The 84th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony: My Rough Summation
I always call the Oscars “My Super Bowl,” if only because it often comes around the same time every year and roughly has the same amount of buzz surrounding it, though I’m not so sure it has the same number of viewers. (That’s a lie. I know it doesn’t. Didn’t stop me from pigging out on a nice enchilada-style chimichanga like it was the Super Bowl!)
This year saw a decidedly milder ceremony, which some see as a nice turn after the somewhat disastrous choice to have Anne Hathaway and a mannequin host last year. They also brought back Billy Crystal for the hosting gig after Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy left the production thanks to a disagreement about whether it was okay to call gay names. (It’s not.)
Gone were the musical performances of the nominated songs probably because there were only two, and they were silly songs that would have likely taken away from the retrospective feel of this year’s ceremonies. With 2011 being a relative disappointment for movie fans, there was much uncertainty as to who would be nominated and who would win for many of the categories, though there were a few more obvious than others. (Again with the songs.)
There were some major snubs (all things Drive and Shame) and some very unexpected choices (Extremely Loud & Very Close for Best Picture and Jonah Hill vs. Christopher Plummer). Overall, though, this was a relatively tame and bland ceremony that had me wishing they had at least tried something experimental again. I rather liked Hugh Jackman’s turn at the helm and its “creating a film” theme. This year’s “film nostalgia” experience felt like it was just Hollywood patting itself on the back while foreshadowing of the eventual winners.
Still, it was the Academy Awards, and I watched it all with relative interest. Below, for you, I have given my rough summation of each winner in my own eyes, whether I was familiar with the work (or even the category) or not. Why? Because I can. And frankly, this blog is as much about my growing film knowledge as it is yours, whoever you may be!
They say that comedies don’t really get recognition come Oscars time, but in the Original Screenplay category, we got two: Bridesmaids and winner Midnight in Paris. Now, I know that I included Midnight in Paris on my Top 10 of 2011, but a part of me seriously wanted to see Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo win for Bridesmaids, if only because I have serious doubts that Wiig will have a chance to earn a nomination again — at least for quite some time. I’ve always enjoyed her on SNL, as she can make even some of the stupidest or most repetitive skits work (I love her as the flamboyant stage actress in the “Secret Word” skits, despite the fact that it was always the same gag). Giving the award to the absent Woody Allen just felt too easy. Meanwhile, nominees The Artist, Margin Call, and A Separation remain unseen by me, though don’t take this as a critique, as I’m sure they’re quite good and I will attempt to see them soon — especially The Artist!
Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash for The Descendents
Many complain that there isn’t enough originality in Hollywood anymore, but people like me, who are very, very bad at getting around to stop watching movies and actually read a book, are very thankful for successful adaptations of books, nonetheless. I had written off The Descendents, a film based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, largely based on the blah trailers, but had I known that the film was co-written by the amusing Jim Rash, I probably would have been a lot more willing to see it in theatres. I have no complaints, here, though I am now worried that Rash’s asking price as an Oscar winner will put my beloved Community in any danger of having its foundation rocked. SAVE GREENDALE!
Visual Effects: Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman, and Alex Henning for Hugo
Now, don’t get me wrong, Hugo was one of my favorite films of 2011, but to give the film the Visual Effects award doesn’t sit well with me. Sure, it had wonderful 3D and was the only film of the bunch of nominees to be filmed as such (Harry Potter and Transformers were post-conversions), but it just felt as though the Academy was trying to justify the 3D medium through this category. Which really sucks because, if anything, Rise of the Planet of the Apes totally deserved the award. Sure, the apes didn’t always look convincing, but the fact that no real apes were used whatsoever remains mystifying and amazing in my mind, and if we weren’t going to reward Andy Serkis with anything, at least give him a nod by acknowledging his amazing contribution to the film through this award. I guess the actors who are afraid to fit into a skintight suit and act out a digital character are afraid this will one day lead to their replacement.
While I think the technical awards are just as important as the “major” awards, sound is definitely where I’m out of touch with many cinephiles. I don’t have a great sound system at home (replaced an 11-year-old hi-fi system with a Vizio soundbar that I still lack a sub for), and I’ve never been one to care about my music’s compression too much, largely because I’m usually listening to it over some cheap earbuds while at work or in my car, so I couldn’t tell much difference between a high quality MP3 over a lossless FLAC anyway, but I’m sure I’d change my tune, so to speak, had I the money and discernment. That being said, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the sound process for what it is. What I can’t do, however, is explain the concept to you as well as this Vanity Fair article by John Lopez does in examining last year’s nominee, Unstoppable.
