The 2011/12 Oscars: Joy/No Joy in Merylville

27 Feb

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I guess there is joy somewhere in Merylville, especially for Meryl, but I am not among the joyous.  I absolutely recognize the brilliance of Meryl Streep’s performance as former British  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but I just don’t have any feelings, any positive ones at least, for the film itself. Oh sure, I know the Oscar isn’t going to the film–it’s going to the performance–but if I carry away a sour taste in my mouth about the movie, then the performance hasn’t necessarily done what it should do, which is to make me feel something about the character, and in this case, that character is a real human being, and I was just sort of bewildered by the whole thing. I feel something about the technical expertise of the performance, not the person.

I can’t blame all of this on the vigorous campaigning by the Weinsteins, but I can’t imagine the victory without their persistence to the task of getting Meryl her third Oscar.  No offense, Meryl, I find you, yes, brilliant. I just didn’t like your movie–and, yes, I am one of those bazillions of Americans who were expressing disappointment that it was you again (although again is a relative term in this instance, I guess.)  I thought her speech was not particularly gracious: first, she said  something snarky about audience members who might be disappointed in yet another victory for her.  (See above.) Why go there? Then, she really had nothing to say, as a friend of mine noted, about Margaret Thatcher. If you play a real person, try to at least acknowledge the source.  On the other hand, I do think it was lovely of her to thank her husband–first–and to pay tribute to her longtime–and now award winning–makeup artist, J. Roy Helland.  I had no idea that he had been  Ms. Streep’s makeup artist on her every film since Sophie’s Choice, so, yes, that’s a lovely acknowledgment. (I do, on the other hand,  have an idea that Jessica Lange almost always relies on the expertise of makeup artist Dorothy Pearl, going all the way back to 1981’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, but I digress.)  [Actually, despite the oft-repeated claim, begun by Streep, that Helland has worked on her every movie since Sophie's Choice, my research shows one minor exception, which is 1996's Before and After co-starring Liam Neeson and Edward Furlong (directed by Barbet Schroeder). Remember? I didn't think so. I was also surprised to find that even though the Lemony Snicket movie, in which Streep appeared with Jim Carrey and Jude Law, won the Oscar for Best Makeup, and even though Helland is included in the film's credits, he is not listed among the winning makeup team's Oscar recipients.] Oh, and a pox on ABC ‘s Chris Connelly for saying something on Good Morning America to the effect that Streep was now out of Lucci-ville, or something equally inane. Yes, it’s been almost 30 years since Streep last won an Oscar (1982’s Sophie’s Choice), and then there have been a lot of nominations in the interim, but to compare a long wait for a 3rd Oscar to what All My Children star Susan Lucci endured on her way to her 1st Emmy win is absurd.

On the other hand, I felt Viola Davis did something extraordinary with a much less showy role in The Help, a movie that–judging by the numbers–didn’t leave audiences bewildered or mystified. I hate it for Davis because even though everyone thought the race would be close, most prognosticators seemed to be in her corner, and she was basking in the audience’s goodwill last night during the Best Actress roll call, so there ‘s no way she can’t be just a little disappointed. Make that a lot disappointed. Better luck next time. If there is a next time.  Also, Meryl’s win hardly came out of nowhere, so it’s not a huge upset in such a competitive race, but it feels like it. Furthermore, I guess we should all be grateful that the Oscars still have the ability to surprise us and not just be a repeat, an echo, a parrot,  of the SAG awards.

Of course, Meryl didn’t only “beat” Viola Davis, there were 3 other nominees who lost, and one of those was Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs). This was Close’s 6th nomination, and who knows if she’ll ever get another shot either.  Even though I was not 100% sold on Close’s Albert Nobbs, I think I would have been able to handle a victory for her because the movie was such a labor of love for her; so long in the making, and let’s face it, a little daring (for a woman her age; Close is two years older than Streep).  A hunch tells me that Rooney Mara will not be invited back to the Oscars for her work in the planned “sequels” to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Not only will her work not seem as fresh next time around, she has reportedly made a few high profile missteps during this season’s awards derby by being something less than gracious with reporters on the red carpet as when she balked at the suggestion of GMA’s Robin Roberts that the Oscars were somehow akin to the Super Bowl (even though Mara has familial connections to such winning teams as the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers).

