The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.
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.
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.)
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)
That’s so great that Darth Vader has an Oscar. (11 p.m.)
Some years the Oscars are so predictable you wish you could cash in on your picks. This year, I am happy none of my money is riding on the awards because there is some close competition, particularly in the lead acting categories.
Yes, it wasn’t the greatest year for movies. And yes, the Academy is probably too old, too male and too white. But it is Oscar weekend, so it’s time to make some predictions.
Best Picture: I am officially sick of the expanded best picture field. Give me a break. It’s a bone the Oscars throw to a few films to make the ceremony more interesting, though we all knew, for instance, The Blind Side had no chance of winning in 2010. And the Academy doesn’t even throw its bones well. If it had, Harry Potter and the Deatly Hallows, Part 2, would be a contender. It capped off an epic franchise millennials, in particular, will treasure for life, and it was a great movie. But the aging Academy probably wrote it off as kids stuff – and what is Hugo, except directed by Scorsese? – and failed to even give it the honor of being nominated. The Artist, despite growing grumbling that it represents the Academy’s nostalgia fix this year and was more gimmick than great artistry, seems to be a lock.
Presdiction: The Artist
Best actor: I always take the Screen Actors Guild Award as a bellwether of the acting Oscars, and that would say Jean Dujardin is our man. But a lot of people keep saying this is Clooney’s year to add a best actor Oscar to the supporting actor honor he won in 2005. While some may debate The Artist‘s relevance in the 21st century and write it off as a gimmick, you have to hand it to Dujardin: not every one could carry a silent film these days, and he did it brilliantly. You also have to think, this is probably his one shot at Oscar. I sort of liken it to Roberto Benigni’s 1999 Oscar for Life is Beautiful. It was a lovely, unique performance by a gifted European actor who probably won’t be back in this race. Clooney, on the other hand, has become a perennial at the Oscars, so chances are, there will be more opportunities to honor him. So, with apologies to our Bluegrass State native, I am betting on Dujardin.
Prediction: Jean Dujardin
Best actress: Here, we have a woman who has almost become too much of a perennial. I saw an actress in Entertainment Weekly say Meryl Streep gets nominated every year, explaining her vote for The Help‘s Viola Davis, who was, as always, outstanding. Yes, Streep has been nominated 17 times and won twice. But the last time she won was 20 years ago. What does she have to do to win again? Some would say turn in an amazing performance like she did in The Iron Lady playing iconic British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Initially, I thought this would be Streep’s year to get Oscar No. 3, but the energy really seems to be behind Davis, who I can’t argue with. But like I said: What does Meryl need to do to be honored for that latter part of her career? Maybe turning in an amazing performance in August: Osage County will get it.
Prediction: Viola Davis
Best supporting actor: Both of the supporting categories have fun nominees. In this case, it is that Jonah Hill will be able to put the words “Oscar nominated actor” in front of his name from now on for his role in Moneyball that tapped his funny side but also brought out a greater depth of humanity than his comic turns. But if there is any competition here, it is between the older guys: Christopher Plummer, who comes out as openly gay man after the death of his wife in Beginners, and Max Von Sydow, who becomes a companion to a boy who lost his father in the World Trade Center on 9/11 in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Both have one previous nomination, but Plummer looks like the safe bet to win this time as he has rolled up almost all of the precursor awards, including the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards for this part.
Prediction: Christopher Plummer
Best supporting actress: Similarly, Octavia Spencer has rolled up most of the precursors for her performance in The Help. Also, the movie got the SAG award for performance by a cast, so the fact that there seems to be a lot of love for this movie’s performances bodes well for a Help sweep in the actress categories. If there is an upset possibility, it would probably be Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs, a highly regarded film that will probably have to settle for the honor of being nominated. The fun nominee here is Melissa McCarthy, an Emmy winner for her performance on the CBS sitcom Mike and Molly, for her turn in Bridesmaids.
Prediction: Octavia Spencer
Best director: Some years, you can separate the best picture and best director trophies. This year, I don’t see how. The Artist was a product of the vision of Michel Hazanavicius, who also wrote the screenplay and edited the film. Even if there’s an upset in best picture, Hazanavicius should win here.
Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius
Best screenplay (adapted): We’ll get into this one this year since our home state man George Clooney is up for the prize for The Ides of March along with his regular collaborator Grant Heslov. In this category, Clooney’s competing against his other film, The Descendants, and director/writer Alexander Payne along with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. They look to be the favorites to win here, though I would love to see Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin get it for Moneyball, a great book I never saw becoming a movie.
Prediction: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Best screenplay (original): This is a really interesting category. You have the silent film in contention with Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, Annie Mumolo and Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig for Bridesmaids, the movie that proved women can make gross-out comedies too, J.C. Chandor for the Wall Street-greed drama Margin Call and Asghar Farhadi for the Iranian divorce drama A Separation. What’s your favorite flavor? I’ll go with the Writer’s Guild who gave the award to Woody, who will probably be playing his clarinet somewhere when his name is called.
Prediction: Woody Allen
Note: I haven’t done this in a while, but I am going to live blog during the Oscars Sunday night, so check in and comment.
It was not too long ago George Clooney had not even attended the Academy Awards. The Lexington-born, Augusta-raised Kentuckian said he was not going to go until he was nominated.
Now, Clooney is an Oscar winner and something of a perennial – at least biennial nominee. Sunday night, he won one of the bellwether honors for the Oscars: the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama for his performance in The Descendants. That begged the question, is Clooney in line to add another Oscar to his trophy case, which includes the 2006 statue for best supporting actor in Syriana?
In a normal year we’d say yes. But the Oscars-Golden Globes equation is a little off kilter this year because everyone in Hollywood seems to be in love with The Artist and its star, Jean Dujardin, which won the Golden Globes for best motion picture comedy or musical and best actor in a comedy or musical, respectively.
The French film, which has not played in Lexington yet, created instant buzz as a silent and black-and-white movie that showed decades after its demise the format is still a delightful forum for storytelling. It is the sort of film and performance Oscar loves – different and kind of gimmicky. Given the buzz out of Hollywood, you have to think Dujardin is the frontrunner for the Oscar for best actor. But Clooney should be part of the conversation, if he is not Giamattied.
Here’s the omen: The Descendants was written and directed by Alexander Payne who also wrote and directed Sideways in 2004, which featured a widely praised performance by Paul Giamatti. To this day I feel like an idiot anytime I drink merlot thanks to Giamatti’s performance as Miles, a struggling author and wine snob whose life is unraveling.
When the Oscar nominations were announced, certainly Giamatti was going to be in the hunt. But noooooo. In what is now viewed as one of Oscar’s great snubs, Giamatti was not even nominated in the year that Jamie Foxx won best actor for his performance in Ray.
With a lot of praise for his performance as a Hawaiian land baron who’s fallen out of touch with his family and that Golden Globe in hand – accepted, like his 2006 Globe for Syriana, with a dash of locker room humor – Clooney looks like a safe bet to be named when the Oscar nominations are announced next Tuesday by Louisville’s Jennifer Lawrence. He will probably have more chances too as he is likely to receive nominations for writing and directing The Ides of March, which is also mentioned as a best picture contender, and Gorgeous George didn’t do a bad acting job in that one either.
So Clooney could add to his Oscar total this year. But in the best actor race, this will probably be the year for another artist.
UPDATE: The Artist opens Friday, Jan. 20, at the Kentucky Theatre. Shame, which had previously been announced, has been pushed back and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will be held over.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich