Well, here it is, my last Oscar column for months to come. When all was said and done, The Artist and Hugo, two remarkably well-done films that wore their love for the movies on their sleeves, were the big winners, taking home five golden men apiece.
But there were other standout moments throughout the night as well. The dashing and long-overdue Christopher Plummer became, as predicted, the oldest actor to win an Oscar for his work in Beginners, receiving it with a dignified and witty speech. Octavia Spencer, on the other hand, was more overcome by emotion when she picked up her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Help. This was a little disappointing for someone who was so clearly the favorite to win and who’d been working the awards circuit for months now. Best Original Song winner Bret McKenzie also gave a nice speech for “Muppet or Man” from The Muppets (although purportedly, backstage he admitted the song didn’t hold up to “The Rainbow Connection”).
Though I’m not a big fan of either stars, Ben Stiller and Emma Stone nailed a bit about her first time as an Oscar presenter; conversely, Robert Downey, Jr., and Gwyneth Paltrow fumbled their faux- verité banter. Presenters Jennifer Lopez, who seemed to have a wardrobe malfunction near her left areola, and Angelina Jolie, distracting from the honor of the screenplay awards she presented with a smug, calculated slut pose, reminded us all why if they had to merely rely on acting prowess, they’d never make headlines or get invited to award shows. In other news, Natalie Portman continues to look uncomfortable every time she speaks on a stage.
Of course, there’s been the inevitable backlash to the telecast, by those who didn’t like the nominees and thought the show was long and boring. Here’s the thing: don’t watch. The Oscars are an international event, but they are, still, by definition, a ceremony. Only so many switches can be fixed. Several critics I admire said the Academy failed this year because in honoring so many nostalgic movies, it failed to honor their mission of looking forward for the industry. I actually don’t think that’s the mission.
The Oscars exist as a marketing tool to call attention to movies; fueling interest in buying tickets and DVDs for nominated films and creating a runoff effect even for those that are not. And it serves a historic preservation purpose, commemorating terrific work so that it will be remembered later on. I’d never have discovered performers like Ronald Colman or Anna Magnani or movies like The Awful Truth or A Touch of Class if they hadn’t won Oscars. Don’t blame the Academy if you don’t like the movies being honored; that’s the fault of those who make the movies (thinking of you as I write this, everyone helping turn Battleship into a summer release).
There are many, too, who hate on The Artist, and claim it’s nothing more than hollow sentiment. I disagree. As someone who has everything and loses it, Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin and Oscar-winning director Michael Hazanavicius have provided a soulful look at depression, which given our current emotional climate, is as relevant as anything else I’ve seen onscreen all year. I’ve familiar with several version of the DSM, and I can say that every nuance and gesture of Dujardin’s performance was indicative of the disease. That he was able to do so in a silent movie is all the more remarkable. It’s the difference between showing and telling – which is, of course, the primary purpose of art. The dance numbers were just a bonus for me.
And while it’s incongruous to say that Meryl Streep was the evening’s big upset, her win over presumed victor Viola Davis (even, one might presume, by Viola herself, poor dear) was a surprise in a talent-laden category. The Iron Lady may have been a missed opportunity to explore the controversial career of Margaret Thatcher, and we’ll never know what Meryl may have with the more complicated, unsympathetic years of that woman’s life. But La Streep’s work in the movie was indeed transcendent, building upon instead of relying on a perfectly calibrated accent and makeup to realize the inner and outer woman she portrayed. It’s a winning performance in every way.
In my humble opinion, the overall show was a success. Didn’t like Billy Crystal’s opening medley? Find his joke rhythms formulaic? These things aren’t stale; they’re tradition. The Oscar telecast is the equivalent of inviting the entire world population to a concert that only plays one kind of music. It simply won’t be for everybody. If it’s not your thing, just don’t attend.
Well done, Academy. Well done.
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