Short Film (Live Action): The Shore by Terry George and Oorlagh George
It seems as though the general consensus for what makes for an Oscar-worthy feature length film also applies to short films. Out of the nominees, we have a story about an elderly man reconciling with his brother shortly before he dies (Tuba Atlantic), a couple who adopts an Indian boy who had been kidnapped from his family (Raju), a little boy facing an existential and spiritual crisis between football and his duty as an altar boy (Pentecost), and then another film about reconciliation between two close individuals after years of disagreements (winner The Shore). The odd man out, of course, is nominee Time Freak, which husband and wife duo Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey produced using the money they had originally saved up for an apartment in New York. Apparently several film festivals rejected the film before the Academy nominated the film, including Sundance, and while the film lost to more heavy subject matter, here’s hoping the couple’s sacrifice was not for naught. Then again, I haven’t seen any of these. It could very well suck, but I doubt it.
Short Film (Animated): The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
Of these shorts, I have only seen the Oscar-winner, and only because I sought it out for the purposes of this article. Created by seemingly freelance animators William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, the short tells the story of Mr. Lessmore, a man who survives a hurricane in the French Quarter and finds solace and new life in a nearby library of living, flying books. The film has a great idea with the imaginative flip-book animation of the anthropomorphic Humpty Dumpty book, but other than that, it felt a bit manipulative in the heartstring-tugging department. Again, I haven’t seen the others, and Mr. Lessmore’s story is enjoyable, but if this tired story about how books can save people from the realities of an often tragic life is the best that animated shorts had to offer in 2011, I’m not so certain I’m going to spend the money to see the rest of these animated films for now.
With only two nominees, the other being Rio‘s “Real in Rio,” this category may have been a given. I haven’t seen The Muppets yet, tragically, so I don’t want to seek out this scene, even if it is available separately from the film, but from what I could hear over the awful sound production of the Oscars telecast, it was more deserving than Rio‘s generic song. It’s nice to see the Academy rewarding something silly for once!
Music (Original Score): Ludovic Bource for The Artist
John Williams was nominated for two out of the five nominees here and yet the master of soundtracks still lost out to Ludovic Bource, the man with no formal training in composition and whose previous experience was in scoring commercials and short films. Considering the fact that Williams started out doing the theme for Lost in Space and the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island , winning an Oscar for his first film, a silent film that relies heavily upon its score to help convey emotion, no less, is a good sign for Bource’s future, though I’m sure Kim Novak would disagree after the whole “rape” thing.
Makeup: Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland for The Iron Lady
It was inevitable that Harry Potter be nominated in this category thanks to its goblins and Voldemort, but going up against a movie about women passing as men (Albert Nobbs, which, honestly, had really bad-looking makeup in my humble opinion ) and another historical drama where Meryl Streep disappears into the facade of a woman who went into the territory of men, Margaret Thatcher, the winner was probably pretty obvious. I remember when the first image from this film was released by the studio, I immediately said aloud, “Holy crap!” and snapped a shot to send to my mom. She was equally astonished. Unlike what little I have seen from Albert Nobbs, The Iron Lady is nearly seamless and incredibly realistic, becoming, as Meryl Streep would later acknowledge, as much a part of the performance as her efforts to become Thatcher. Well deserved, if a bit predictable.
The media in Iran is already claiming this as a victory over Israel, despite many in the country having criticized A Separation and its director for its depiction of domestic life and turmoil within the country. Israel’s submission, Footnote, likely lost to A Separation due to its much less controversial subject matter: two professors, a father and his son, who come into conflict over their respective teaching methods in the Talmudic Research Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both are no doubt good films, and it’s a tragedy that this category can’t be regarded in the same spirit as the Olympics, with politics being put aside in the name of equal competition. Sadly this is not to be, and this ugly hatred comes at a time when Tunisian TV station owner Nabil Karoui is being put on trial for his decision to show show the Iran-set film and 2008 Best Animated Feature nominee Persepolis uncensored, complete with its controversial depiction of God. Still, A Separation is otherwise also notable for being the first Middle Eastern film to win the award and should be a signal to all foreign film fans in America that not all the best foreign language films come from France or China.
Film Editing: Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo aside, I haven’t seen any of the nominees in this category. However, with David Fincher at the helm, I can only guess that his frequent collaborators, Baxter and Wall, who have worked with the director since the amazing Zodiac and won for their collaborative efforts on The Social Network, are well deserving of their second Oscar in a row. However, the film was a critical letdown after Fincher’s previous efforts, and while his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel was nominated in other categories, it probably didn’t stand a chance anywhere else but here. I’m still going to see the first adaptations before I see Fincher’s take, but I will give this a chance. for sure, however.
