The 84th Academy Awards – Predictable? Yes. Disappointing? Not at all. Last night, in what was one of the more streamlined and succinct ceremonies in recent memory, the Oscars were handed out largely by the numbers. There were a handful of surprises, as is always the case, but nothing to particularly ruffle the feathers of the movie world.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the night was David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo triumphing in the Film Editing category, with Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall both flabbergasted to accept the award infront of such films as Hugo and The Artist. In my predictions article (you can see that here), I predicted that The Artist would take that award, but I also stated that TGWTDT was “a good outside bet.” Despite being the fourth favourite out of five odds-wise, there was a case to be made. The logic is, TGWTDT has the most ‘visible’ editing of all the films nominated – often the award will go to the night’s most prominent film, because voters struggle to discern between different levels of editing quality. However, in this instance there was a candidate that stood out from the pack. By ‘visible’, I mean easily recognisable to the untrained eye. Some of the cuts were absolutely superb, but there is most to editing than simply how it looks. Several had lauded the way that Moneyball‘s editors constructed its narrative, while both The Descendants and The Artist had triumphed at the 2012 ‘Eddie’ awards (the American Cinema Editors annual ceremony). But, in this instance, the Academy decided to stand on their own feet and to honour the film that contained the most recognisably skilled editing.
Another shock was Meryl Streep beating Viola Davis to the Best Actress prize. On the surface, this may not seem like such a big deal. Streep portrayed an easily recognisable historical figure (very convincingly, I might add) and that tends to play well with the Academy voters. She’s also a long time figure at the Oscars – this was her 17th nomination and now third win. However, Davis was the favourite going in to the ceremony yesterday. It has been widely reported recently, perhaps misleadingly, that The Help had a huge amount of support within the Academy, and that it might even be an outside Best Picture contender. In fact, during Billy Crystal’s opening monologue song there was a clear emphasis placed on The Help, which suggested that the rumours may in fact be true. Davis also won the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) award, traditionally a very strong indicator for the Oscar – previously, only 5 times in 14 years had the SAG not indicated the future Oscar winner. However, Streep upset the form book and picked up the golden statuette to add to her 2012 Golden Globe and BAFTA. While many will be disappointed for Davis – who now has two nominations and no wins – few will begrudge Streep picking up a third win, especially considering her wealth of nominations.
As predicted by most, The Artist had a successful night with 5 awards, but it was less of a prolific showing than most had envisioned. Hugo always looked strong in the technical categories, and so it proved by also taking home 5 wins. I had predicted The Artist to either win 5 or 6 Oscars, and though a sweep was always a possibility, it was always second choice for awards such as Cinematography and Art Direction. Regarding the former, I had predicted Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Tree of Life to win him a first Oscar in 5 nominations. That was always depending on the Academy being able to stomach Malick’s mind-bending odyssey; ultimately it proved that they couldn’t. Hugo‘s win in this category signals a wide acceptance of 3D, after Avatar won two years ago, it now appears that a trend is developing. Whether or not it merely indicates that 3D movies will be honoured exclusively in the technical categories without breaking into the major awards is yet to be seen, but it is clear that the Academy has little prejudice against the medium.
Perhaps my biggest prediction error of the night was placing Undefeated fifth out of five in the Documentary Feature category. Last week it seemed to come out of nowhere to suddenly emerge as the favourite, and it did indeed triumph. The Documentary category this year will be remembered, however, for the films that weren’t in contention – Senna, The Interrupters and Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss were all curiously absent. Next year the voting system has been changed again – now, a film needs to have been reviewed by either the New York Times or the LA Times to be eligible for selection. Will this solve the recent trend of glaring omissions on the shortlist? Of course it won’t.
Regarding the ceremony itself, Billy Crystal returned for what was ultimately a successful comeback for the hosting veteran. He is the second most prolific Oscar frontman ever with 9 shows under his belt, behind only Bob Hope. His video stint was humorous if predictable, and his Oscars song was a nice touch of nostalgia for those who are a fan of his style of presenting. For the most part, his gags were relatively tame but worth a chuckle or two – the undoubted highlight was his “what they are thinking” skit, during which the camera panned to a bemused looking Nick Nolte and Crystal promptly uttered a noise akin to “BLEEEEEUUGH”, much to the amusement and surprise of everyone in the (not)Kodak Theatre, in particular Nolte who looked a touch offended.
Clocking in at a mere 3 hours and 14 minutes, this year’s broadcast was the shortest (equal with the 2005 ceremony) since 1986. Despite this, it was still only one solitary minute shorter than 2011’s farcical awards. That fact will probably come as a shock to those who tuned in last year, considering the 84th ceremony felt about half the length of the 83rd ceremony, which was fronted by Anne “try hard” Hathaway and James “Cheshire Cat” Franco.
In terms of the speeches, Christopher Plummer was smooth and humble picking up his Supporting Actor award, Alexander Payne was humorous and charming when accepting his second Adapted Screenplay statue, Woody Allen was entirely absent for his Original Screenplay nod (apparently he was watching basketball – it’s a marvel that the Academy seem to like him as much as they do, despite his continued snubbing of the ceremony) and Octavia Spencer was wrought with emotion while accepting her Supporting Actress prize. Despite the above, the highlight for me was Jean Dujardin winning Best Actor, fending off the strong field of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman and Demián Bichir. After using the same gag (effectively) at both the Globes and the Baftas, this time he was merely a bundle of unbridled joy, bouncing around the stage completely losing his cool in an outburst of very French delight. It is always fantastic to witness somebody be truly overawed to get an award, and he was a thoroughly deserving winner after his beautifully expressive and charismatic performance in The Artist. You sense that Clooney, Pitt and Oldman will all be back – I predict that all three of them will win Oscars in their lifetimes, though one of them may have to wait for an honorary nod as they reach the twilight of their careers.
Overall, the ceremony itself was smooth and entertaining – Cirque Du Soleil went down very well – and the awards, while largely predictable, were far from disappointing. Despite the recent and very predictable backlash, The Artist is one of the most positively-reviewed Best Picture winners in recent memory, and as a French, black & white, silent production it is an against-type and uplifting winner.
As for best dressed… not exactly my area, but I liked Christopher Plummer’s jacket.