Old-fashioned show. Tried and true host. Cautious, safe winners. Welcome back to “The Way We Were.”
Much has been made of the fact that this is the year of looking back in movies, with only one of the nine nominees for Best Picture set in the present. Tracking with that simple fact, the Academy Awards went the old and safe route, resulting in a generally enjoyable show (running shorter than usual) that was both a reaction to last year’s failed attempt at contemporary relevance and a reflection of the nostalgic flavor of many of the major films of 2011.
For those complaining that the awards went to films that looked backward rather than forward—well, these are the films that were made last year; let’s not blame the Academy for voting for what’s there. It just turns out that the best films of the year happened to look back with curiosity and kindness rather than anger. We’ll leave the interpretation of that to others.
Also, let’s not blame the Academy too much for dragging back the self-proclaimed “War Horse” Billy Crystal. No, he’s not current, but he’s really more classic than retro. Besides, he’s only back because previous producer Brett Ratner spoke inappropriately and his dismissal ended up taking host Eddie Murphy out of the show as well. Billy was reliable and generally kind-funny, and went for irony rather than blood. He was as warm and familiar as the show wanted us to be with the evening’s theme of Love of the Movies. Compared to last year, the warm and fuzzy approach was a relief and more in tune with what the Oscar show really is—an anachronistic self-congratulatory gathering that’s fairly clueless about what’s going on in the rest of the world today. That’s one of its greatest charms, and it veers from that path to its peril.
The awards, IMHO, generally got things right. I’m disappointed that The Tree of Life didn’t win Best Cinematography, but Hugo was my number two pick, and I was happy to see that Scorsese film so rewarded. It’s a visually stunning film, and deserved its many technical awards. It should be seem (in 3D) by many more people.
I was never so happy to be wrong about Best Actress. I was persuaded that Viola Davis was going to win for The Help, but I thought that Meryl Streep’s performance in The Iron Lady was superior. (The two performances couldn’t be more different in tone and style, and it really is apples and oranges to compare the two. But Streep’s apple is just big bigger and juicier than Davis’ orange, that’s all.) The good news here is that Streep’s win will mean that this performance will become more than an also-ran historically. Since it’s a master class of fine acting, it will be more studied now that it’s won the golden man. That can only help all future film acting.
Other than that, there were no surprises. I was happy to see The Artist’s Jean Dujardin beat The Descendants’ George Clooney for reasons I’ve gone into in previous posts. We’ll probably never see the Frenchman on the Oscar stage again, but we’ll likely see George there soon. His day has come, and will come again, probably soon. Christopher Plummer’s and Octavia Spencer’s wins were set in stone before the evening began.
Best Picture and Best Director for The Artist—a good thing. There is no consensus definition of “best” anyway, and in any event, the greatest film of the year was The Tree of Life. But while it was great, it was also greatly flawed. The Artist was a beautifully realized piece of work that was daring in its attempt to recreate yesterday in a fresh way. The Descendants was also a solid, well-written and well-acted film, but the mid-life crisis/family problem film just wasn’t delightful, daring, and fun, as is The Artist.
Are the Oscars important in any real way? Well, the show is a blessed reprieve from harsh reality—in that way, a reflection of the role of most films in our lives. More practically, Oscars generally mean that more people will see the awarded films, and for the art of film, that’s generally a good thing, too. Those who win will likely have more opportunities and more dollars attached to those opportunities. Good for them; may they use those opportunities wisely.
For film people, the Oscar show is just the biggest of the awards show, and the ultimate “Best of the Year” list. The greatest part of those shows and lists is that it gets people talking about films, and that’s great for the art form as well as the business end of things. If that doesn’t seem like much, you just invested a few moments reading this and thinking about films, didn’t you?