Documentary Short: Saving Face by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
I’m really bad at ignoring this category, but one of my goals this year is to pay more attention to oft-ignored stuff like documentary shorts (or just documentaries in general). Saving Face, this year’s winner, joins A Separation in coming from the Middle East, this time Pakistan. The film follows Dr. Mohammad Jawad as he travels to his native country to perform reconstructive surgery on the faces of acid burn victims, a shocking form of violence whose victims primarily comprise of women who are attacked for defiance or vengeance. Like the live action Short Film category, the Documentary Short category was seemingly dominated by these serious subjects, with films about the 2011 Japanese tsunami (The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom), the 2007 New Baghdad airstrike (Incident in New Baghdad), and one on an unsung civil rights movement hero (The Barber of Birmingham…). There was even one sole standout, God Is the Bigger Elvis, about actress-turned-nun Dolores Hart, who shared Elvis Presley’s first on-screen kiss in Loving You . Unlike the fiction films, however, you can’t call any of these true life stories Oscar-bait, and I’m sure each of them is worthy of their nominations.
Hollywood loves a good inspirational sports film based on true stories, and Undefeated has the good fortune of actually being there for the actual events. Unlike the shorts category, the documentary features had a somewhat wider subject range, with a 3D documentary on dance choreographer Pina Baucsch (Pina), one on the Earth Liberation Front (If a Tree Falls…), a sequel concluding a trilogy of documentaries on the Memphis Three (Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory), and a soldier who returns from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder (Hell and Back Again). Like the shorts, it’s hard to determine whether these are any “good” just based on their subject matter, however, and, unlike a Hollywy with the films that were nominated, and, sadly, Netflix does noood production, you can’t exclaim “Why?!”, as we could when The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture a while ago. Again, I can’t make the call in this category, as I have no familiaritt have the documentary films up for streaming this year.
Directing: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
Enigmatic director Terrence Malick was widely considered to be the favorite for this award, if only because his films seem to come about once every decade since 1969 (the 70s being the exception, where he had two films, but he skipped the 80s, so it all evens out). After Tree of Life, however, it does look as though Malick has four projects in the pipeline, with two in post-production, so maybe the Academy is holding out for something a bit more widely acclaimed? I don’t know, but when you’re going up against a silent film as successful as The Artist, you can’t really expect much more than a nomination I guess. If you’re down on the Awards for always choosing the moody dramas, this was likely a breath of fresh air, though it was unlikely that, like me, you had seen any of the nominees beyond Scorsese’s film, right? Yeah, we suck.
Costume Design: Mark Bridges for The Artist
Period piece, period piece, partially a period piece, period piece, period piece. I don’t doubt that these are hard to do, as I’m sure it takes a lot of work and research to make these costumes authentic, but how come no love for Captain America, eh? They took a ridiculous-in-live-action costume like Cap’s and made it work for the big screen, not to mention all the Hydra soldiers and such. Plus, it’s a period piece, too! What a snub! Anyway, Mark Bridges, whose previous work includes films as diverse as There Will be Blood and Yes Man, won his first nomination for The Artist, which required him to channel the iconic 1920s look for stars Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin to wear. I’m not going to begrudge it, if only because I can’t really say much more on the subject. … Except maybe that it only makes sense that Madonna’s debut feature film would be nominated in this category, what with the song “Vogue” and all.
Art Direction: Dante Ferretti (production design) and Francesca Lo Schiavo (set decoration) for Hugo
It’s interesting that the sweeping train station in Hugo beat out the more humble vision of the same city in Midnight in Paris, but perhaps the more fantastic, wondrous look of Hugo charmed a win out of the voters. Sadly, Harry Potter yet again does not win its nomination, which means that Warner Bros. is just going to have to milk the series for all it’s worth with those proposed midquel films starring an all-new cast, eh?
Cinematography: Robert Richardson for Hugo
Richardson has worked with several directing greats throughout the years, having longstanding working relationships with Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Oliver Stone. Hugo stands as the veteran’s first 3D film, however, and also the first 3D-shot film to win, as well, which, if audiences were cinematography enthusiasts (and, really, they should all be if they care so much about the filming medium), this would be amazing news. It’s certainly an interesting contrast to the state of 3D film tickets, which are apparently on the decline.
