The 84th Oscars: Aftermath and Postgame Coverage
As I watched the telecast of Sunday’s awards, going over the mixture of predictably safe choices, three words kept circling through my head, like scrolling text on the side of a blimp: BUSINESS AS USUAL. It’s been known for a while that the French silent film “The Artist” was scheduled to take home many of the top awards including Best Picture and Best Director. However, what was not expected was that the sweep would be split between it and Martin Scorsese’s family film (I feel like my hatred towards it spawns mostly from having to join those four words together), “Hugo,” which matched “The Artist’s” total of five wins. In simplest terms, I’d describe these wins as safe, mundane and boring, but honestly, what else is new?
In certain years of the previous decade, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exhibited enormous potential in doing something they have struggled with in the past: being dangerous. Between “The Departed,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “The Hurt Locker,” the Oscars were taking a startlingly exciting new direction of not simply awarding the film that will please the masses, but instead being bold and confident. Yet, to kick off the 10’s, for two years straight, it seems as though the Academy has completely backslided into its old ways by picking from the safest of the lot, regardless of taste or quality. Not to say that “The Artist” isn’t a good film. It is. Yet, there’s really no other film in the lot with less edge to it or providing really anything at all to say.
When it comes to the awards, I’ve got quite bit to say. I wish I could say the majority of it was good, but it’s been quite a while since I could do that. However, I’ll try to point out some of the AMPAS’ best choices of the evening. Without a doubt, the most deserving award of the night went to Asghar Farhadi for his magnificent film “A Separation.” Many people believed that this win was a mortal lock, but for statistics sake, I was never convinced. Therefore, I was biting my nails up to the point where they read off the man’s name. I have not yet seen “In Darkness” (and it looks stellar), but I cannot imagine that any of the other nominated films were as phenomenal or enrapturing as this one.
While the two supporting categories were largely expected, I was quite pleased with their outcomes, nonetheless. Christopher Plummer gave, in my mind, one of the finest male performances of the year and indisputably deserved his Oscar. Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer wasn’t necessarily my choice for the win, but her role in the film is phenomenal, and I’m happy that at least one of the ladies from “The Help” got her due.
Perhaps the most surprising and, more or less, delightful awards from the night was Best Editing. I don’t think anyone saw this one coming. After taking home a completely deserved Oscar for last year’s “The Social Network,” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall were certainly expected to remain nominees this year, despite some great work done on “TGWTDT.” The race was essentially down to “Hugo” and “The Artist.” While I still believe Chris Tellefsen to have put forth the best work this year in “Moneyball,” the way various scenes in “Dragon Tattoo” were cut was indeed Oscar-worthy. The scene on the subway escalator, in particular, was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. A bit of history: these two men have become the first editors to win back-to-back awards in over 75 years. Well done.
I’m not gonna lie, but that’s about all for what I enjoyed amongst the awards. It’s time to move on to that which did not curry my favor, which unfortunately was a lot. I’ll try not to address every single Academy Award that pissed me off, since that’s bound to get repetitive. I’ll just focus on the big ones. For me, one of the biggest stains on the year would be the surge of “Hugo” and its five wins. I will never understand what people saw in this. I saw a lofty, overly-sentimental children’s movie with decent production design. And while I will definitely concede that Ferretti and Lo Schiavo’s Art Direction was awards-worthy, the rest of its trophies were stolen, outright.
In particular, I must ask if it was really necessary to bestow Robert Richardson with another Oscar for his extravagent, grotesquely overlit and largely CGI-influenced cinematography? The film looks wholly artificial and largely due to his work. Meanwhile, there’s that gent named Emmanuel Lubezki who crafted some truly extraordinary images using natural light and barely any CGI. He’s fast headed towards becoming the next Roger Deakins of this category. The award was truly criminal, this year, but almost always is. I’d also point out “Hugo’s” win in Visual Effects, or rather the snubbing of the infinitely more deserving “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” This award should be given to a film that tries to advance the medium, not to whose effects are the showiest or whose film received more nominations. The work in “Rise” is monumental. The work in “Hugo” is forgettable. Simple as that.
Personally, my least favorite award of the night is certainly no secret. I suppose that after Aaron Sorkin took home the award last season, I shouldn’t be greedy. Yet, I cannot get over the injustice of “Moneyball’s” loss in the category of Adapted Screenplay. It is flat-out impossible to find another 2011 script (outside, perhaps, of “A Separation”) that exhibits such intricate structure, themes and pacing. Not to mention that no film could ever match the blazingly fast and intelligent dialogue of Hollywood’s modern day Shakespeare. The Academy should be so lucky as to have awarded a work of such strength.
Finally, we come to the elephant in the room: the lead acting categories. This was the first year in a decade that I failed to predict more than one of the four acting awards, but honestly, I’m really not ashamed of it. I’m only ashamed of the Academy, itself. When it comes to Best Actor, George Clooney was the frontrunner for much of the season. While, he was not my choice for the award, I certainly would respect them going that route. When I think more on Jean Dujardin and re-watch various clips, I’ve come to believe that the performance lacks a certain depth to it. Sure, the man did carry the movie without words, but does that really make the job much more admirable, or less? Isn’t such a huge part of acting also the manipulation of one’s intonation, rhythm and vocal stylization” This should go down as a major faux pah for the Academy and the worst of the seductions successfully pulled off by “The Artist’s” gimmick of silence.
Then, there was Best Actress, perhaps the most depressing moment of the night. Let me preface this by saying that I truly believe Meryl Streep to be the greatest performer EVER to grace the cinema. I don’t think anyone ever has or will top her tremendous talent. Moreover, her acceptance speech was one of grace and originality. However, it’s truly difficult to look back on what could have been. Viola Davis gave a phenomenal performance of the ages in “The Help,” and even denouncers of the film, itself, are likely to admit that this was an Oscar-worthy portrayal. Was she better than Streep? I fully believe so. Yet, let’s put this year’s work by both actresses on an even keel in regard to quality. What then? As Guy Lodge eloquently points out at In Contention, this was the Academy being egregiously safe in choosing what they already know and love, rather than awarding innovation and embracing the future.
It’s also worth noting that of Streep’s previous thirteen nominations (the twelve beforehand being losses), this is the first time that her staunchest competition was of African-American descent. I don’t want to dwell anymore on the subject, but with all the talk of the Academy’s major demographic consisting of old white men, it’s difficult not to go there.
Well, this officially puts the cap on the 2011 awards season coverage, though not really, for I’m sure to touch back on certain things in the near future. For what’s now “old time’s sake,” you can still check out the nominees and winners of the 2nd Annual Edgy Awards, before this year thankfully fades into history. Nevertheless, it’s time to move on to other things. Soon, I’ll be rolling out a few posts outlining the 2012 season. This will include my Top 50 Most Anticipated for the year, as well as the interesting (yet ultimately useless) Year-Out predictions for the 85th Academy Award nominations. Stay tuned. We’ve only just begun…