Monday, February 28, 2011

A Young and Hip Oscar Recap

Well, another celebration of the film culminating in the industry's biggest show, the 83'rd Academy Awards, has come to an end. For those of you caught unawares, perhaps waiting in your fortified bunkers for news of the impending apocalypse, The King's Speech was chosen as 2010's Best Picture. This was a prediction made by many since even it's world premiere at 2010's Telluride Film Festival back in September, long before it became the massive mainstream success it is today. It's a classic Oscar pick, with stellar writing, fantastic acting (with lead Colin Firth finally winning that elusive golden statuette), and an amazing, uplifting story that really connected with the viewing audience despite worries that the film wouldn't appeal to traditional moviegoers. I'm afraid it wasn't my favorite film this past year (that would be the Darren Aronofsky ballerina horror tale Black Swan), but considering King's Speech was my third favorite film from 2010, I can at least accept that it was a quality choice, and one that appealed to the traditions of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

One of these Oscar hosts is stones silly
Of course, the Academy tried to appeal to the constituents that so many politicians would like to forget exists - the future - by marketing the 2011 Oscars as "young" and "hip", obtaining two of Hollywood's up-and-comers to host the night's festivities. Anne Hathaway and James Franco were meant to appeal to that elusive young demographic who have of late chosen to ignore the annual honors ceremony. Backing the dynamic duo up were a host of presenters who fit the same category, and the night was filled with popular youngsters like Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Hudson, Jake Gyllenhaal and Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams. This was a huge divergence from last year's proceedings, when veteran actors Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were brought in and had a successful if samey run like so many who have hosted before them. This was the new Academy Awards; a "renewed" Academy Awards, and they wanted the future film-goers sitting one their couches to see it.

Oh, I WISH all he had done was tweet all night
Well, that didn't really happen. Not only was viewer attendance down overall from last year, but it was down among adults and women 18-49, the coveted demographic. The routine by the young hosts was panned, and next year the producers will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out a whole new way of attracting a young audience. But hey! We're not here to talk about how many new viewers ABC needs to pull in next year; we're here to recap last night's pomp and circumstance and see where things went right and wrong.

Melissa Leo wasn't afraid to cold-cock a few people to get her award
If there's one thing to be said for last night, it's that there were very few surprises. Every single acting category was won by the victors of the previous awards (Golden Globe and Critic's Choice, for instance), and were called by every reputable film follower. Yes, I picked the wrong Fighter in taking Amy Adams over Melissa Leo for the Supporting Actress category, but I also admit I didn't realize how much of a transformation Leo made before seeing her acceptance speech (and apparently the foul-mouthed actress picked up a vocabulary while filming in Massachusetts). The others - Firth, The Fighter's Christian Bale and Black Swan's Natalie Portman - were predicted by just about everybody to win their respective categories, and didn't fail in that regard. There were a few small surprises (Alice in Wonderland winning Best Art Direction over Inception, for instance), but for most of the smaller categories it was as predictable to professionals as the sunrise. It wasn't until the major categories that you had the option of major upset anyway, but even those surprises made sense in the grand scheme of the Academy Awards. Tom Hooper surpassing both Social Network director David Fincher and Black Swan's Darren Aronofsky to claim the Best Director award blew my mind, but when you think about the Academy's traditional flavors, it makes much more sense than it would initially. Despite being the "young and hip" Oscars, the vast majority of the voters are likely Old Guard veterans who weren't as big fans of the "generation-defining" Network or the horror film Swan. Even the unlikely contenders in The Kids are All Right and the token animated film Toy Story 3 would have had very little reason to think they had a chance with so many deviations from the Academy's tastes. Hooper's victory and the success of King's Speech for Best Picture make much more sense when seen in that light. It does help however that the film had the collected talents to be a great film, and a worthy winner, and even if many don't believe it was really the best film, it can still be agreed that The King's Speech is indeed a great film.

Award-winning Bromance. Feel the love!
The problem with this year's new direction was that the producers couldn't adhere to it, at least not entirely. The biggest rounds of applause for the night were not for the young presenters, but for stalwart veterans. Stroke-victim and Hollywood hero Kirk Douglas presenting the award for Best Supporting Actress was uncomfortable on more than a few levels, with Douglas taking his time to compliment each nominee (and Anne Hathaway) on their beauty and talent. That, combined with his affliction-induced stammer, meant that many TV viewers checked out what was on the other channels about that time. The other big applause was reserved for marathon Oscar host Billy Crystal, who was on hand to celebrate the Oscar pedigree of Bob Hope. So your biggest reception is for the three old guys in the business on a night when you're supposed to be promoting youth. Amazing work.

