So there we have it for another year — the Oscars. The question is if there's anything new to be said about them, and while the answer is probably "not really," some comment is called for about the curiously all-over-the-map nature of this year's selections and the general weirdness and — let's face it — galloping ennui of Oscar and this year's program.
As a show, it started badly and went downhill from there in terms of both entertainment and judgment. The whole idea of doing a "theme" show — in this case, a tribute to the movie musical — was a dubious idea that tied to...well, nothing really, especially since the only musical in sight this year was Les Misérables. While some "recent" musicals got in on the act — strangely only those with ties to the show's producers — there wasn't a flicker of, say, Moulin Rouge!, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Sweeney Todd, or Across the Universe. The bad ideas, however, neither began, nor ended there.
I'm generally ambivalent about Seth MacFarlane. My limited exposure to him, however, suggests that I could never find him nearly as funny as he finds himself. Last night only strengthened that notion. The idea seems to have been that he would make the show edgy and, yes, relevant. What they got instead was mostly unfunny snark — and some of it recycled at that. The gag that Argo was so top secret that even the Academy didn't know who directed it by reference to its Best Director snub was funnier 11 years ago when Whoopi Goldberg called Moulin Rouge! "the picture that apparently directed itself." Oh, well, I've seen worse hosts and almost anything is preferable to Billy Crystal's Borscht Belt comedy for me.
It was a pretty good idea in one sense to have Shirley Bassey come on and sing "Goldfinger," but it had the undesirable downside of making Adele's "Skyfall" sound lame by comparison. Does anybody really think they first few notes of "Skyfall" will be instantly recognizable 50 years down the road? And then there was the James Bond tribute. It might have been fine if only someone hadn't gotten all artsy on it and tried to make it look like one of the late Maurice Binder's title sequences. The result of that little notion was that it often wasn't even clear who or what we were looking at. Sometimes a little simplicity is a good thing. This would have been one of those times.
I've nothing against the idea of having La Streisand show up and sing "The Way We Were," but the way it was positioned at the end of this year's "In Memoriam" segment was unfortunate. The placement made it look like the most notable loss the movies suffered this year was the death of Marvin Hamlisch. I don't think — I certainly hope it wasn't — the idea, but the image of Hamlisch hovering in ethereal space above Babs certainly made it all about him.
Bringing in a televised Michelle Obama to share Best Picture duties with Jack Nicholson was a nice enough idea and it worked OK — even if by that point, you just wanted the damn thing to end. However, am I the only one wondering if some poor boob from Price-Waterhouse had been hanging around the White House all night cooling his heels guarding the envelope?
The awards themselves were at least interesting. For a brief time, I was even pleasantly surprised by it. Though he was certainly my choice, I never even briefly expected Christoph Waltz would win Best Supporting Actor. I also never thought Curfew would actually win Best Live Action Short Film (I'd have bet money on Henry). I wasn't surprised by Paperman winning Best Animated Short Film, but I really didn't care one way or the other. On the other hand, the fact that the very mediocre Brave won Best Animated Feature over Frankenweenie and ParaNorman was a ludicrous testimony to the power of the Pixar brand name.
I have issues with Life of Pi nabbing the Best Cinematography award simply because so much of what you're looking at isn't cinematography, but CGI. It's exceptional CGI and it resulted in some breath-taking imagery, but I question that it's cinematography in the sense that the other entries were. I'd have gone with Anna Karenina. Failing that, Django Unchained.
That Django Unchained won Best Original Screenplay was a surprise — especially for such a supposedly controversial movie. (I say "supposedly," because I think the controversy is more media-fabricated than actual.) Yes, I'd rather have seen Moonrise Kingdom win, but I'm not unhappy about this. Any of the other choices — Amour, Flight, Zero Dark Thirty — would have annoyed me.
I wasn't surprised by Argo getting Best Adapted Screenplay. There could certainly have been worse choices, but I would rather have seen it go to Silver Linings Playbook — a film that should have done better overall.
The biggest rip-off to me, though, was Lincoln winning Best Production Design over the marvel that is Anna Karenina. I'm not, however, surprised. It's the Academy and they just had to do something stuffy. That they gave Anna Karenina Best Costume Design was probably radical enough.
High on the list of unsurprising occurences was Anne Hathaway's Best Supporting Actress win for Les Miserables. I mean really this was Oscar bait at its finest — she starved herself for the role, had her hair cut off on camera, and played her big scene in one take. That's a hard parlay to buck. And Oscar responded accordingly. All in all, I'd have gone with Sally Field for Lincoln — less for her big Oscary moments than some of the smaller ones.
I was mildly surprised by Jennifer Lawrence's Best Actress win for Silver Linings Playbook, but pleasantly so. I really expected them to go for Emmanuelle Riva for Amour — mostly because of her age and the fact that it was her birthday. And, yes, I was vastly relieved they didn't go for Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild — as much for her sake as because I didn't think it was an Oscar-worthy performance. I can't think of anything worse than a 9-year-old winning an Oscar. I mean, where do you go from there?
Also in the unsurprising column was Amour taking Best Forgein Language Film. I didn't agree with it — based simply on the fact that I didn't think it was as good as A Royal Affair. The other entries have yet to play here. But it never occurred to me that it wasn't going to win this category.
No surprise in Daniel Day-Lewis winning Best Actor for Lincoln. That was hardly in contention. I might have slightly preferred Bradley Cooper, but I cannot fault the choice. I can't imagine too many could or would.
I do find it very curious that the Academy gave Ang Lee the Best Director award — and not because I think David O. Russell would have been the better choice (though I do). What's interesting to me is this is Lee's second Best Director win without a Best Picture attached to it. ("You're one hell of a filmmaker, but the movies aren't that good.")It was widely assumed last time that the Academy was afraid to give Brokeback Mountain Best Picture — sending them scurrying to the safety of the mediocrity of Crash — but this year? Was it simply picking somebody because it was obvious the Academy had screwed up by not nominating Ben Affleck?
That brings us to the biggie — Best Picture. Argo was no surprise — especially after David O. Russell lost. I'm more or less indifferent on this one. There were four choices that would have pissed me off — Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Misérables, Zero Dark Thirty — two I'd have shrugged off — Life of Pi, Lincoln — one I was really rooting for — Django Unchained — and two I was OK with — Silver Linings Playbook, Argo. I'd have been a little more OK with the former, but Argo is a solid, entertaining picture. That I tend to think that the Best Picture ought to be a little more than that is just my foolishness.