Oscars 2012: Final Thoughts

Another year in the books, but what a more unusual journey. I could be sitting here this fine Monday morning with spit and ire for Brett Ratner’s production job and Eddie Murphy’s hosting duties, but thankfully fate (and Ratner’s mouth) had other plans. It would’ve certainly given the ceremony a unique flavor, but I have a feeling the end result would’ve been less satisfying.

Brian Grazer and Billy Crystal gave us a smooth ceremony mostly devoid of awkward moments and it comes as no surprise despite competing with the NBA All-Star Game that ratings appear to have improved from last year’s disaster.

Here are my thoughts on all the biggest facets of last night’s proceedings, including the awards, host, presentation and of course, superlatives.


The Awards

It was a good year for movie buff predictions, as most of the major awards went down just as we thought they would. The bigger surprises came in the technical categories. Whereas last year it was a year for blockbusters, “Hugo” won all the sound and visual effects categories and swiped Best Cinematography from “The Tree of Life,  a testament to the strength of the film’s use of 3D no doubt. Some people will chalk it up to being more of an Academy film, but so many non-Academy films have won in these categories in recent years.

Most cinephiles are buzzing about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” winning Best Film Editing from seemingly out of nowhere. I’m much less shocked when you consider Baxter and Wall won last year and “Dragon Tattoo” had even better editing. That film would’ve fallen apart with average editing to be sure. For me, Best Costume Design was the surprise. With so many traditional period films in the running and Sandy Powell up for “Hugo,” which appeared to be running the table on technical awards, who would think tuxes and flapper dresses would win the day?

Now back to Meryl Streep. I still haven’t seen “The Iron Lady” and I hear both that she’s deserving and not as deserving as Viola Davis. I think you have to give credit to a couple of places for her win, but I do think it was “deserving” based and not “performance” based.

Many said all along that this role would give Streep her best chance at an Oscar since her last win for “Sophie’s Choice,” but what put it over the edge? For one, she starred in a biopic. “The Iron Lady” was pitched as her playing this prestigious role and the marketing made it all about Streep. It would’ve been much less persuasive if she had been nominated as one of many in an ensemble drama.

The second piece is Harvey Weinstein. The Weinstein Company won eight Oscars last night. If you haven’t heard me say this by now, Weinstein has perfected the art of Oscar promotion (though that’s a very nice way of putting it). He doubtlessly campaigned aggressively for Streep, reminding voters of the number of times she’s been nominated and lost in 20 years. It would seem that Davis suffered from being one of many in an ensemble drama. With Octavia Spencer also fitting the bill for feel-good story, it might’ve felt easier to pass on her this year.


The Host

Maybe not everything he said was funny, but Billy Crystal is the butter of the theater formerly known as Kodak’s stage. With the help of the visual effects improvements since 2004, his opening video was a big hit to start the proceedings and he actually knows how to make the audience laugh. I’ve never seen George Clooney act like a normal person during the Oscars, but he was just that. I think he commands the respect of everyone in that room and that’s what it takes to be a great host.

Yet he was not the play-it-safe choice either, at least not in my opinion. After Academy president Tom Sherak thanked him and Grazer for basically stepping in to save the day, Crystal thanked him for “whipping the crowd into a frenzy,” essentially taking a jab at the dry nature of his speech. He also took several shots at the age of Academy members and was generally unafraid to say whatever’s on his mind. You don’t get that kind of a hosting job from inexperienced newcomers unless you were the Golden Globes when they first hired Ricky Gervais. Gervais is drastically more radical in his hosting approach, but Crystal balances between both quite deftly. He also yielded the more modern humor to the presenters, which had more creative and funny bits than usual. His jokes were more classic, the oldies but goodies.

Crystal also managed to eat up little screen time after his opening video and song number, paving the way for the presenters and nominees and keeping the runtime down to only seven minutes over the allotted three hours.


The Presentation

With so many period films and films about old-timey movies, it seemed the choice to create the old-world theater vibe was best suited for this year. From handing out popcorn before breaks to Cirque du Soleil’s performance, I think the touches were nice but not overdone either. Did it leave an impression? Not so much, but I didn’t hate it either.

I thought all the presenters were tastefully chosen this year, with no obvious upcoming movie promotion and no pairing being clearly aimed at a younger demographic. Of course that recalls the Justin Bieber appearance in the opening video making fun of just that. Emma Stone presenting as well as Jonah Hill’s nomination were enough to add some age diversity to the proceedings.

The best touch with the awards proceedings was the testimonial clips of either the nominees or the stars who worked with them talking about their work on the film, as well as the other clips before or after commercial breaks with actors just talking about movies. The masses don’t get a chance to see actors talking candidly or passionately about their work, just their personal lives or what dress they’re wearing.

I thought there were one too many montages (I didn’t pay attention) and in general the pacing of the awards felt uneven, with several moments practically slamming awards into winners’ hands and others toward the middle when I wondered how they were still going to get to all the awards in time. I thought the Christopher Guest bit was hysterical, but it weighted down the beginning of the show a bit. In general, it was a terrific ceremony to watch casually as opposed to bringing the eye of scrutiny.


Best Presenter(s): For once, this wasn’t a clear-cut choice. I would have to go with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis for marching out of the orchestra pit with cymbals to present Best Original Song, and that category certainly needed a boost this year with basically no nominees to showcase. Their deadpan was perfect and the cymbal-dropping was some good ‘ole physical humor. They are children in adults bodies and that was the perfect way to demonstrate it. Robert Downey Jr. Tebow-ing comes a close second.

Worst Presenter(s): Fashion sense aside, Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz thought they were being cute when they were just being awkward. You can totally tell J-Lo’s back on the market with yet another cleavage dress and rumors of nipple slips throughout the evening.

Awkward Moment: Sometimes it’s what is unsaid that goes as most awkward, not the dropping of F-bombs. In this case it was Bret McKenzie, who forgot a critical thank you in his speech. If only he could’ve seen the telecast and how often they showed Jason Segel absolutely beaming for him, perhaps he would’ve remembered. Without Segel, there is no “Muppets.”

Funniest Acceptance Speech: Perhaps Jean Dujardin‘s charisma or the winner of one of the “Hugo” sound awards (I think) that thanked everyone who ever was, is and will be, and “as for everyone else, you know who you are.”

Best Acceptance Speech: All the four major acting winners gave their own great speeches this year. My favorite had to be Christopher Plummer, who spoke so eloquently and humorously to being nearly the same age as Oscar. He was self-assured but also self-effacing in his thank yous. He picked the right people to thank and included his fellow nominees, which I think is always a sign of humility.

Most Disappointing Moment: Angelina Jolie accepting on behalf of Woody Allen. Obviously he doesn’t care that much, but how nice it would’ve been to see everyone honor him and to have him share some words about his magical film.

Best Nominee Showcase: The technical awards, especially Best Makeup. It meant something to hear actors or directors speak to the work of these unheralded heros of the movie industry. Meryl Streep speaking to her longtime makeup artist both in testimonial and in her acceptance speech was quite nice.

Worst Nominee Showcase: Best Original Song, since there wasn’t one.

Best Dress: If you seriously thought I was going here … I just kept hoping that Emma Stone wore a bow because she was going to be a present for me.


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