Blogging the Oscars
This year’s crop of contenders for the gold--the golden-plated Oscar statuettes for Best Picture, that is--range from the retro-charm of "The Artist" to Terrence Malik’s ultra-arty, hyper-literate "The Tree of Life," with a few more likely candidates ("Moneyball," "Hugo," "The Help," "The Descendants") thrown in for good measure. Then there are the oddball nominees: "Midnight in Paris," "War Horse," and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," which tends to suggest, in the former case, that those in charge of the nominations are susceptible to inexplicable bouts of silliness ("Midnight in Paris?" Really? A badly miscast Woody Allen flick with a ramshackle plot and a lightweight pseudo-philosophical message?) and far too impressed by late-breaking, ostentatious movies.
Myself, I can’t help thinking that it’s a race between "The Help" (social message movies, especially when the social message is at a safe remove of four or five decades, are a good bet) and "Moneyball," with "The Descendants" running a close third.
The field of nominees for Best Actor is a bit more satisfying: Demián Bichir for his role as an illegal immigrant in "A Better Life," George Clooney as a grieving cuckold in "The Descendants," Jean Dujardin for his turn as a Hollywood silent movie star facing career death with the advent of talkies, Gary Oldman for his interpretation of Smiley in "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy," and Brad Pitt for... no, not "The Tree of Life," but rather the much more commercial "Moneyball."
Your humble columnist’s call: Pitt will take it. Immigration is too hot a issue politically for Tinseltown to do more than give "A Better Life" a nod with a nomination; "The Artist," for all its charms, isn’t quite commercial enough; Gary Oldman’s performance was terrific in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," but the movie is a little too authentically British in tone and flavor, and a little too old school for a broad appeal to an American electorate used to slick action flicks like the Bourne movies. As for Clooney, he’s so good at almost everything he does that the Clooney version of compassion fatigue is likely to have set in.
Up for Best Actress: Glenn Close for her gender-bending role in "Albert Nobbs," Viola Davis for "The Help," Rooney Mara for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady," and Michelle Williams for "My Week with Marilyn."
Close is at a disadvantage given the very name of her character, Albert Nobbs. The opportunity for cheap jokes is enough in itself to derail her chances. Streep might win, if only because she ought to have won for "The Devil Wears Prada" and she ought to have won again for "Julie and Julia." But there’s no sidestepping the fact that Streep portrays Maggie "Milk Snatcher" Thatcher, and though the film does poke a little fun at the Conservative icon (the first shot of the movie is, after all, Maggie’s crabbed hand choosing a carton of milk at a convenience store), its protagonist is, well, just not the stuff of which Oscar is made.
Now, remember what I was saying above about slick action flicks? I’d be into Rooney Mara, star of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," winning if only for the fact that her character, Lisbeth Slander, is bi. But Salander is also a powerful, competent female character so in charge of her own sexuality that she’s willing to allow herself to be violated in order to gain the upper hand (not to mention her idea of a kinder and gentler roll in the hay consists of taking the initiative when it comes to bedding her startled leading man, Daniel Craig). In short, she’s the kind of woman who scares the shit out of Middle America--so don’t expect her to walk off with the gold. No, I’m getting the sense that our poor, shaken nation, dipped as it is in nostalgia and soaked in fictitious "family values" is more in the mood for a woman who might be smart as well as gorgeous, but who plays it dumb and breathy, and is genuinely emotionally fragile besides. Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe wonderfully--enough so that despite the movie not exactly being a hit, I’m thinking Williams will take the prize.
And for Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist," Alexander Payne for "The Descendants," Martin Scorsese for "Hugo," Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris," and Terrence Malick for "The Tree of Life."
Now, come on. Are they going to go for Allen? Hardly. The guy can’t be bothered to show up for the Oscars, and to nominate him for a trifle like "Midnight in Paris" is a backhanded compliment at best--they might as well say "Woody, you’re kinda old and likely to drop dead any time now, so we just through we’d toss you a gold-plated bone." Except I really don’t think they will.
It’s a brave and noble thing to have nominated Malik at all--but he’ll never take it. Hazanavicius charmed the hell out of those who attended "The Artist" and actually understood that it was supposed to be a silent movie... but an awful lot of people just didn’t get it. It’s a tossup between Payne for "The Descendants" and Scorsese who, let’s face it, we expect to deliver blood-spattered classics like "Goodfellas"--so what a twist and delight to see him behind "Hugo." For sheer go-against-the-grain audacity (that actually works this time; let’s not even get into his forays into comic films like "Bringing Out the Dead," and "After Hours" or his, er, literary sojourns "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "The Age of Innocence"), Hugo should be the one to beat. But will the Academy agree? Dear readers, let’s find out.