Meanwhile, Meryl Streep has just signed on to play the matriarch in the film version of Tracy Lett’s Tony and Pulitzer winning play, August: Osage County–also from the Weinsteins.  You can bet there will be plenty of Oscar interest in that one. In the meantime, Streep joins a select group of actors and actresses who have won 3 (or more) Oscars. Of course, Katherine Hepburn is the most honored performer, what with four Best Actress wins: Morning Glory, 1933; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967; The Lion in Winter, 1968, and On Golden Pond, 1981; she tied for the 1968 award with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl.  Like Streep, Ingrid Bergman has one award for Best Supporting Actress (Murder on the Orient Express, 1974) and two for Best Actress (Gaslight, 1944; Anastasia, 1956). Unlike Streep, Bergman won her Best Actress awards early in her career, and her supporting trophy (when she was approximately 60 years old) came pretty much toward the end of her career though she still had the likes of another Best Actress nomination (Autumn Sonata, 1978) and TV’s A Woman Called Golda (for which she won a posthumous Emmy) to come.  Streep, on the other hand won her supporting actress early (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979)  and, well, the rest is history. I guess we can all breathe a little easier knowing that Streep, who turned 60 two and half years ago, is still fighting the good fight for actresses of  “a certain age.”

The two actors who have 3 or more Oscars are Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson. Brennan, the venerable character actor, is now arguably best known to baby boomers for his Emmy nominated role in the classic The Real McCoys sitcom. The truth is, Brennan was the first performer to win 3 Oscars, and he did so in record time. He won THE first Best Supporting Actor award for 1936’s Come and Get It (starring Edward Arnold,  the beautiful and mysterious Frances Farmer, and Joel McCrea), and then quickly followed with victories for Kentucky (1938) and The Westerner (1940); his final nomination was for Pride of the Yankees (1941).  Jack Nicholson picked up his third Oscar for his leading role in 1997’s As Good as It Gets. He won his first Best Actor Oscar for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975); he won Best Supporting Actor for Terms of Endearment (1983). Welcome to the club, Meryl.

The Artist’s Jean Dujardin won Best Actor in what reportedly was a tight, tight, fight to the finish between him and George Clooney, and about the most I can say for that is “Oh well, at least it’s not Clooney! Yay!”  My problem with Clooney in The Descendants is that I’ve always thought he was much too much of a star to be believable as the kind of schmuck his character is supposed to be.  Some TV and Internet prognosticators kept offering the line that Clooney wouldn’t win because, like Cary Grant before him, Clooney is so good at what he does that he makes it seem effortless–as though he is not even really acting. I disagree: I thought he was trying too hard to play something that wasn’t a good fit for him, and the strain showed. Oh, but wait a second, Clooney didn’t win, did he? That’s right, Jean Dujardin won, and about the most I can say for that is, “Oh well, at least it’s not Clooney. Yay!” Oh, wait a second. I already said that. Seriously, I don’t necessarily agree with the Academy’s choice, but at least I understand the choice.  I mean, sure, there was all that relentless Weinstein hype, but Dujardin’s performance at least has novelty in its favor: he works hard to create a believable, memorable character without the benefit of spoken dialogue, and that’s something unique in this day and age–it is a real test of his resourcefulness as an actor. My two main problems with Dujardin have always been as follows: 1. Yes, the performance is silent and all that, but I’ve actually seen more compelling silent film work from the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Of course, Dujardin wasn’t competing against those two legends, was he? True, but I also feel like (2.) that the Weinstein brothers’ hype machine worked too hard to convince moviegoers and Academy voters that Dujardin’s performance was perhaps much greater than what it really was, or is, simply because it is so different from anything else out there currently. In other words: novel isn’t always better.  I would have voted for Brad Pitt (Moneyball) Demián Bichir (A Better Life), or even Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) over either Dujardin OR Clooney; however,  I will give Dujardin credit for being gracious and well behaved unlike Roberto Benigini’s antics when he won for 1998’s Italian-made Life is Beautiful, which was also relentlessly hyped by the Weinsteins during their reign at Miramax. It will be interesting to see how the Hollywood brass responds to Dujardin’s win. My guess he’ll be offered big bucks for the role of a villain in either the next James Bond movie or the next comic book franchise. Trivia note: the first Best Actor winner, Emil Jannings won for  performances in two silent films:  The Way of All Flesh (1927) and The Last Command (1928). All the rest have apparently been talkies until now.

