Oscars 2012: the year Oscar got it

Jean Dujardin holds Uggie after accepting the Oscar for best picture for “The Artist” during the 84th Academy Awards. AP photo by Mark J. Terrill.

In a number of ways, the Oscars got it this year.

The Academy Awards were on a big nostalgia trip in 2012 with nominees like The Artist and Hugo, and rather than run from it, they indulged that with a set in the Kodak Theatre — or as host Billy Crystal called it, the Chapter 11 Theatre — that looked like Old Hollywood, costumed popcorn sellers working the aisles and bumper segments with stars reminiscing about first movies and favorite movies. It occasionally crossed the line into nauseating, but it gave the show a cohesive feel.

And the show got that it’s somewhat troubled. We started with a film-clip montage that showed Billy Crystal being coaxed into hosting again by stars including Justin Bieber, who showed up to bring the 18-24 demographic. Later, he joked that Oscar was really shooting for the post-retirement-age demographic. Crystal did a nice job of relying on the bits that made him seem to be an obvious choice to host when Eddie Murphy bailed. No, he’s not Oscar’s host of the future, but he got the show through rough waters, and he was a vast improvement over last year’s Anne Hathaway-James Franco debacle.

Natalie Portman made a revealing comment to ABC’s Robin Roberts when she hailed Crystal’s selection because he won’t be mean. When you consider some of the thin skins in that room, the threshold for mean is pretty low. But if the Academy is overly concerned with having a nice host, it will be hard for them to gain an edge with audiences outside the theater.

As for the awards, they were predictable, save for whether Viola Davis or Meryl Streep would win best actress. For the record, I went seven for eight on my predictions, and the one category I got wrong I was happy to lose if it meant Meryl got Oscar No. 3. Between three of the acting winners we got a range of terrific types of speeches, from best supporting actress Octavia Spencer’s genuine surprise and emotion to best supporting actor Christopher Plummer’s quick wit to Streep’s heartfelt speech. Though she is the most revered actress of our generation, she never seems that way when she speaks.

Overall, it was a good ceremony, and it clocked in at just over 3 hours, a veritable sprint for Oscar.

Now that Oscar has all that nostalgia out of its system (what could be left?) it’s time for the Academy to start looking forward to how it will make these awards relevant in the 21st Century. Who will be the hosts of the future, the show format and the award format that will take this event forward. One note there would be to please, please, please go back to five best picture nominees, just try to spread it around more. Get over the idea that just because it’s a big studio film it’s not Oscar worthy and just because it’s an indie auteur film it must be great. There has to be a way to do this without a lumbering list of nine films in which we know there’s only a handful of true contenders.

This was a rebuilding year for Oscar, and a year it seemed to understand itself, particularly its shortcomings. Now it’s time to start addressing those instead of getting a laugh out of them.

Here’ the live blog from Sunday’s Oscars. If you want to read it in chronological order, start from the bottom and scroll up.

The show:

No surprise, The Artist, a risky and retrospective film, won best picture for being truly visionary and entertaining. Fun that they brought the dog on stage.

Meryl Streep accepts the Oscar for best actress in a leading role for "“The Iron Lady." AP Photo by Mark J. Terrill.

The room got a lot smaller during this moment in Meryl’s speech: “I really want to thank all my colleagues, all my friends. I look out here, I see my life before my eyes – my old friends, my new friends. Really, this is such a great honor, but the thing that counts the most with me is the friendships and the joy and the love, the sheer joy we have making movies together.” She’s a big movie star thanking fellow big movie stars, but I think anyone who loves their work and loves their co-workers can identify with that. (11:40)

Meryl breaks through to get No. 3! (11:29)

The cool thing is Rooney Mara will play this role two more times. (11:27)

Not digging the mixing of the single presenter for the top acting prizes, which has been traditional, with the tributes, which they had done the past few years with multiple presenters. With one presenter, everyone’s tribute started to sound the same. Everyone was so amazing, able to do something no one else could do. (P.S.)

Jean Dujardin accepts the Oscar for best actor in a leading role for “The Artist”. AP photo by Mark J. Terrill.

Clooney goes 0-for-2 this year. Some people are surprised, but Jean Dujardin’s turn in The Artist was a really unique once-in-a-lifetime turn. I look forward to the translation (my high school French is doing nothing for me here) of the last comment in his speech. (11:25)

The In Memoriam segment with Esperanza Spalding singing What a Wonderful World was the best attempt thus far at making this portion of an awards show a performance piece, but being respectful. (11:15)

An image of Whitney Houston is seen as Esperanza Spalding and a choir sing "What a Wonderful World" during a memorial portion of the 84th Academy Awards. AP photo by Mark J. Terrill.

That’s so great that Darth Vader has an Oscar. (11 p.m.)

I would like to say something about  Michel Hazanavicius’ speech for winning best director, but I don’t think he knew what to say. Anyway, it is safe to say there should not be a Hugo upset at this point, because if that was going to happen, they would have given director to Marty. (10:59)

Wow. What a great idea to have all the Bridesmaids present three awards. Too bad they didn’t do much of anything with them. Then again, what they did could have gone as well as Robert Downey Jr.’s The Presenter – no s – bit. So maybe we were better off. (10:51)

Brad Pitt, who looks really happy, and Angelina Jolie in the dress "The Descendants" writers had a spot of fun with. AP photo by Matt Sayles.