The Oscars start off with a promising montage that drops Billy Crystal into scenarios lifted right from the nominees for Best Picture... and it’s clever, until the movies being referenced drift from nominees like "The Artist" and "The Descendants" (in reference to which Crystal and George Clooney lock lips) and into "The Adventures of Tintin." Suddenly, this is looking like the usual bloated and boring stuff we get year after year, and a lame joke about Men’s Wearhouse is a true nadir for what started as a pretty funny sequence.
Tom Hanks presents the evening’s first two awards: Best Cinematography goes to Robert Richardson for "Hugo," followed in short order by Best Art Direction to Dante Ferretti and Frances Lo Schiavo, again for "Hugo." Knowing how a single movie can sweep these awards, could this be an early indicator of things to come?
Mark Bridges wins for Costumes for "The Artist." The first win for the movie I am rooting for!
Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland win for Makeup for their work on Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady." Could Streep have a chance after all?
"Be careful, you’re in his eyeline!" With those words, Crystal introduces Christian Bale, who is never going to live down his infamous rant on the set of "Terminator: Salvation." Bale is never gonna live that one down, though, in a way, given that it was such a horrible movie, you could hardly blame him...
Bale lists the nominees for Best Supporting Actress, and once more I am struck by how this A-List actor sports a downmarket accent. Good thing his roles tend to require him to don an American mode of enunciation.
And a shocked looking Octavia Spencer wins for her sassy, shit-pie baking role in "The Help!" her string of apologies--"I’m sorry... I’m freaking out..."--is as genuine as, but far more endearing than, Melissa Leo’s f-bomb when she won in that category last year for "The Fighter."
Just as I was starting to think that this year’s Oscars might be a lean and efficient affair, here comes stupid faux footage supposedly from 1939 of a "focus group" commenting on "The Wizard of Oz." The one decent joke: A man tells Bob Balaban that he hates the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It’s only funny because it’s true that there was some thought among studio execs of losing the song. I mean... what were they thinking?
The editing team behind David Fincher’s "The Social Network" win for Best Editing for a second consecutive year for their work on Fincher’s "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." And ya know what? They shoulda won. Both times. Well deserved.
"Hugo" picks up two more statuettes, one after the other, for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Go "Hugo!"
Billy Crystal makes a Flomax joke. Gwyneth Paltrow chides Robert Downey. Jr. for being crass and disrespectful, and I’m none too sure that she was doing so in jest... Why do The Oscars always jump the shark about an hour in? I’m gonna pour a glass of red wine and watch the train wreck pile up from here.
Commercial break. Time for random reflections. Chris Rock injected some real hilarity into the show a few minutes ago, thank god. And here’s who I’m hoping takes Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer as the late blooming gay man in "Beginners," a movie that deserved more recognition than it got. But hey, I’ll settle for Plummer taking the prize.
After some truly witless banter between a short comedian and a tall starlet, "Hugo" takes it for Best Visual Effects. Here, I have to disagree. It should have been "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," but Hugo is shaping up to be the night’s juggernaut.
Oh goodie, Melissa Leo is presenting tonight! Will she hurl an f-bomb? Nope... she’s articulating every word and they are all nice and clean. A pity, really. This show could use some electricity, even of a vulgar sort. Otherwise, how are we going to make it to the end? (I know, set down the wineglass. Fat chance!)
Melissa turns out to be handing out the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor--and Christopher Piummer takes it! At age 82! Setting a record for oldest actor to win the gold. "I’m only two years older than you, Darling," he tells his statuette. "Where have you been all my life?" His very presence has just raised the tone and the level of excitement. This show has just sent out a fat spark of heat and class.
Please tell me... please tell me that the score for "The Artist," such a fun flashback to styles of an earlier era, will win! And not John bloody Williams....
Yes! Ludovic Bource, composer for "The Artist," snags the win!
Now if only it were possible to get exited about the measly two nominees for Best Original Song, neither of which is Trent Reznor’s rippin’ title tune from "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." What gives? Too rockin’? Or was it not an original song, but rather a cover? In any case, "Man or Muppet" from the new Muppet movie takes the gold. Blah.