As talented a group as you can expect to ever see
It doesn't help that the young hosts tabbed to grandstand your ceremony aren't the best available. While Hathaway had some flubs, her mistakes can be attributed mostly to youthful exuberance and inexperience, rather than poor judgment. If award shows bring her to host more, the experience can only be beneficial for the talented actress. Franco, meanwhile, was a disaster. It doesn't help that in interviews and early on in the show, he appeared to be stoned out of his gourd. His delivery was flat, his best Jack Nicholson smile insincere and smug, and he had NO chemistry with his co-host. Constantly seeming distracted, Franco never seemed to get the idea that it was supposed to be an honor to host the show, and thus we all suffered. An early presentation by Timberlake and Kunis didn't help matters, as both acted as though they had dipped into Franco's secret stash.

Jesse Eisenberg, one of this year's "young and hip" nominees
Despite these missteps, the show was mostly professional and didn't take too many shots at Charlie Sheen (only one joke that I can remember). Hathaway's abilities added a lot, but it also helps that there were no rabble-rousers, with only Charles Ferguson noting (correctly) that no senior executives have been sent to jail for their part in causing the current global recession after winning the award for Best Feature Documentary (for Inside Job). Instead we were treated to many funny and wonderful moments, including award-winning (for The King's Speech) screenwriter David Seidler: "...on behalf of all the stutterers in the world: We have a voice and we have been heard." Christian Bale calling his wife "my mast through the storms in life" was sweet too, even if he did forget her name. Let's face it, he probably had to practice extensively to remember to mention, while never thinking for a second that he'd in the moment forget the love of his life's name. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law also made for a fun pairing as the two had a good give-and-take appearance to help promote their upcoming Sherlock Holmes sequel. But he highlight of the night belonged to a category nobody would have otherwise cared about. After winning Best Live Action Short Film (for God of Love), Luke Matheny became possibly the most adorable Oscar winner ever as he thanked NYU, the "great state of Delaware," his mother for providing craft services during the shoot, and his love, whom he called "my dream come true." Definitely the "Dawwwwww" moment of the night.

Last night's sweetest Oscar winner
The presentations weren't without their cringe-worthy moments however. Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem's all-white tuxedos made it look like they were set to cater somebody's after-party, and budding country star Gwyneth Paltrow was pitchy and tone-deaf during her performance of the award-nominated song "Coming Home." Any moment featuring Franco (including but not limited to his appearance in drag) was cringe-worthy. The worst moment of the night may have had nothing to do with the 127 Hours star, however. Instead, the auto-tune montage was the killer, driving me half out of my mind by making scenes from such 2010 films as Harry Potter, The Social Network and Toy Story 3 into mini-musicals that made it incredibly difficult not to change the channel. The Twilight bit at the end was a little funny, but nobody's going to have to worry about being replaced by an automated music maker anytime soon. In all, these poor moments were on par with the Academy Awards' usual misses over the years, so no harm really done.

I've never heard of you before, but I'm glad you won this round
In the end, you can't help but think this year's Academy Awards celebration was anything less than a disappointment. A mixture of the wrong hosts (I'd take back Hathaway in a second, but Franco killed it), no surprises and very little to really cheer about made for a night interesting to those who follow movies closely (like me!) but not at all for the casual viewer. I have to wonder at the longevity of this grand awards ceremony if people continue to cease watching, but that will probably be something for future years to determine. For now, if you want to see my Oscar picks and how well (or poorly) I did in my predictions, check them out below.

Category                                         My Pick                          Winner                       Result
Actor                                           Colin Firth                         Colin Firth                  Hit!
Actor in a Supporting Role            Christian Bale                    Christian Bale             Hit!
Actress                                        Natalie Portman                 Natalie Portman         Hit!
Actress in a Supporting Role         Amy Adams                       Melissa Leo               Miss!
Animated Feature Film                 Toy Story 3                       Toy Story 3                 Hit!
Art Direction                                Inception                           Alice in Wonderland    Miss!
Cinematography                           Inception                            Inception                   Hit!
Costume Design                           The Tempest                     Alice in Wonderland   Miss!
Directing                                      David Fincher                    Tom Hooper               Miss!
Documentary (Feature)                 Restrepo                            Inside Job                 Miss!
Documentary (Short)                    The Warriors of Quigang     Strangers No More     Miss!
Film Editing                                 Black Swan                        The Social Network   Miss!
Foreign Language Film                Biutiful                                In a Better World       Miss!
Makeup                                      The Way Back                   The Wolfman             Miss!
Music (Original Score)                Inception                            The Social Network    Miss!
Music (Original Song)                 Country Strong                   Toy Story 3                Miss!
Best Picture                               The Social Network           The King's Speech      Miss!
Short Film (Animated)                The Lost Thing                    The Lost Thing           Hit!
Short Film (Live Action)             The Confession                   God of Love                Miss!
Sound Editing                             Inception                             Inception                  Hit!
Sound Mixing                             Inception                             Inception                  Hit!
Visual Effects                             Inception                             Inception                  Hit!
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)    The Social Network             The Social Network     Hit!
Writing (Original Screenplay)     The King's Speech               The King's Speech      Hit!

Ugh, a mere 11 out of 24 categories. I'll be trying harder next year, hopefully you'll be joining me again then.

Somewhere, somebody's planning a gold statue revolution

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