Thoughts on the 84th Annual Academy Awards

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This year’s Academy Awards can essentially be boiled down to two statements: a silent film won Best Picture for the first time since 1929, and Meryl Streep won her third Oscar.  To expand, other than a few surprises here and there, this year’s Oscars were fairly predictable.  The two films with the highest number of nominations tied for most number of wins, and everything else had to be content with only one or two awards.  At this point, everything else makes up details.

But let’s jump into those details for a little bit.  Here are my detailed thoughts on the eight major categories, as well as a variety of other miscellaneous reactions.

Best Picture: I had seen seven of the nine nominees (all save War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and to be honest, I thought they were all superb in their own way.  But my personal favorite was The Artist, and I was ecstatic to see it dance away with the top award.  The Descendants may be more moving, Hugo may be more technically accomplished, and The Tree of Life may be more challenging, but The Artist has the charm, nostalgia, and momentum to carry it to the top.  You won’t hear me complaining about its win.

Best Director: This was the one category whose nominees I had all seen.  And like Best Picture, I liked them all.  The Artist was truly the vision of Michel Hazanavicius.  To create a black-and-white silent film that resonates with 21st century audiences is no small feat, and Hazanavicius deserved this award.

Best Actor: This year, Best Actor was really a battle of charismatic leading men (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Jean Dujardin) and two hard-working character actors (Damian Bichir and Gary Oldman).  Ultimately, the most charming of them all, Dujardin, won it.  I had seen the performances of Dujardin, Clooney, and Pitt.  Dujardin’s was the most effortlessly enjoyable, Clooney’s was the most heartbreaking, and Pitt’s was the moodiest.  Ultimately, the enjoyability factor secured a win for Dujardin.  I doubt many actors could have pulled off the charm that Dujardin did in The Artist; he made it almost look effortless.

Best Actress: Count me in as one of the many whose jaws dropped when Colin Firth read out Meryl Streep’s name, not Viola Davis’s.  Both performances are impressive, but all signs were pointing to Davis.  But Streep was long overdue for her third Oscar, and Davis’s role seemed more supporting than lead; she didn’t carry The Help like Streep carried The Iron Lady.  Davis is a talented performer, and I hope that she will have other shots.  For now, Streep and her fans can be content with her three Oscars, though I know there are some fans who won’t rest until she wins a fourth to tie Katharine Hepburn.

Best Supporting Actor: Of all the major categories, I was least invested in this one.  I haven’t seen Beginners, but it was brilliant to see Christopher Plummer win his first Oscar.  And to top it off, the win made history, as Plummer became the oldest Oscar winner ever.

Best Supporting Actress: This was one of the most predictable awards of the night, but I still smiled when Octavia Spencer won.  Although I enjoyed her performance in The Help, I thought that Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain both delivered stronger performances in the film.  I envision that both will win Oscars in the future.  Spencer could have this night.

Best Adapted Screenplay: This was the one award The Descendants took home, and I’m glad that film didn’t go away empty handed.  I think, however, that Moneyball would have also been a worthy winner.  The appeal of The Descendants stems from the emotion it illicits, but Moneyball’s success falls down to the writing.  I never would have thought I’d enjoy a film about baseball, but I enjoyed Moneyball.

Best Original Screenplay: To me, this was the strangest set of nominees: two nostalgic pieces (The Artist and Midnight in Paris), two contemporary and morally cloudy pieces (A Separation and Margin Call), and a broad comedy (Bridesmaids).  I’d seen all but Bridesmaids, and I would have been happy with any of them winning.  The Artist manages to convey everything without words, and speaking from very basic screenwriting experience, I can attest that this is more difficult that it looks.  Midnight in Paris is a smart romantic comedy full of literary and artistic references that harkened back to the 1920s.  A Separation explores the murkiness of the truth and the law.  Margin Call manages to make investment into compelling drama.  And Bridesmaids, well, I don’t know.  My heart wanted Margin Call to win, but J.C. Chandor’s nomination for his first feature is a victory in its own right; I sense a bright future ahead for him.  The winner was veteran Woody Allen for his marvelous screenplay for Midnight in Paris, and you won’t hear me complain about that at all.

Other Thoughts

  • It was tough to see the Harry Potter series go out without any Oscars.  The films are hardly astounding cinema, but they are technically well crafted and should have received at least one technical award along the way.  I was hoping for an Art Direction win this year, but, alas, that went to Hugo (as did Visual Effects).  Makeup went to The Iron Lady.  It’s hard to argue with the winners of these categories, but part of me wishes that the Academy had found room for just one Potter win.
  • Ludovic Bource’s win for Original Score for The Artist was one of my favorite moments.  Despite the Vertigo controversy, Bource’s work an exceptional score that blends in magnificently with the film.
  • It was wonderful to see A Separation, a truly fascinating film, win Best Foreign Language Film, but it was even better to hear Asghar Farhadi’s acceptance speech.  The Oscars this year came amid tensions between the United States and Iran, and it was great to be reminded that everyone is human.  Art has no boundaries, and A Separation proves that.
  • And finally, though the cinematography of Hugo is certainly accomplished, it was difficult to see the masterwork of Emmanuel Lubezki in The Tree of Life ignored.  The story of The Tree of Life may have been convoluted and frustrating, but the photography was a thing of beauty.

What are your reactions to the winners?

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