If you want to know what kind of night it was at the Oscars, look no further than the award for Best Sound (Effects) Editing: a tie between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall. This is actually a good thing for me since I’m a huge fan of both movies. Of course, it is even better for the people involved. It’s just a surprise to see a tie at the Oscars. It’s not necessarily unique, but definitely a surprise. Furthermore, it’s quite a coincidence that both male winners from the two teams (Paul N.J. Ottoson for the former and Per Hallberg for the latter) have long hair, but I digress. Anyway, it was an evening full of surprises.
Surprises? Oh yeah, how about this one: the top six awards were spread out over six different films, all of them Best Picture nominees: Best Picture (Argo), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook), Best Actor (Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln), Best Director (Ang Lee for Life of Pi), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables), and Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained). Of the three remaining Best Picture nominees, Zero Dark Thirty, as noted, took home one trophy as did Amour (Best Foreign Language Film); indie fave Beasts of the Southern Wild was the lone Best Picture contender to go home with nothing. To recap: Life of Pi won the most awards while Argo won in three categories as did Les Misérables. Lincoln and Django Unchained emerged with two awards each.
Okay, so the top award went to Argo, and good for actor/director/producer Ben Affleck. True, he was overlooked as a Best Director candidate, but being one of the Oscar winning flick’s team of producers has its advantages. His Oscar is just as shiny and golden as any other Oscar. I’m a huge fan of Argo. I like that Affleck and his team have crafted such an amazingly suspenseful tale from such an unlikely true story, one that is as much about the allure of movies–as the shadowy CIA meets brazen Hollywood politics–as it is about a real-life rescue mission. This is solidly middle of the road, even slightly retro, filmmaking in the best possible way (and not just because it’s set in 1979). Argo has been a huge hit not only with the critics but also with the moviegoing public that has eagerly embraced the movie. Last year’s big winner, The Artist, was also a movie about Hollywood (as silents made way for talkies), but it was too self-conscious as an homage, and it was not a huge word-of-mouth hit. Instead, it was a movie that the Weinsteins tried to manufacture into an event. The public never bought into it, but the Academy still fell over its collective self to shower it with awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin). Anyway, Affleck’s film was a standout in a sea of strong entries–many of them huge hits (which hasn’t happened lately)–and that says a lot. Its Oscar victory also restores at least some of the Academy’s credibility. Affleck shares his victory with co-producers Grant Heslov and Mr. Hollywood himself, George Clooney. The accolades for Argo also extend to Best Adapted Screenplay winner Chris Terrio and film editor William Goldenberg.
Interesting footnote: there are some people who believe the stats show that whichever movie wins Best Editing also wins Best Picture. Hmmmmm….I don’t think that’s necessarily true each and every year, but it does often work out that way. Here’s what’s funny. In 2005, when Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was seemingly poised to take such high profile awards as Best Picture and Best Director, a bit of a loop was thrown early in the ceremony when Crash captured Best Editing–and then nabbed Best Picture at the very end of the show even though Lee had already been declared the Best Director victor. Interesting coincidence.
Okay, though, before I forget: I want to applaud the show’s set designer. It was really one of the loveliest I’d ever seen…simple, beautiful, and elegant as though the stage were illuminated only by hundreds and hundreds of candles against a shimmering twilight sky. Breathtaking.
Well, among the four acting awards, the highlight for me was Daniel Day Lewis’s victory for Lincoln. Lewis indeed made history as the first three-time Best Actor champ, and good for him. His was also the acceptance speech of the evening–at that point–as he blended a couple of zingers, one directed at Meryl Streep as DDL quipped that at one time he was considering playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (for which Streep won her third Oscar last year) while she had been Spielberg’s first choice to play Abe Lincoln. Good enough. At the same time, DDL was also quite gracious and spoke eloquently about writer Tony Kushner, director Steven Spielberg, and of course, the man himself, our nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Good job, Daniel! That noted, as happy as I am for DDL, I don’t love his performance in Lincoln the same way I love his robust oilman Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wicked epic, There Will Be Blood, for which DDL won his second Oscar five years ago; his first was for playing artist Christy Brown in 1989’s My Left Foot. Maybe I’ll grow to love Lincoln if–IF–I watch it again on DVD. Ultimately, Steven Spileberg’s Lincoln only went 2 for 12. Not great, but better than Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985) which went 0 for 11. Again, I was not as passionate about Lincoln as many other viewers–including my own husband–but I was rooting for Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, who gave the historical drama a little “punch.” I was also hoping for a victory for Sally Field, but we all knew that was unlikely given the Hathaway steamroller. (Oh, and a pox on the person who decided to show Denzel Washington’s climactic speech from Flight during the Best Actor clips. It’s like the spoiler of all time.)
My other quibble, and, really, this has been eating away at me, is the very idea that the Academy will honor an actor for playing a great statesman who is fiercely passionate and driven about advancing his cause–as it pertains to passing the 13th Amendment, effectively outlawing slavery–yet a movie depicting a woman doing pretty much the same thing–that would be Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark Thirty as she vigorously pursues a lead regarding terrorist Osama bin Laden–is not greeted by the Academy quite as rapturously. Instead, the Best Actress award goes to someone playing a young woman who is vulnerable, after the death of her husband, and, well, manipulative as she schemes to win the romantic attention of an equally lost soul, thereby toying with his emotions as he tries to adjust to life outside a mental home. Lovely. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I like Jennifer Lawrence, a lot actually, but I just don’t think her performance was the equal of Chastain’s–and it certainly wasn’t as courageous. Props though to Lawrence’s co-star Bradley Cooper, who was beaming during Lawrence’s speech; meanwhile, her other co-star Robert DeNiro wasn’t looking quite as impressed.
The first category of the evening was Best Supporting Actor, and the award went to Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained). What a shocker given all the last minute hubbub surrounding Robert DeNiro. To me, this was an early signal that this could very well be a night of upsets with neither Lincoln nor Silver Linings Playbook in the driver’s seat. I like Waltz well enough, but I probably won’t watch Django Unchained. Still, double winners in this category are rare. Michael Caine, of course, has two: Hannah & Her Sisters (1986) and Cider House Rules (1999). Jason Robards won back-to-back trophies for All the President’s Men (1976) and Julia (1977). Of course, the very first performer of either sex to claim three Academy Awards was the great “supporting” character actor Walter Brennan: Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938), and The Westerner (1940). I believe Peter Ustinov and Anthony Quinn also have two best Supporting Actor Oscars to their credit.
Then, of course, Tarantino took the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, besting the likes of Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty) and Michael Haneke (Amour). I’m sorry, but Tarantino no longer does it for me, and when I say he no longer does it for me, I mean he pretty well repulses me. It’s interesting to me in a bitter and disgusted way that Tarantino’s film, which reportedly throws around the N word with so much vigorous abandon, is actually being held up as an example of great writing. Hmmmm…that’s different in a hypocritical kind of way given all the scrutiny leveled at Tony Kushner’s screenplay for Lincoln, a film about a push for human rights among all people, and even the harsh criticisms suffered by director Kathryn Bigelow–and screenwriter Mark Boal–for Zero Dark Thirty and its depiction of torture. I’m just sayin’.
Of course, backing up to Waltz, there was definitely a kick in seeing a race with 5 previous winners unfold, but I think it might have been a tad more exciting with some “new blood” in the game. Truthfully, as much as I was impressed by Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook, he was always my least favorite of this bunch. I would have rather seen nods for Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild), John Goodman (Argo or Flight), or Matthew McConaughey (Bernie). Of course, Goodman and McConaughey were hampered by giving much lauded performances in two films, which can lead to split votes. I opted out of seeing Magic Mike, a movie which featured McConaughey’s other lauded role. (The Texas native won Best Supporting Actor for Magic Mike at Saturday’s Spirit Awards, btw.) In the case of Henry, the former baker turned novice actor, I believe his strong performance got lost in all the hullaboo surrounding the potential Best Actress possibilities surrounding nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis. It’s important to understand that the people who manage Oscar campaigns–and, believe me, the campaigning is rigorous–are big on selling narratives to voters, whether it be about a star’s amazing transformation, a startling comeback, or an inspirational tale of working tirelessly to make a long-cherished dream project happen. In this case, I believe that Wallis’s narrative made the greater impact with voters. On the other hand, some readers might wonder how the buzz surrounding Wallis could have even affected a potential nod for Henry since the two performers were not even eligible in the same category. Duh! I get that, of course, but my point is that I do not believe that the effort to secure a nod for Henry was as concerted as the one to market Wallis, and I guess that’s understandable on some level since child performers/performances are often lost in the shuffle. Anyway, I wish Henry had been nominated, but the campaigning for better known actors, such as Jones and DeNiro, was too much competition for an unknown….perhaps.