I do believe the 5 awards for The Artist will give it a great big boost at the box office. Don’t  forget: the surprise 1981 Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire had only a limited following outside of New York and Hollywood before it took home Uncle Oscar’s top prize; however, once it had the official Academy seal of approval, it enjoyed a huge surge in popularity, aka ticket sales ($$$), and that’s the power of Oscar. (The flipside is that many viewers might be a little puzzled by all the acclaim for The Artist once they finally see it.)  Furthermore, I think the key to The Artist‘s  victory is found in the words of one of last night’s winners, which is that the movie was filmed entirely in Hollywood, just like the studios used to make films, and in a company town like Hollywood, that has to mean something. After all, Martin Scorsese went off to England’s Shepperton to film Hugo, his movie about movies.  Keep in mind that according to a recent report (in the Los Angeles Times, I believe), the average Academy voter is, how to put this nicely, old enough to remember when shooting almost exclusively in Hollywood was considered the norm.  Furthermore, even though The Artist is, indeed, a French film ABOUT Hollywood, much of the behind-the-scenes personnel, as well as onscreen talent, is/was American, and that includes Best Costume winner Mark Bridges, previously known for the likes of such Best Picture contenders as The Fighter (2010) and There Will be Blood (2007), among others.  Yep, it’s kind of a shame that the French had to teach Americans that good movies can still be made in Hollywood, and that, I think, is the lesson to be learned from The Artist‘s big Oscar win(s). That noted, it’s hard to imagine that a movie such as The Tree of Life could have ever been made on a back lot. Right?  Still, it is a bit of a shame that more movies aren’t made in Hollywood anymore, and that what remains of the backlots are often used as nothing more than tourist attractions. Of course, the counter-argument is that it only made sense to shoot The Artist in Hollywood since it actually takes place in Hollywood. Yeah, I guess there’s that to consider, but I still believe there is still some value in shooting more movies in Hollywood. I’m not entirely convinced that it is always cheaper to shoot on location.

All that aside, I still disagree with the The Artist‘s Oscar for Best Original Score, given that the most memorable music in the film is lifted straight from Bernard Herrmann’s legendary score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).  I understand that the music branch’s board of governors deemed Ludovic Bource’s score eligible after reviewing the score cue sheets, etc., and determining that an overwhelming majority of the score is indeed original, and, yes, I know that Herrmann is acknowledged in the film’s closing credits, but I say it detracts from the score’s effectiveness.

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer in The Help. It’s so easy to be jaded about the Oscars, but seeing someone so genuinely humbled by the experience of being recognized by her peers in front of a worldwide audience is why we keep watching this spectacle year after year.

Okay, so my three favorite movies of the year–in no particular order–were The Help, Midnight in Paris, and The Tree of Life, and, well, 2 out of 3 isn’t too bad. The first major award went to Octavia Spencer of The Help, and well deserved. Plus, she didn’t just win–she won huge. Best Supporting Actress winners don’t often get standing ovations.  Wow! What a night for her. She looked gorgeous, and her speech was, for me, hands down the best, most heartfelt, most genuine of the evening. I wonder how may doors will open for her now?

