Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscars Analysis 2011: Show recap

I'm posting this before I've had a chance to filter through the media consensus on tonight's Oscars, which is probably for the best. Despite investing a disturbing amount of energy to analyzing and predicting the Academy Awards, I've never been particularly passionate about the show itself, and I'm hardly qualified to critique a ceremony that functions primarily as a self-affirming exercise in importance. That isn't to say that I dislike the show – I typically like it fine – but for me, the hoopla, fashion, and resulting snark are tangential to the raw data of the awards themselves.

My guess, though, is that most people were thoroughly ambivalent about tonight's telecast. Self-congratulatory chuckles aside, the return of Billy Crystal paid its expected dividends – in addition to a solid introductory montage, he crushed his opening monologue and song – but it added little actual spark. Following Brett Ratner's firing and Eddie Murphy's subsequent departure, the Academy sprinted toward Crystal, ever the safe choice, and he gave them exactly what they wanted. The show also clocked in at a lean 188 minutes, which is still far too long but an improvement over years' past. (Trimming the song performances helped. Next up: Axe the utterly useless talking heads of actors yammering about why they like movies. I like movies. I do not care why Reese Witherspoon or Adam Sandler likes movies.)

If Crystal was predictably serviceable (and a happy improvement over James Franco), the speeches were typically boring, and most of the presentations seemed strained. Those with promise (specifically the Downey, Jr./Paltrow pairing, as well as Ben Stiller playing straight against Emma Stone) meandered without ever hitting the bull's-eye, and even the Farrell/Galifianakis combo failed to deliver a true belly laugh. In general, the show was a vaguely pleasant snooze.

But who cares? As I said, I watch the Oscars to see who lands the hardware, and the announcements provided plenty of intrigue, especially early on. My predictions, naturally, stunk; I hit on only 14 of 21 picks, a poor showing by any standard but especially putrid given a locked-in Best Picture frontrunner. But some of my early misfires lent the telecast a welcome aura of unpredictability (not to mention one legitimate "HOLY SHIT!" moment), and I found myself leaning forward a number of times in anticipation. In the end, things played out generally as expected, but there was definitely some suspense in the meantime.

O.K., here's some final, blessedly brief analysis for each category (in order of presentation):

Best Cinematography
Predicted winner: The Tree of Life – Emmanuel Lubezki
Actual winner: Hugo – Robert Richardson

Strong start. This is further evidence that the Academy insists on its own following its own path in this category, as Lubezki had been cleaning up on the circuit. Richardson's work on Hugo was undeniably impressive, but more importantly, The Tree of Life can never be called "The Academy Award-winning Tree of Life". It's good to be wrong.

Best Art Direction
Predicted winner: Hugo
Actual winner: Hugo

No surprise with the award, but the timing was interesting, as at this point, it was looking as if Hugo was primed for a surge. But then ...

Best Costume Design
Predicted winner: Hugo
Actual winner: The Artist

I wasn't remotely confident in my prediction here when I first made it, but once Hugo took Best Cinematography, I started feeling better. So much for that theory. Of course, it's possible that Hugo actually won this but that after Hugo took the first two trophies, Harvey Weinstein – who was probably in a blind panic at this point – threatened to have Martin Scorsese killed unless someone switched the envelope. That can't be ruled out.

Best Makeup
Predicted winner: The Iron Lady
Actual winner: The Iron Lady

No-brainer here. If nothing else, for future Oscar telecasts, I no longer have to worry about crying inside while watching a Harry Potter movie lose every single category in which it's nominated. That era is now past.

Best Foreign Language Film
Predicted winner: A Separation (Iran)
Actual winner: A Separation (Iran)

Hey, maybe this will encourage Century Boulder to actually screen the movie. Maybe not. (Also, did anyone else intentionally fast-forward the mini-clips in this category so that you wouldn't be spoiled when the movies finally show up on your Netflix queue in June 2014? Just me?)

Best Supporting Actress
Predicted winner: Octavia Spencer – The Help
Actual winner: Octavia Spencer – The Help

Again, no surprise. I always wonder how actors who are virtually certain that they're going to win can dissolve in tears upon hearing their named called, but Spencer did seem legitimately emotional. Or maybe she's just a good actress.

Best Film Editing
Predicted winner: The Artist – Anne-Sophie Bion
Actual winner: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall

And here's that "HOLY SHIT!" moment I referred to earlier. I was far from confident in my pick of The Artist, and after Hugo's strong early showing, I wouldn't have been remotely surprised to see it show up here, but a repeat from last year's editors of The Social Network was an absolute shock. Given that it was my preferred choice, I couldn't be more pleased. (Also, I can imagine that as this award was announced, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross stopped swilling their martinis, stared at each other in disbelief, and shouted, "What the fuck did we do wrong?" as sounds of gloomy dissonance echoed throughout their postmodern villa.)