George did a really good job of looking happy to have lost … to his other movie. I don’t know if that was Nat Faxon or Jim Rash who struck the Angelina pose, but that was hilarious. (10:25)

So, the Muppets and Flight of the Conchords come together and win an Oscar – best original song for Man or Muppet. Just a reminder here: The Rainbow Connection from the first Muppet Movie did not win the best original song Oscar in 1979. The award went to It Goes Like it Goes from Norma Rae – let’s all sing along to that one. (10:24)

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp is going to be an Oscars punchline for a long time. (10:16)

OK, The Artist wins for best original score (Ludovic Bource). If that one had gone to Hugo, an upset may have been in the works. (10:17)

Do we need Titanic in 3D? (10:06)

Christopher Plummer accepts the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role for "Beginners" with a speech that exemplified class. AP photo by Mark J. Terrill.

There’s one way to perfect an Oscar speech: practice it for 82 years. Well done, Christopher Plummer. (10:04)

Five for Hugo. If it starts winning outside the technical awards, I am going to wonder if something’s up. (9:58)

That Jonah Hill neck slice was the best part of the Emma Stone “my first time presenting an award” bit. (9:55)

So, Rango looks like a really good call for Johnny Depp now – world, revolving around Kentucky again. Who woulda thought after the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and The Ring, Gore Verbinski would become an Oscar-winning director. I like this fun fact on his IMDb page: he was a teenage punk guitarist who sold his guitar to buy his first camera. (9:54)

Smashing shot of Viola Davis from the AP's Chris Pizzello.

The best thing about the Cirque thing may have been that it didn’t last too long. It was cool, like I said, probably better if you were  in the theater. Maybe the message is, skip a few movies and you’ll have enough money for a live show like Cirque. (9:45)

Members of Cirque du Soleils "Iris" perform onstage during the 84th Academy Awards. AP photo by Mark J. Terrill.

Clooney looked like he was digging Cirque. Keibler looked like she was watching Tree of Life. (9:39)

I”m already wondering if this Cirque thing would be cooler if you were in the theater. (9:36)

Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty are funnier than you’d ever expect sound editors to be. Hugo is racking up the Oscars – four so far. (9:30)

That is really interesting that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won the editing Oscar, a trophy that often goes hand-in-hand with best picture and best director, which Tattoo was not even nominated for. The logic is that in film, editing is so important to a movie the best picture ought to be the best edited picture. (9:28)

Octavia Spencer seemed to be the most surprised person in the room that she won best supporting actress for "The Help." Photo by Mark J. Terrill

That is one of the more spontaneous ovations I have seen for a winner at the Oscars, for Octavia Spencer. It wasn’t so much a great speech as a great moment. Even though she was the odds-on-favorite to win, it’s always nice to see someone who was genuinely not prepared to win. (9:14)

Yes, we are conscious that the interviews with actors about their first movies is making this show longer. But admit it, you are thinking, “My first movie was … ” And that’s the best I have seen Adam Sandler at being serious, even if he is talking about Sean Connery’s chest hair. (9:04)

I like the lead ins on the technical awards. I wonder how they will wear over the next three, four hours. (9:01)

Oscar, it is not even 9 p.m. and you are laying on the nostalgia really, really thick. (8:53 p.m.)

You could argue that Billy Crystal’s monologue spelled out too much what is sort of wrong with the Oscars and the Oscars this year: The  will he-or-won’t he hosting question, the old guys from Moneyball as Billy’s joke writers and several other nods to some of the issues surrounding this vehicle. But it was a classic Crystal opener with the opening montage, leading off with Clooney (once again, the world revolves around Kentucky, whether you know it or not) and his Oscar song – this time with nine. Crystal has been here eight times before – with nine, “call me war horse,” he said in another relevant joke – he knows what works and he worked it well. (8:48)

“Nine is the new five.” – Crystal (8:42)

Michelle Williams is that CORAL dress everyone has been drooling over. AP Photo by Amy Sancetta.

OK, that line about Clooney (can’t repeat it here on the company blog) was a nice job of being very current. (8:41 p.m.)

“Nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other golden statues.” – Crystal (8:39 p.m.)

Great Kodak reference, “We’re here at the beautiful Chapter 11 Theatre.” (8:38 p.m.)

Somebody had to combine the pie scene from The Help and the bathroom scene from Bridesmaids. They had to. (8:35 p.m.)

This is a classical Billy Crystal opener. (8:33 p.m.)

Red carpet

I, for one, would love to see another Chris Rock-hosted Academy Awards. (8:28 p.m.)

Could we just have Tom Hanks do the whole pre show? That little walk was such a great description of the the post-award-winning experience – You won’t have an idea what you did until you see the tape. (8:25 p.m.)

Just have to share a Penélope Cruz pic. AP Photo by Chris Pizzello.