The second biggest win was the one for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris screenplay. Woody Allen, now in his 70s, still makes a movie a year (most years), and even if he never gets invited back to the Oscars, the point has been made: he’s an American master.  I think it’s hilarious that he’s won 4  Oscars, and scads of nominations besides, even though he’s never gone out of his way to woo the Academy.  This is something from which other, and often less deserving, Academy nominees could learn.  Plus, oh yes, Midnight in Paris is just a wonderful, wonderful movie! The magic is all right there on the screen. (His three Oscars for Best Original Screenplay: Annie Hall, 1977; Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986, and, now, Midnight in Paris. He also has one Oscar for directing Annie Hall.)

My second biggest disappointment–after Viola Davis–came right at the beginning when cinematographer The Tree of Life cinematographer  Emmanuel Lubezki lost in his category. I don’t necessarily bear a grudge against Hugo‘s Robert Richardson  winning since I understand the technical challenges of filming a 3-D movie with a lot of camera movement on a soundstage.  That, I get.  On the other hand, Richardson already has two Oscars–for better films (J.F.K., 1991; The Aviator, 2004)–and Lubezki has none. Plus,  I do not think of Hugo as a lasting work of art; meanwhile, any filmgoer who sits down to watch The Tree of Life will no doubt always be dazzled by Lubezki’s ravishing images, many of which were filmed entirely using natural light (though one sequence is clearly dependent on computer wizardry–see the Douglas Trumbull/2001 sidebar further down the page).  In Hugo, I was never certain about whether what I was watching was “real” or part of some tricked up computer animation, and, after awhile it was all too distracting. On the other hand, Richardson deserves a few kudos I guess for replicating the look of early Georges Méliès classics–much the way he used a variety of film stocks and lighting schemes to simulate newsreel footage, flashbacks, etc., in J.F.K.  Furthermore, I guess I should be glad that Best Cinematography didn’t go to The Artist since, as was explained last night when Mark Bridges won for Best Costumes,  the film was actually shot in color and then transferred to black and white, which is much different from actually shooting live in black and white.

On the other hand, it’s no surprise that Hugo also took the award for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration. I did not know that Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo were also married in real life though I knew they were frequent collaborators.  (If I ever knew they were married, I ‘ve  forgotten.)  Hugo‘s near domination of the technical categories, including Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, is hardly surprising because the movie is one great big technical marvel, so, yeah, I guess it works on that level. Still, what a surprise for all those Rise of the Planet of the Apes fanboys to see Best Visual Effects go to Hugo. On the other hand, who really expected The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to win Best Editing? I’m not complaining. I’m just a wee bit surprised given the Academy’s enthusiasm for Hugo.

Of  course, I’m thrilled that Christopher Plummer finally has an Oscar, and that he won for playing such a tricky role, a role that he no doubt made look easier to play that it was.  Also, let’s face it:  director Mike Mills could have found a younger actor to play Ewan McGregor’s father in Beginners. Kudos, as well, to Plummer’s fellow nominee  Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) for showing that an 82 old actor can still deliver the goods. I loved Plummer’s remark that Oscar was only 2 years older than he.  Yes, Christopher Plummer is now Oscar’s oldest acting category recipient: Jessica Tandy was 80 when she won Best Actress for Driving Miss Daisy (1989), and George Burns had just turned 80 when he won Best Supporting Actor for The Sunshine Boys (1975).  Jack Palance was a relatively youthful 73 when he won Best Supporting Actor for 1991’s City Slickers,  and he  proved his viability by dropping to the floor and doing one-armed push-ups.

