a perfect score last year if Viola Davis had beaten Meryl Streep in the best actress category.”

I asked, “If you had been awarding the Oscars this year, who would have won for best actress?” His reply suggests a certain degree of sheer blind luck: “Unfortunately, I [had not] actually seen any of the films nominated in any of the 24 categories, except for the Bond film ‘Skyfall.’ So I can’t really say which performance, film or directorial effort I prefer over another.

“However, I was cheering for Jennifer Lawrence to win [for “Silver Linings Playbook”], not just because I picked her for your contest, but also because of her beauty, charm and great personality. I saw her in ‘The Hunger Games’ and in ‘House at the End of the Street,’ and she was fantastic in both films. She certainly brings out the charm in her interviews.”

In recent years, Kazhinsky has watched movies primarily at two theaters: the AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18, at the Village Crossing shopping mall in Skokie, and Century Evanston 12 in Evanston. As a kid, he would attend the Lincoln Village Theater and the Plaza Theatre, both in Chicago.

His five all-time favorite films, in no order, are: (1) “Star Wars: Episode 4 — A New Hope,” 2) “Die Hard 2,” (3) “A View to a Kill” (“Roger Moore is my favorite Bond. Plus, the film has action sequences at the North Pole, the Eiffel Tower, the streets of Paris and the Golden Gate Bridge, and great music from Duran Duran”), (4) “Speed,” and (5) “Saturday Night Fever.”

He loves movies so much, they helped to inspire him to change careeers. “For many years, I have worked as an actor in Chicago’s entertainment industry,” he said. “I’ve had speaking roles in independent films, web series and commercials.” His credits include a corrupt Chicago alderman in the web series “Da Wiseguys”; Uncle Steve in the short film “When I Was an Elephant,” which won the award for best branded film at the 2011 Chicago International Film Festival, and a Russian crime boss in the short film “The Moment.”

“Because I’m an actor,” he said, “the only thing I’ll say about my age is that I’m in my 30s.”

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