Silence is Golden: Oscar Report 2012
As expected, The Artist trumped all-comers in the Oscars 2012, picking up the top prizes in the categories for which it had a fighting chance: Best Picture, Director, and Actor, as well as Score and Costume (though losing Supporting Actress to Octavia Spencer in The Help).
The last time a silent film won Best Picture, the year was 1928 and the movie was William Wellman’s Wings. As best actor Jean Dujardin reminded us in his speech, Douglas Fairbanks hosted the ceremony, which cost $5 to attend, and lasted all of 15 minutes. Times have changed, yet the night’s other multiple winner was also a nostalgic tribute to the silent era: Martin Scorsese’s Hugo also won five awards, including Cinematography for DP Robert Richardson.
The awards were remarkable but not surprising to industry watchers: recognizing a valentine when it saw one, Hollywood has embraced The Artist in the past couple of months, and it had won almost every notable award in the run up to the Oscars.
The closest thing to an upset in the major categories was the win for Meryl Streep, named best actress for The Iron Lady. After coming up empty handed in her last 12 nominations, Streep was certainly due, though she seemed happier for her make up artist, J Roy Helland, who also won an Oscar tonight. They’ve been a team on every movie she’s made for 20 years – something to stash away for your next trivia quiz. (Another trivia nugget: Colin Firth, who introduced the best actress nominees, claimed to have worked with Michelle Williams when she was 12 – though I couldn’t tell you on what.)
The 84th Annual Academy Awards peaked early with a hilariously tasteless red carpet stunt from Sacha Baron Cohen, who appeared in his latest guise, as “The Dictator”, clutching an urn containing the ashes of his friend, the late Korean leader Kim Jeong-Il, so he said.
A famous movie fan (and indeed a filmmaker in his spare time), Kim might conceivably have dreamed of attending the Oscars, though he probably not like this. In a perfectly timed piece of slapstick mischief, Cohen then tipped the ashes all over US entertainment “journalist” Ryan Seacrest, who clearly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
If the Golden Globes ever decide that Ricky Gervais has become too conservative, they could do a lot worse than invite Baron Cohen to host.
As for the Oscars, that will never happen. Stepping in for Eddie Murphy, who quit the show a few months ago when his buddy Brett Ratner was fired for some casually homophobic language, showbiz veteran Billy Crystal was in every respect the safe pair of hands the Academy needed him to be. Crystal, who turns 64 in a couple of weeks, has hosted the Oscars eight times before, and while this wasn’t as sharp or feisty a performance as he is capable of, it was energetic, polished and positive, good enough to erase memories of last year’s mis-conceived pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco.
In the past, Crystal’s forte has been a filmed pastiche placing him in the middle of the Best Picture nominees. But back then there were five, and this year there were nine – and it would be a brave man to poke fun at Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. He didn’t find much merriment in Tree Of Life either – or maybe he just figured that such a small fraction of the billion worldwide audience had seen Malick’s film, any gag would have been a waste of effort.
As to whether the wider playing field genuinely helps underdog contenders like these, only the accountants can say for sure – but if you hadn’t seen, say, Moneyball, prior to the ceremony, you wouldn’t have gotten much idea of what you’ve been missing from this show.
The night’s best speech came from Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian writer-director of best Foreign Language film, A Separation, who spoke movingly about how culture transcends politics. 82-year-old Christopher Plummer also impressed with a sincere, affectionate but witty acceptance speech for his supporting turn in Beginners. “Oscar… You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?” he wondered.
Among the guest stars, Emma Stone carried off a potentially tricky bit as an over-excited first-time presenter. Chris Rock injected a teensy racial edge to best animated film award (no mean feat), and Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis drummed up some laughs, doling out the best song gong with clashing cymbals and wearing matches white tuxes.
Cirque de Soleil contributed an impressive song and dance number, the only one of the night (though Esperanza Spaulding sang over the “in memoriam” tribute).
All in all, if this wasn’t an especially memorable show, it was tighter and more self-assured than we have seen for a while. The producers weren’t chasing the youth demographic, for once – a wise move, given the prize-winners. Instead the ceremony paid tribute to the joys of moviegoing in a simple, heartfelt way that felt natural and appropriate. If some people in the business fear that the big screen experience will soon go the way of the silents, there was no hint of panic here, only love and respect for the difficult and highly pressured business of making moving pictures.
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