What else? The Descendants wins for Best Adapted Screenplay, and I’m okay with that. Not a huge fan of the movie, and I haven’t read the book on which it is based, but there is something about it at a basic storytelling level that I like.  I thought the whole Best Song thing was a joke. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against The Muppets, but winning in a contest with only one other nominee can hardly be a real thrill–and even though I expected The Muppet song to win, I was kind of hoping that the song from Rio would win because it was co-written by Sérgio Mendes, and how fabulous would that have been, I ask you. I’m glad that director Gore Verbinski finally won an Oscar: Best Animated Feature Film (Rango). True, I didn’t see the movie, but I really wanted to, and now I will since I have the incentive. Also, I think animation is a good fit for Verbinski:  his first film, 1997’s Mousehunt had a cartoony feel as has some of his most famous live action work, and I specifically mean all those Pirates of the Caribbean movies,     so good for him. My other favorite acceptance speech of the evening came from the pair who won for Best Animated Short, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenberg (The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr.  Morris Lessmore).  As was the case with Octavia Spencer, I enjoyed seeing these guys filled to the brim with awe and for identifying themselves as ‘Swamp rats from Louisiana.” Nothing jaded there. They were having the time of their lives.   I have to admit that I was a little surprised and/or discouraged that the Harry Potter series came to its conclusion without a single Oscar in its entire 10 year run.

In his illustrious career, effects specialist Douglas Trumbull earned Oscar nominations for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and Blade Runner (1982). He counts among his other credits 1968’s landmark 2001: A Space Odyssey, which earned four Oscar nods, including Best Director (Stanley Kubrick); however, the film’s only Academy Award was for Best Visual Special Effects, the trophy for which was reserved solely, exclusively, and even oddly for director Kubrick. Trumbull also directed the 1972 cult classic Silent Running as well as the troubled Brainstorm (1983), starring the late Natalie Wood. More recently, he served as a consultant on an early effects driven sequence in Terrence Malick’s Best Picture nominee The Tree of Life.

There was a jolt or two during the naming of the Honorary Oscar winners. Yes, okay, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award is a huge honor, and Oprah Winfrey has proven herself a humanitarian as well as friend of the Academy’s community (besides being a one-time Best Supporting Actress nominee herself: The Color Purple, 1985).  I’m so happy for James Earl Jones. He was nominated for Best Actor for 1970’s The Great White Hope, and even though he has given stellar performances ever since then, he’s never been back in the race. Of course, some of his most iconic work has been  voiceover performances in  Star Wars and The Lion King (1994)–but what about Claudine (1974), Gardens of Stone (1987) Matewan (1987), Field of Dreams (1989),  The Hunt for Red October (1990), Sommersby  (1993), and Cry the Beloved Country (1995). All worthy.  Now, about makeup artist Dick Smith, the last of the honorary winners. I do feel compelled to point out that Smith won a competitive Oscar for 1984’s Amadeus,so he has hardly gone without recognition all these years; meanwhile, who can believe that effects engineer Douglas Trumbull, recognized for Scientific Achievement, had never won a competitive Oscar even with films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968),  Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Blade Runner (1982) to his credit. On the other hand, in the early 1990s, Trumbull was honored with a Scientific and Engineering award for his part in the first advancement of 65/70 mm technology in more than two decades (more or less a year after Ron Howard reintroduced the format with Far and Away.) Regarding 2001, a friend and I were recently enjoying a spirited email exchange about Trumbull and the matter of  the Stanley Kubrick film’s groundbreaking effects .  Even though Trumbull is clearly listed in that film’s credits, along with numerous others, he was not one of the recipients of its honorary Oscar for Best Effects/Special Visual Effects.  No, that award was reserved solely for the legendary  Kubrick, so I’m glad for Trumbull this many years after the fact.