Hunger Games and Missing previews: Kentucky has produced some (butt) kicking women. (Jennifer Lawrence and Ashley Judd, respectively) (8:21 p.m.)

OK, Nina Garcia is better than any of the E! Fashion Police at explaining the fashion an making it interesting. (8:17 p.m.)

Liked Tim Gunn’s honesty that men manage to screw up formal wear more than they have any excuse for. I was amused by Pitt trying to stick up for his fellow actors. (8:15 p.m.)

ABC, you couldn’t get Clooney and Pitt together on the carpet? (8:13 p.m.)

Clooney says the screaming crowds are following Brad Pitt.

ABC finally interviewed a major category nominee. Glenn Close, someday, you will win an Oscar. (8:08 p.m.)

Tim Gunn: Ask Cameron Diaz if she was disappointed she didn’t get nominated for Bad Teacher. (8:02 p.m.)

Switching to ABC.

Check out the LexGo red carpet gallery here. (8 p.m.)

Blah, blah, blah fashion. Blah, blah, blah fashion. They did have a backup tux for Ryan. (7:50 p.m.)

George Clooney, left, and Stacy Keibler arrive before the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP photo by Matt Sayles)

The commentary is that Stacy Keibler looks like an Oscar in her gold dress. So maybe he’ll leave with two? Three? (7:40 p.m.)

Jonah! Look at George Clooney. That’s how you wear a tux. (7:34 p.m.)

Apparently comic women dress well according to E!’s fashion police’s take on Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. But I think the Screen Actors Guild Awards just got majorly dissed. Kristen’s hair is too casual, more SAG than Oscar. Sorta like more KFC than Four Seasons? (7:32 p.m.)

Sacha Baron Cohen, center, and guests arrive before the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday. AP Photo by Matt Sayles.

Ryan Seacrest does not seem amused at all by The Dictator’s (Sacha Baron Cohen) ash dr0p. (If you weren’t tuned in, Cohen, dressed like a dictator type character, said he was carrying Kim     Jong Il’s ashes and dumped  them on Seacrest.) When we come back from commercial, we’ll see if he he has an emergencytuck somewhere or does the rest of the carpet ashed. (7:22 p.m.)

Tweeters! Michelle Williams dress is coral, NOT red! (7:17 p.m.)

I’m not going to blog much about fashion because there’another blog out there about fashion by people who don’t know much about fashion. Octavia Spencer did look lovely.

I do like like the red carpet chater.

Jean Dujardin did have a translator in tow, though his Englished seemed rather good. He’s been getting some practice pas past few months. Interesting comment that for him “The Artist” was “a talking movie.” I think we think of him hamming it up to make up for the lack of words. But to him, there is a story to tell.

On fashion point: kudos to Jonah Hill for wearing the Bowie with his tux. But the black shirt makes him look like he’s bucking for roles in mob films. (7:13 p.m.)

Not sold on Billy

Oscars host Billy Crystal imitates an Oscar statue's pose at a news conference introducing him as the host of the 76th Academy Awards, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences headquarters in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2003. © AP Photo by Reed Saxon.

When Eddie Murphy announced he was bowing out as host of the Oscars in November, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that they had to get Billy Crystal to take his place.

I didn’t quite see the wisdom.

Do not get me wrong. I have been a Billy Crystal fan for a long time. I loved him on Saturday Night Live, really enjoyed a lot of his movies such as Running Scared (1986) and When Harry Met Sally (1989). When people leave my home, I often say, “Have fun storming the castle,” whether or not they are off to storm castles. He is a very gifted funny guy, and he has had several great turns hosting the Oscars, including four straight shows from 1989 to 1992.

But the constant rap on Oscar has been that the show is trending older, becoming less relevant to the sexy 18-49 demographic.  When I asked my kids who Billy Crystal is, my 12-year-old son responded, “old guy?” My 14-year-old daughter said, “Kinda. Is he the guy that died a few years ago?” She was thinking of Billy Mays.

When I told her he was the voice of Mike in  Monsters, Inc., she said, “Awww, I loved Mike.”

But still, the point is that as great an artist as he is, Crystal hasn’t done much other than voice work in the last decade that most younger audiences can identify with.

Host actually hasn’t been a problem the past few years with comedians like Jon Stewart and Chris Rock turning in great performances in the role.  In his Entertainment Weekly interview (just a link to the magazine because they don’t give away their features) Crystal was spot on in some of his criticism of last year’s disastrous pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco. The weren’t engaged with the event as an active, evolving entity, which you don’t really expect from movie stars, which is why they usually go with comedians – look at the success the Golden Globes have had with Ricky Gervais.

Granted, the Oscars were kind of stuck when they asked Crystal to host. They were in the midst of a PR kerfuffle, they needed a solution quick when Murphy bailed in November. As Kruser said, when I was on his show Friday, Crystal was probably able to add some zeroes to his check for tonight due to the situation. For Oscar, this is sort of like a rebuilding year for a sports team.

Crystal has done this extremely well in the past. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. I’m just not sure he’s what Oscar needs.

I hope I’m wrong, because I want to enjoy the next four hours … or more.

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