Of course, Anne Hathaway won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Les Misérables. I get it. She was the front-runner the whole damn season, she sang her big song (“I Dreamed a Dream”) live and and almost entirely in close-up. Brava. She full-well earned every superlative that came her way; however, I wish the whole thing hadn’t seemed so calculated. Hathaway has been working the campaign circuit for months and serving a lot of what I believe is false-modesty in the process. (If all the acclaim is so overwhelming, why do you keep milking it so–she even admitted that wining an Oscar was her dream in her acceptance speech.) Plus, as good as she is, and she is quite extraordinary, I just don’t think she supported anything in Les Miz. A friend of mine cracked that at the very least, she helped facilitate the ingenue (Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette), but she never supported her. Ha! In that regard, in that Best Supporting regard, Hathaway pales in comparison to the superlative work of Sally Field in Lincoln and even Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook. I also don’t like the message that Hathaway’s victory sends about women playing victims so much though I guess last year’s awards to Meryl Streep for playing Margaret Thatcher and Octavia Spencer for playing a disgruntled cook who takes control of her own life (in The Help) are rebuttal enough to that notion; maybe the pendulum is swinging back the other way as a result.
Okay, so the tally for Life of Pi: 4, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Score. This is Lee’s second Oscar. Again, he previously won for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain though the Oscar for Best Picture went to Crash. Of course, the narrative being spun is that Lee somehow snatched victory away from Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), but the truth is Lee actually beat four other people, not one. Plus, even though Spielberg and the Academy have often seemingly been at odds, the truth is he already has two Oscars for directing (Schindler’s List, 1993, and Saving Private Ryan, 1998) and a third for co-producing Schindler’s List, 1993’s Best Picture winner. He also has millions upon millions upon millions of dollars. Is he disappointed not to have won? Probably. Is he really and truly hurting? I doubt it.
Meanwhile, so much for the old theory that actors tend to gravitate toward movies that are all about acting. Aside from Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, with its four nominated performances, was all but shut-out. Also, Lee’s victory in the Best Director category is surprising in that regard as Life of Pi featured not a single nominated performance and not even much of a cast–despite his effusive praise for his film’s cast during his acceptance speech. Best Director winners of movies without nominated performers are not unheard of exactly, as evidenced by the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci/The Last Emperor (1987), Mel Gibson/ Braveheart (1995), and Danny Boyle/Slumdog Millionaire (2008), to name three, but the difference is that those three movies were also Best Picture frontrunners–which Life of Pi never seemed to be–and they featured large casts, thereby still showcasing the directors’ work with actors. Life of Pi not so much. Oh sure, he coaxes a convincing portrayal out of his juvenile lead (Suraj Sharma), but the film is more about Lee’s vision and his technical expertise. The movie’s most ardent admirers will likely disagree with my assessment, and I’m okay with that. I also understand why the movie won Best Cinematography (Claudio Miranda) since almost every image in it is ravishingly beautiful, but I still prefer the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins in Skyfall. It’s hard to articulate why, exactly. Maybe it’s just because I liked the the way Skyfall looked textuarally. Maybe I’m just a huge fan of Deakins. Still, kudos are at least in order for Miranda as one of three male Oscar winners who were rocking long hair. Holla!
Of course, it was no surprise, no surprise whatsoever that Jacquline Durran would win Best Costume design for her fabulous, and fabulously over-the-top, designs for Anna Karenina. Meanwhile, why did Les Misérables win the award for Best Makeup? Simple, it takes a lot of work to make dashing Hugh Jackman look, well, grizzled. Okay, props, literally, to Lincoln for winning the art-direction/set decoration award. That’s a nice touch.
To the surprise of nobody, Amour won Best Foreign Language Film–and they weren’t kidding: it’s an Austrian movie set in Paris with all the dialogue in French. It’s been a good year for director Haneke, but I’d rather watch paint dry than sit through Amour again. Oh, and about all that last minute nonsense about a possible Best Actress win for Amour‘s nominated star, Emmanuelle Riva. There had been some noise that the Academy would not have nominated 85 year old Riva (now 86) and expected her to come all the way over from France–on her birthday no less–unless she was in it to win it. I guess nobody remembers how the Academy invited 69 year old Fernanda Montenegro to come to the party all the way from Brazil back in 1998/99 for her work in Central Station only to watch the Oscar go to Miramax darling Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. It seems unfortunate, but that’s the way it is. I think those inclined toward a Riva victory over-estimated the impact that her illustrious career, including Hiroshima Mon Amour, would have on Oscar voters–perhaps, most especially, younger voters.