Best Sound Editing
Predicted winner: Hugo
Actual winner: Hugo

Hey, I got one of the sound categories! Also, line of the night from one of the winners: "I just want to thank everybody's who here tonight, and everybody who isn't, and everybody who's ever been born, or may be born, or be born again, or reborn." Amen.

Best Sound Mixing
Predicted winner: War Horse
Actual winner: Hugo

Crap. Well, serves me right for being fancy and trying to import some logic into the freaking sound categories. Also, following this announcement, Hugo held a 4-to-1 lead over The Artist, and the latter had just failed to win Best Film Editing, which frequently correlates with Best Picture. I would not have wanted to be Harvey Weinstein's arteries at this point.

Best Documentary Feature
Predicted winner: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Actual winner: Undefeated

This is what happens when you don't watch any of the nominees. Also, apparently the Academy's new rule is that if you drop an expletive, they immediately start the music and play you off the stage. That's lame, but I suppose it's better than being subjected to a $500 k fine from the FCC.

Best Animated Feature
Predicted winner: Rango
Actual winner: Rango

There might have been a riot if this one had turned out differently. Also, Chris Rock was one of the few presenters to absolutely drill his bit. I'd embed the video, but in an effort to spread awareness of the Oscars, AMPAS has blocked all uploads of the telecast.

Best Visual Effects
Predicted winner: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Actual winner: Hugo

I disagreed with a fair number of the Academy's decisions tonight, as I always do, but this is the only one that was truly terrible. Also, Martin Scorsese had to start talking himself into winning Best Director at this point, right? Poor bastard.

(Note: In spite of my mild earlier criticism regarding the Stone/Stiller bit, let me state for the record that I would be willing to watch Emma Stone do pretty much anything. She is absolutely adorable. She could read the first 100 pages of Mitt Romney's tax return and I would be completely transfixed.)

Best Supporting Actor
Predicted winner: Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Actual winner: Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Ho hum. More importantly, great Crystal moment: After AMPAS President Tom Sherak delivers a predictably boring address, Crystal deadpans, "Thank you, Tom, and thank you for whipping the crowd into a frenzy". Nicely done, but he might not want to start practicing his monologue for next year's show just yet.

Best Original Score
Predicted winner: The Artist – Ludovic Bource
Actual winner: The Artist – Ludovic Bource

Weinstein had to be breathing a bit easier after this one. If Howard Shore had won for his forgettable score for Hugo, things would have suddenly become very interesting.

Best Original Song
Predicted winner: The Muppets – "Man or Muppet"
Actual winner: The Muppets – "Man or Muppet"

Hey, The Muppets! Solid speech as well from "Flight of the Conchords" alum Bret McKenzie. Someday I really need to make time to watch that show. Moving on.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Predicted winner: The Descendants – Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash
Actual winner: The Descendants – Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash

BOOM! Sure, this was the only award of the night for The Descendants, but it's a biggie, and it officially eradicates the Clooney Curse of Up in the Air. Well-done.

Best Original Screenplay
Predicted winner: Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
Actual winner: Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen

I missed my share of tough calls on the night, but I drilled this one. Shockingly, Allen was nowhere to be found. He's probably drinking with Terrence Malick.

Best Director
Predicted winner: Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Actual winner: Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

Take that, Scorsese. Next time, try making a movie as good as The Departed and we'll get back to you.

Best Actor
Predicted winner: Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Actual winner: Jean Dujardin – The Artist

Once Hazanavicius won Best Director, this was a done deal. Dujardin was agreeably charming in his speech, and I appreciated his work enough that I won't stew too heavily over Clooney being robbed.

Best Actress
Predicted winner: Viola Davis – The Help
Actual winner: Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

And THUD. Sorry, that was the sound of my prognostication prowess crashing into a crater. Look, I'm not going to say this was a total shock, and it certainly wasn't as stunning as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo winning Best Film Editing. But it definitely qualifies as a surprise, and as surefooted as Streep is, I imagine history will look back on this award unfavorably. On the plus side, this should really put that criticism about the Academy being stuffed with old white men to rest.

(Scary piece of trivia: Alongside The Artist and Hugo, The Iron Lady was the only film of 2011 to win multiple Oscars. Yuck.)

Best Picture
Predicted winner: The Artist
Actual winner: The Artist

And order has been restored. The Artist was far from my favorite film of the year, but it's an impressive and ambitious achievement, and I don't begrudge it this victory one bit. Here's hoping its massive success encourages studios to take more chances on speculative projects.

Thanks for tuning in to the Manifesto's annual Oscar coverage. Till next year.

1 comment:

Chris Kalich said...

Nice job as usual, Beck! Can't wait for my Netflix copy of A Separation to come after yours in the summer of 2014.