Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was, largely, a foregone conclusion. For the last several years, the myriad of other awards that lead up to the Oscars have begun to fairly accurately predict the winners and because of this “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” has lost some of its intrigue. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does take away some of the fun. And even the nominees seem to be aware of the trend. When asked about whether or not he had written an acceptance speech, George Clooney rather glibly stated, “I think this year the acceptance speech will be in French.” This aside, there was much to enjoy as well as disparage about the whole affair, so let’s dive right in.
Firstly, why did there need to be 19 hours of red carpet coverage? Talking about who the beautiful actresses are wearing can be discussed after the fact by Joan Rivers and company. The people they get to interview the arriving celebrities are just awful. Doesn’t Robin Roberts host Good Morning America? Why did it seem like she’d never spoken to a human being before that very moment? Tim Gunn was the best of them but there’s only so many times he and his fellow fashion people can say how much they enjoyed Michelle Williams’ dress. That being said, Jessica Chastain was, as always, exceedingly gorgeous.
Once the ceremony finally started, we were treated to the familiar comedy stylings of Billy Crystal, his ninth appearance as host. He is to many people of my generation the definitive Oscar host, and while he did quite a good job and had some solid laugh moments, he seemed a lot more like a grandpa at a family reunion telling one-liners than he used to. I also don’t remember him being quite so Johnny Laugh-At-Yourself. However, after the train wreck that was Franco and Hathaway last year, I think the Academy needed a reliable host with a proven track record, sort of the equivalent to Paul McCartney doing the Super Bowl halftime show the year after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. The highlight of Crystal’s performance tonight was the “What Are Actors Thinking” bit, especially his spot-on assumption that Nick Nolte was thinking in incoherent guttural noises.
The presenters were largely as unassuming with a few exceptions. Emma Stone and Ben Stiller were very funny with stone playing the part of the overzealous, excited newcomer. A solid bit that didn’t go on too long. Also great were the six cast members of Bridesmaids presenting the three short film categories. My personal favorite of the evening went to Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis who were just weird and that’s okay. I was much less taken with Robert Downey, Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Best Documentary presentation with Downey being a cocky jerk getting a live documentary made of him. Way to stretch. And who told Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz they could be funny? Someone should tell them that turning around only to turn back dramatically is about as funny as, well, as either of their last movies. I also greatly enjoyed the taped segment about the focus group for The Wizard of Oz starring Christopher Guest and company.
As for the awards themselves, there were a few surprises but they were all fairly minor. I enjoyed Hugo but I didn’t expect it to win any awards at all, much less five. Granted, they were all technical awards that, in hindsight, were well deserved, but it just never occurred to me that it would get awarded in the way it did. Robert Richardson is easily one of the best cinematographers working today, but I really thought Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Tree of Life was masterful. However, with a film like that, just getting nominated is almost the prize given how divisive it was. Also surprising, to a degree, was Meryl Streep’s win for The Iron Lady. I didn’t see it or The Help, but it seemed that Viola Davis was going to win for giving yet another tear-soaked performance. The other acting awards were very much according to expectations, but it was fine by me. Christopher Plummer was a class act and I especially enjoyed his Jon Pertwee-esque purple velvet tux. At 82, he proved to be eloquent, gracious, and cool as hell.
My number one movie of 2011 was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which got three nominations, though I think it should have gotten a few more. Why nominate Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a film that received largely mixed reviews, when there were things like Tinker Tailor or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that were far more deserving? Regardless. I think TTSS should have won best adapted screenplay without a doubt. To boil down such a dense novel into a coherent 2 hour film is a huge feat. And I am one of the biggest Gary Oldman fans there is so I was really pulling for him to win best actor and spoil everyone, but I’m perfectly happy with Jean Dujardin who also did a wonderful job. Woody Allen won best original screenplay and even though he wasn’t there to collect his award, I’m just chuffed that a science fiction script, which technically Midnight in Paris was, won an Oscar. Take that, genre haters.
The big winner last night with 5 wins was, as predicted, The Artist which took home the top prizes at the BAFTA, Cesar, DGA, PGA, Independent Spirit and Golden Globe awards. It was a powerhouse this year which I think is wonderful. It was my number two film and it’s very refreshing to see a movie made for only $12 Million do such interesting things with both the craft and the format while still being utterly charming and appealing. Pretty much everyone assumed The Artist would get best picture and it did, but as I said, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe everyone expected it to win because it deserved it. It’s nice to know after 84 years, the Academy Awards can still reward the right film.