Billy Crystal’s 9th hosting stint was fine. It wasn’t a smash hit, but it wasn’t an embarrassment either.  He pretty much did everything a good host should do, and the show was only slightly more than 3 hours. I’m not sure if his return will have (or had) much impact on the ratings. Some of the presenters’ bits were a little strained. I thought that Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow were the worst offenders as they made a mockery of the documentary category, which was unkind to the nominees in that category.  Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz were a mess in their two categories. They were amateurish–as though they had never appeared on an awards show.  On the other hand, I loved the bit with Emma Stone and Ben Stiller, so obviously a jab at Ann Hathaways’ forced enthusiasm during her co-hosting gig with James Franco. Finally, even though they were loud and the bit went on for far too long, I did get a kick out of Will Ferrell,  Zach Galifianakis, and their cymbals.

Milla Jovovich (above) looking lovely in white, which seemed to be the favored color on the red carpet. One commentator read it as a tribute to the success of the black and white Best Picture contender, The Artist. Okay, so where was the “black” part?

My pick for the evening’s Best Dressed? Milla Jovovich, of course. White was a popular color choice as seen not only on Jovovich, but also Octavia Spencer and GMA’s Robin Roberts (working the red carpet). I didn’t love it on Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, or Rooney Mara. Milla gets my vote for not only a drop dead elegant gown, a glamorous hairdo that didn’t look too “done,” and gorgeous makeup, red lips and everything. My second pick would be Emma Stone. I thought she looked smashing in her full red gown with a sleek updo. Lovely.  Other standouts: Jessica Chastain and Tina Fey, who well represented the basic black contingency. If it was navy, I apologize. She worked a peplum AND a formidable updo.   I didn’t much care for Angelina Jolie’s strapless black ballgown with its huge slit up the side. She looked ridiculous jutting her leg out to the side the way she did simply because showing off her legs was not really her purpose for being at the ceremonies. Plus, even with that leg, she looked a little, well, corpse-like. Not her best evening.  Some people didn’t care much for Penelope Cruz’s look, a blue-ish grayish  off-the-shoulder ballgown with a chin length bob. The complaint is that the look was too, too, old Hollywood, but, as one commentator added, women want that old-style Hollywood glamour look, especially at the Oscars, so  take that.  Oh, and I liked Melissa McCarthy. I think a tailored look might have been more stylish, but the color (something akin to blush), was lovely. Bérénice Bejo and Viola Davis looked gorgeous in green, and even though many commentators were enthusiastic over Michelle Williams’s “coral” colored gown (which read as “red” to me), I didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it.

Two more things: the parody of focus groups featuring the Christopher Guest repertory company of Catherine O’Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy, and Fred Willard reminded me a lot of what it’s like to teach sometimes.  Finally, here is the final breakdown among feature films:

  1. The Artist – 5 wins including Best Picture and Best Director (Michele Hazanavicius)
  2. Hugo – 5 wins
  3. The Iron Lady – 2 wins
  4. The Help – 1 win
  5. Midnight in Paris – 1 win
  6. The Descendants – 1 win
  7. Beginners – 1 win
  8. The Muppets – 1 win
  9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – 1 win
  10. Rango – 1 win
  11. A Separation – 1 win (Best Foreign Language Film; Iran)
  12. Undefeated – 1 win (Best Feature Length Documentary)

These Best Picture nominees all went home empty-handed:  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse.  Dear Academy: please go back to 5 Best Picture nominees because this whole expanded slate thing is confusing and is clearly is not working.

Okay, that’s all, folks! Thanks for your consideration…

5 Responses to “The 2011/12 Oscars: Joy/No Joy in Merylville”

  1. Jeff 27 February 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    i did not watch one min of the show !!!!

  2. cindy 28 February 2012 at 8:17 am #

    Loved your review. I wanted The Help to take home some additional (especially Davis) gold! Disapointed in the best picture decision. thanks for your report!!

    • listen2uraunt 28 February 2012 at 7:08 pm #

      Thanks, Cindy! Don’t forget: you can sign up for email alerts and get my latest blog posts automatically! Miss you!!!!

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