brent johnson looks back on the 84th edition of the Oscars …
This year’s Academy Awards were a mixed bag of shock and bore.
A few upsets were notable. Jean Dujardin out-charmed George Clooney for Best Actor, a race Clooney was once expected to own. Meryl Streep finally — finally! — won her first Oscar since 1982, triumphing over presumed Best Actress favorite Viola Davis.
Fans of the technical awards — I know you’re out there — also saw Hugo edge The Tree Of Life for Best Cinematography and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo nip The Artist for Best Editing.
But the rest was predictable. The Artist surprised no one by becoming the first silent movie to win Best Picture since the first Oscars in 1928. And just as they did at every other award show, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer walked away with supporting-performance trophies.
As for the telecast itself? You know things are pretty ‘eh’ when Cirque du Soleil randomly performs a dance routine to movies released half a century ago.
Behold some other thoughts on the 84th annual event:
— There was a lot of talk that 2011 wasn’t a great year for movies. Critics complained that the last two Oscar races — The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar in 2009 and The King’s Speech vs. The Social Network in 2010 — were more gripping. They cried that having nine nominees for Best Picture is ridiculous.
Some of that is true. I’m completely in favor of going back to five nominees, and yes, last year’s Oscar race had more intrigue. But looking back, the nine Best Picture candidates were more varied and enjoyable than I’d thought they’d be. Just look at them:
A whimsical silent film with a cute dog, tap dancing and a well of emotions. A funny yet wrenching drama about a middle-aged man in Hawaii whose life is upturned by betrayal and a land dispute. A meditative study on the toll Sept. 11 took on a family that lost its father. An uplifting look at the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Southern black maids. A dream-like 3D adventure about a troubled boy, a mysterious robot and a haunted old man. A charming fantasy about a midnight walk through the City of Love that takes an unexpected turn. A detailed, touching look at how one man took a risk and changed baseball. A polarizing tone poem about the beginning of the earth, the plight of a 1950s Texas family and God knows what. A sprawling but moving epic about a young man and his horse enduring the horrors of World War I.
— Considering how solid most of those movies are, I was happy to see Oscar spread the wealth last night. The Artist and Hugo were the big winners, but Midnight In Paris (Original Screenplay), The Descendants (Adapted Screenplay) and The Help (Supporting Actress) all won key awards.
— Did anyone not adore Dujardin’s half-English/half-French acceptance speech? It was touching and exciting. He needs to fix his English quickly. Hollywood could use him.
— I won’t argue: Last year’s James Franco-Anne Hathaway experiment was a bust. And bringing back Billy Crystal — one of the most beloved and consistent Oscar hosts ever — was a good idea. But was it just me, or did it feel kind of like a forced attempt to recapture the glory of Crystal’s 1990s hosting stints? Many of his jokes were funny, but more than a few felt stiff — and some people thought his fat joke about Jonah Hill was a cheap shot. Plus, nine Best Picture nominees makes for an uncomfortably long parody song.
— I still hate the fact that there were only two Best Original Song nominees in a year when Elton John and Chris Cornell could have been in the running. But I love that Bret McKenzie, one half of the great musical comedy duo Flight Of The Conchords, has an Oscar. And his speech — about meeting Kermit for the first time — was one of the evening’s true genuine laughs.
— The Tree Of Life‘s best quality — maybe its only great quality — was its cinematography. Someone please tell me why Hugo was better.
— Speaking of which, Hugo claimed another upset when it beat Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes for Best Visual Effects. Hugo is a great film with dazzling imagery, but this could have been a chance for the still-stodgy Academy to recognize that motion-capture filmmaking is a viable medium.
— I still think Viola Davis deserved Best Actress. But part of me is glad Meryl won. Now we can stop hearing about how she hasn’t been awarded an Oscar in three decades. Nothing against Meryl, who is maybe the greatest actress of all time. But how gaudy was it for the media to complain about an actress with two Oscars not to have a third?
— Uggie — the lovable canine star of The Artist — wore a bowtie to the ceremony. Two points for that.
OSCAR BY THE NUMBERS
5 — the number of statues won by both The Artist and Hugo, tied for the most of the evening. Shockingly, The Iron Lady was second with two.
4 — the number of Oscars that Woody Allen has collected after taking Best Original Screenplay for Midnight In Paris — the most career wins by any of last night’s victors. His previous awards: Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Annie Hall in 1977 and Best Original Screenplay for Hannah And Her Sisters in 1986. But the only time he’s attended an Academy Awards ceremony? 2002 — to honor his hometown of New York the year after Sept. 11.
2 — the number of silent films to win Best Picture. Sunrise was the first when it took the inaugural award in 1928.
1 — the number of Oscars won by cast members of NBC’s fantastic but in-limbo sitcom Community. Jim Rash (a.k.a. Dean Pelton) is one of the co-writers of Adapted Screenplay winner The Descendants.
BEST PICTURE RANKINGS
How I rank the nine movies nominated for Oscar’s top prize:
1. The Artist
2. Midnight In Paris
3. The Descendants
6. The Help
7. War Horse
8. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
9. The Tree Of Life