Whoah! Who expected Brave to win Best Animated Feature film? Almost nobody. Oh sure, it’s Disney/Pixar and all that, but the movie was not as well liked as some of the studio’s other recent offerings, such as, say, Toy Story 3, Up, and Wall-E. Early in the season, Tim Burton’s extremely derivative Frankenweenie seemed to have the edge, but, lately, the buzz had shifted to Wreck it Ralph, which I had not seen. I think Brave was beautifully rendered, and I could see how it would win given the artful detailing of heroine Merida’s tumble of bright red hair. That noted, I do not think the film’s depiction of gender is as progressive as its makers would like for us to believe. I imagine it making girls even more confused, especially when it gets to the point about all that complicated mother-daughter stuff. (My feelings for this movie are probably more complex than can be addressed in this blog entry.) Still, I guess we should all feel relieved that the Oscar for Best Animated Feature film finally, finally, went to a movie with a female lead–and in a Pixar movie no less.
I don’t think we need a tribute to great movie musicals every other year or so. I guess this was one was designed to spotlight Best Picture nominee Les Misérables (a not entirely successful move as the singing was wobbly and the staging was awkward), but I also could not ignore the fact that the number opened with a song from Chicago, which was produced by the same team (Neil Meron and Craig Zadan) that was actually producing the awards’ telecast. Seems a little self-referential to me. That noted, the separate musical performances by Jennifer Hudson (“And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’) and Adele (“Skyfall”) were top-notch. These two ladies are true powerhouse entertainers. As Hudson pretty well proved when she won the 2006 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls, she was born to sing that show’s most famous song. Of course, we love, love, love that Adele shared the Oscar for Best Song (w/Paul Epworth) for her mammoth hit from Skyfall, the first ever Bond tune to win an Oscar. Oh, and speaking of Bond, we love that Shirley Bassey was on hand to belt-out that memorable song from Goldfinger. Of course, she was awash in gold beading. Way to go, Shirley! (But why not a reprise of “Diamonds are Forever”?) Then, there’s the one and only Barbra Streisand, on board to pay tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, the composer of Streisand’s Oscar winning hit, “The Way We Were.” Streisand looked like a million bucks with her sleek hair and flawless makeup. I thought her performance was damn near transcendent. The voice is a little raspy, true, but, hey, The Way We Were is 40 years in the past. Yes, 40 years. Of course, her voice is no longer quite as supple, but she’s replaced artful perfection with heartfelt emotion. Brava. I also enjoyed Norah Jones’s rendition of Seth McFarlane’s Oscar nominated tune from Ted. Okay, I admit I laughed every time the iconic theme from Jaws was used to cut-off some of the more long winded speeches. A snarky touch, perhaps, but it made the point.
Oh, I love watching all the Oscar fashions, no doubt, and I always have, but I think all the red carpet coverage is a bit much. I don’t need to see/hear an hour’s worth–or more–of over-indulged actresses, and some actors, rhapsodize over their borrowed clothes especially since they all make enough money to buy their own outfits. Still, my pick for the best of the evening would have to be still alluring Jane Fonda. She looked like a goddess, a million dollar bucks kind of goddess, in her beautifully tailored gown with a v-neck and just a little tasteful sparkle. What sold it for me was the bold color choice: lemon yellow, y’all. She just stood out from the rest of the crowd in all that bright bright color. Of course, we were all pleased to see GMA’s Robin Roberts looking robust and working the red carpet in a velvetydeep blue gown. Jessica Chastain was exquisite in a strapless beaded gown that she clearly admitted was at least partially inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr President” look. In Chastain’s case, the gown featured pink beads on a copper background, providing a stunning match to her own luxurious red hair. Lovely. Halle Berry was a knock-out in a beaded gown with ever-so-slightly padded shoulders, by Versace, that looked like something “Adrian” would have designed for Joan Crawford back in the golden days of the Hollywood studio system. First Lady Michelle Obama was also smashing–in her duties as co-presenter–via satellite with Jack Nicholson–of the Best Picture Oscar. Like Berry, her look was sleek and shimmering in a glamorous, old Hollywood Art Deco kind of way. Charlize Theron was stunning in super-short platinum do and flowing white gown, channeling vintage Ginger Rogers. After her bit in the opening production number, Theron changed into a striking column gown, also white. Octavia Spencer liked looked splendid in white with a full skirt and lovely gauzy draping around the neckline. I’m not a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence’s ballgown/train effect. It seemed a little over the top for my tastes, and again, calculated as though she was expecting a coronation, and then there was that unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. Yikes! I plan to do fashion highlights later this week in a separate entry.
Thanks for your consideration….