Animated Feature Film: Rango by Gore Verbinski
I was and still kind of am one of the detractors of this category, if only because it separates the animated feature from the live action features, almost as a separate but equal situation. On the downside, too many people consider animation to be an inferior or childish medium. On the plus side, however, at least animated films would finally get the recognition at the Oscars that they deserve, and I have come to see the award as a recognition of excellence in animation. Apparently, so do they, as the winner was pretty much a given, despite an interesting year for the category. Kung Fu Panda 2 was fun, and apparently Puss in Boots was much better than it had any right to be, being a Shrek spin-off and all, but Rango was probably the most experimental American animated film to come out in the past year, and, being ILM’s first animated feature, it also looked really good, too. I can’t say too much about the plotting though – I found it entertaining, but somewhat dull, but with the absence of Pixar, two little-seen foreign and traditionally animated films (A Cat in Paris and the decidedly adult Chico & Rita), and no other Disney film in sight (apparently even the Academy forgot about poor old Winnie the Pooh), it almost seems unfair to have given any of the other films the hope of winning.
Actress in a Supporting Role: Octavia Spencer in The Help
The telecast got its Oscar moment when Octavia Spencer beat out Bérénice Bejo, co-star Jessica Chastain, my favorite Melissa McCarthy, and Janet McTeer and gave her sob-filled acceptance speech. While I was honestly hoping that McCarthy’s hilarious turn in Bridesmaids would win out in a rare moment when the Academy would recognize a brilliant comedic performance, I did find it amusing that Spencer and McCarthy were in competing roles that both involved poop gags in their roles. Yup. Did Octavia Spencer deserve her Oscar? Sure. I can’t think of too many other actresses who deserved it. Except, of course, McCarthy. Not enough potential for drama, I guess. Somebody give her a Jim Carrey- turning-point film like The Truman Show!
Actor in a Supporting Role: Christopher Plummer in Beginners
Is anyone weirded out that Christopher Plummer’s first win was up against Jonah Hill, of all people? I mean, I was all for McCarthy up there, and here I am, shocked that this veteran actor had to come to blows with the fat kid from Superbad to get his first Academy Award! Of the actors nominated in their roles in this category, I recognize them all, have only seen Warrior, and can honestly say that Beginners was probably the least likely to be on my radar for must-see films, but it certainly is now. Congratulations to an actor who would likely agree with me in saying, “It’s about time!”
Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
How can you hate on someone who is so great and yet so self-deprecating? Her opening lines to her speech, where she acknowledged the fact that America was likely collectively groaning at her win against fellow veteran Glenn Close, rising star Michelle Williams, fan favorite Viola Davis (who, honestly, really made The Help the film that it is seen to be, at least in my eyes), and newcomer Rooney Mara, who has happily found better things to do than star in horrible horror film remakes like A Nightmare on Elm Street. Meryl became the most nominated actress with 17 nominations this year and earned her third win since decades-old Sophie’s Choice. She even acknowledged that she will likely never win another at that rate, but despite the poor reviews for The Iron Lady, it’s unlikely that she will stop turning in Oscar-worthy performances.
Actor in a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Much was made of buddies George Clooney and Brad Pitt going up against each other, but the real story is how the awesome Gary Oldman finally got his Oscar nomination and ended up losing it thanks to a silent film called The Artist. This category went to Jean Dujardin, who had to regress his acting abilities into that of an aging silent film star of the 1920s, which no doubt impressed the Academy. He seems charming and likely does deserve his Oscar, but hopefully Oldman will get his chance again. Meanwhile, Demián Bichir left many wondering “Who’s that?” most likely, but what that clip of his sobbing in A Better Life shows is that the dude is a dark horse ready to strike again.
Best Picture: The Artist by Thomas Langmann (producer)
Was there any doubt? While I was thrilled to hear that Hugo had gotten its Oscar nomination, even I, who neglected to even acknowledge The Artist in my 2011 in Review, had come to realize that I had missed out on something truly spectacular with this ode to silent cinema. Like documentaries, I’ve been trying to expand my horizons into more silent films, this amazing and, cinematically speaking, ancient medium that hasn’t had a Best Picture win since way back in 1929, when Wings took the first Best Picture trophy (no relation to the TV show). And in an Oscar ceremony concerned with showing us why cinema is awesome (pandering, you might say), it was likely very thematically correct to give it to this film. I can wait for the film to release on Blu-Ray, but I’m hoping I can find a theatre nearby to catch this film in a cheap seat theatre somewhere, the way people saw silent films back then would.