The following piece is currently on its way to the printer as part of the March issue of the Ritz Film Magazine. I thought I’d share it with Cinedelphia readers in advance since it’s timely. Enjoy…
Most cineastes justifiably scoff at awards shows. True genius in the arts is seldom embraced by the masses and thus the films that typically receive widespread attention are safe, accessible cookie cutters that are often driven through production with self-conscious eyes on the prize(s). The Academy Awards are a perfect example of this though my claims, like the ceremonies themselves, are suspect, which is really part of the fun. If room allowed, I would gladly weigh in with my thoughts on why it’s a travesty that the humanist masterpiece The Descendants lost out to the cutesy gimmickry of The Artist, or how insane it was that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close had any presence at the ceremony whatsoever. Again, it’s all part of the fun.
The Oscars are the Super Bowl for movie lovers like myself whose sports knowledge is limited to what we’ve seen on the silver screen (I may not know who won the most recent World Series, but I can tell you the name of the Oakland A’s 2002 general manager). I’ve always appreciated the pageantry of the Oscars, at least on an ironic level, but my true passion for awards season lies in the Oscar pools that I’ve participated in annually since 1995. I’ve lost only one of these, a defeat of my own making. It was 2008, the year of No Country for Old Men, when, in a hubris-driven effort to increase the level of my competition, I explained to my girlfriend at the time my traditional approach towards predicting the winners (a combination of Vegas odds, analyses of recent awards shows, and Entertainment Weekly’s picks). She obviously heeded my words as we were both 21 for 24 categories by the time Best Picture rolled around and Denzel Washington handed the statuette to No Country producer Scott Rudin (supporting the underdogs usually pays off for me, but it just wasn’t meant to be for There Will Be Blood that year). And thus the $40 pot was hers and my 13-year winning streak was forever broken.
The safe bets in this year’s Academy Awards paid off well aside from Meryl Streep’s (The Iron Lady) surprising win over Viola Davis (The Help) in the Best Actress category (even Mark Wahlberg didn’t see that one coming, and he had an inside source). Early frontrunner The Artist went in with 10 nominations and came home with five statuettes including Best Picture (the first silent film to win this category since 1929’s Wings), Actor (Jean Dujardin), Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Costume Design, and Original Score. Hugo, which led the way in nominations with 11, also brought home five trophies including Cinematography, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing. It’s fitting, during these tumultuous times for public film exhibition, that 42% of the night’s 24 awards went to films that captured beloved eras of the medium’s past. The Descendants would have swept the show in a different year, but alas, it won only one of its five categories, Adapted Screenplay.
Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer were shoe-ins for the Supporting Actor (Beginners) and Actress (The Help) categories (at 82 years of age, Plummer the 84-year-old ceremony’s oldest award winner) as was Woody Allen in the Original Screenplay category (Midnight in Paris, his highest grossing film to date, marked the writer/director’s fourth Oscar win). The Foreign Language Film category was a tight race between Israel’s Footnote, Poland’s In Darkness, and Iran’s A Separation, but the latter’s immersive and oftentimes frustrating exploration of social and familial responsibilities justifiably won the night (and just happened to be Woody Allen’s favorite film of 2011). Gore Verbinski’s Rango won for Animated Feature though I’m of the mindset that the strangely snubbed The Adventures of Tintin was a better film than all five of the nominees. Pixar’s La Luna lost the Animated Short category to an adaptation of a former employee’s iPad book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Documentary Feature predictably went to the underdog high school football film Undefeated, not that my fingers weren’t crossed for Wim Wenders’ Pina.
As for the rest of the winners: Documentary Short: Saving Face, Live Action Short: The Shore, Film Editing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Makeup: The Iron Lady, and original song went to Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie for “Man or Muppet” from the obvious.
And in case you’re wondering, I went 19 for 24 this year, slightly below average for me, but still respectable. See you at the movies!