Best Adapted Screenplay goes to the writers of "The Descendents." Nothing wrong with that, but how did "The Help" not end up nominated for this category?
Best Original Screenplay? I would have said "A Separation," but expected "Margin Call." But wouldn’t you know it, Woody Allen (nope! Not present!) wins for "Midnight in Paris." If he wuz gonna win for anything he’s done recently, why not "Whatever Works?" Someone please explain...?
Okay. we’re two hours in. Boredom looms. Actually, boredom has set in; rigor mortis looms. Weren’t we supposed to be mourning Liz Taylor and thinking about at Lifetime Achievement Award by now? And then getting the awards we really care about, like Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture, wrapped up?
That bottle of Bogle Petite Syrah is looking so much better than Billy Crystal. Oh, and better than the cast of "Bridesmaids," too. (What do ya want? I’m gay, for Chrissakes.)
"Saving Face?" "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom?" (Are they serious?) Now we have reached the realm of films not even critics have heard of. Short films, yes, but still, that’s scant solace when the Awards are getting less and less short with every dragging minute. At least the titles are memorable (if, occasionally, in questionable taste).
And here’s a bit of trivia for you--"Saving Face" turns out to be about medical intervention in cases of people who are attacked by having acid thrown in their faces. (Is this horrible crime a trend now? How much of this sort of thing goes on out there?)
At last! Michael Douglas--himself!--presents the award for Best Director. I’m rooting for Hazanavicius but expecting Scorsese to win. Even though he won a few years ago for "The Departed." And should have won 20-some years before that for "Goodfellas."
And--mais oiu!!!--Hazanavicius is, as he puts it, "the happiest director in the world right now." I might be the happiest film critic in the world. Yay!
Time for a moment of poignant recollection for Jane Russell, Ken Russell, Farley Granger, Peter Falk, Sidney Lumet, Jackie Cooper, Ben Gazzara, and, of course, Liz Taylor, among others who left us in the last year. May Ken Russell find his Heaven to be as psychedelic as his movies, Farley Granger discover that angels really are beautiful, and Liz Taylor enjoy all the cold fried chicken and audacious jewelry that eternity can provide.
My buddy Dan Kimmel posts on Facebook: "The ’In Memoriam’ sequence is always touching but showing a clip of Cliff Robertson from ’Spiderman’ instead of ’Charly?’ Really?"
Dan, you said it!
Natalie Portman presents Best Actor. But first she addresses each of the nominees directly with praises and accolades. She tells Gary Oldman that it’s "incredible," as in beyond believable and sort of shameful, that this is his first time as a nominee. And she makes a good case for Brad Pitt, too. But I know who I’m rooting for: Come on, Jean Dujardin... or, if one might hope for such, Demian Bechir...
"And the Oscar goes to Jean Dujardin!!"
"He should not say anything," is my husband’s witticism.
"I love your country," Dujardin declares. And then, a paragraph or so later: "Formidable!!"
Colin Firth (so adorable) presents Best Actress... and also issues praises to each of the nominees in turn. Maybe I’m fusty, but to me Glenn Close was perfection in "Dangerous Liaisons." Since then she’s been magnificent, in film and on TV, but... "Albert Nobbs?"
Rooney Mara is the dangerous one now. I can’t imagine she’ll win, but if she does I will do a handstand (some time this week; maybe not just now).
Meryl Streep? She deserves to win. Maybe not for her turn as Maggie, but she does deserve to win. (Well, okay, the film clip of Maggie raking Al Haig over the coals was sheer brilliance. I could live with a Meryl Streep win, but really, it’s so very overdue.)
I still think America wants a breathy blonde.
But I’m wrong! Streep takes it!! Hurrah! Maybe there’s hope for us all after all. Extra kudos to Streep for remembering to give thanks to her longtime makeup man. And her joke about "half of America" rolling their eyes at her being nominated yet again--"But, whatever!" Classic!
Tom Cruise takes the stage to present Best Picture. Tom Cruise? Okay...
Would it not be so wonderful and surprising if "The Tree of Life" won? Or "The Artist?"
You just know that "The Help" is gonna take it, though, right?
And the suspense is crazy!
And the winner is...
"The Artist!" Haha! Ohhh, my gods, that’s just brilliant!
You know, the story was great, the acting was great, the music was great. But it was the Jack Russell terrier who made (and stole) the show. This award didn’t go to the dog, but at least he got to hang at the podium.
That’s a wrap, y’all!