Monday, February 27, 2012

The Run Down: The 84th Academy Awards

Oscar turned 84 last night, and celebrated by honoring the past. Not only were two movies about cinema's early years big winners (The Artist and Hugo), but Billy Crystal rose to host once again, and Christopher Plummer became the oldest acting winner in history at 82, making him just two years younger than the award he accepted. As with many of the recent Oscar ceremonies, surprises were few and far between, though there was certainly a major one (we'll get there later). And, as with any Oscar ceremony, there were moments worthy of applause, and moments worthy of total mockery, although thankfully nothing was as painful as James Franco's complete lack of effort last year.

The Good

The Artist reigns supreme: The Artist and Hugo earned 10 and 11 Oscar nominations respectively, but ultimately AMPAS went with Michel Hazanvicius' black and white silent film. Not that Hugo was shunned; Scorcese's tribute to cinema managed to pick up 5 trophies in the technical categories. In the end, though, The Artist came out on top, also winning 5 trophies, but in three of the top categories (Picture, Director, Actor), which was a welcome change of pace after the Hugo-dominated first half of the ceremony. To paraphrase one commenter last night, Hugo tells you why old cinema is important, but The Artist actually shows you why old cinema is important.

The Presentation: Despite some awkward attempts at comedy by the presenters (Downey Jr. and Paltrow's bit really didn't work), the show flowed incredibly well, handing out awards without much lag.
Except for this mess...

Even the totally superfluous Cirque du Soleil performance didn't slow the show down, which only ran about 5 minutes past its 3 hour time slot. Pretty damn good when you consider that some ceremonies have lasted upwards of 4.5 hours.

Clips: One of the strangest trends in recent Oscar ceremonies has been the omission of clips during the presentation of the acting nominees. Thankfully this year's ceremony corrected that, and gave the nominees strong clips to demonstrate their efforts (the clips for Viola Davis and Rooney Mara were particularly well-chosen).

The acting winners' acceptance speeches: I really hope the Oscars' Youtube page adds clips from last night soon, because I really can't wait to watch these speeches again. In short, they were both extremely humble (not to mention adorable) and well handled. And as much flack as Streep has taken for winning awards these past few months, she has remained a class act through all of it.

The Original Score Presentation: Instead of simply listing off the nominees and playing some brief samples, the show went in a surprisingly epic direction for the Original Score category by sending up a massive screen designed to look like a stand with sheet music. Making it even better was Crystal's priceless reaction to the spectacle, an unimpressed "eh..."

Baxter and Wall, 2 for 2: After scooping up an incredibly deserved Best Editing Oscar for The Social Network last year, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall scored again for their excellent work on David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was a welcome surprise in the tech categories, which were otherwise dominated by Hugo and The Artist.

Jim Rash mocks Angelina Jolie: Angelina Jolie's extreme slit on her dress was certainly eye-catching, though it was slightly confusing when the actress tried to make a big deal of it by flaunting her leg. Not missing a beat, Jim Rash, one of the three winning writers for The Descendants, struck his own pose during the trio's acceptance speech, and provided one of the best improvised laughs of the night.

Natalie Portman: The Swan Queen returned to present Best Actor, and looked damn good doing it.

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifiankis being ridiculous:

The cast of Bridesmaids' drinking game: Continuing a gag from the SAG awards last month, the ladies from Bridesmaids drank anytime the name Scorcese was mentioned. Even funnier was the fact that Scorcese was unaware of the joke; the director looked positively baffled during the moment.

This picture:

The In-Between

Billy Crystal: There's no doubt that Billy Crystal is one of the Oscars' best hosts, but last night won't go down as one of his better efforts. Some of the material felt stale, and even the opening sequence featuring the host inserted into the nominated films (a Crystal staple) fell flat in comparison to years past. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Hathaway and Franco did a better job stealing Crystal's schtick last year.

Meryl Streep wins her third Oscar: It's been a long time coming, but Queen Meryl finally won her third Oscar statue, providing the only surprising acting winner of the night. Most everyone thought Viola Davis had this locked up, and the shock was palpable.

Meanwhile, in the balcony: What on earth was with those commercial bumps featuring the band sitting up in the Kodak Theater's box seats?

Wait, didn't Nicole Kidman wear that 5 years ago?:

The Bad

Hugo wins Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects:
One day, day...

Comparing the efforts of Hugo to those of The Tree of Life and Rise of the Planet of the Apes only makes these two wins look like complete jokes. The cinematography win is particularly troubling, considering that Lubezki's work on Malick's opus is some of the best DP work in years.

Supporting Actors are special too: Why were the lead actor/actress nominees given individual tributes by the presenters while the supporting actors were presented just like every other award? Some of the greatest performances of all time are supporting roles, and it looks pretty condescending to treat the leading nominees as more important.

Harry Potter and the Oscarless Film Franchise: The mega-successful film series' last film went home empty handed, leaving the massive 8-film franchise completely devoid of Oscar wins. They couldn't even throw an award to Stuart Craig's mind-blowing art direction, even after all of these years of bringing J.K. Rowling's world so beautifully to life. For shame.

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