Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thoughts on the Oscars

Every year, a certain inevitable inevitability creeps up come Oscar time.  We more or less know precisely who and what is going to win, and not merely because the ceremony arrives at the tail end of a string of lesser and mostly homogeneous awards shows: the Golden Globes, the various guild awards, the critics awards, etc.  It also has much to do with how the movies themselves are brought into the public eye.  The first time I ever heard of The Artist, it was in print next to the words "future Best Picture winner."  Ditto for The King's Speech.  It's like these movies are set up from the beginning to win awards, presented to the Academy like some sort of matchmaking service.

So it's hard to muster much enthusiasm anymore.  And yet, somehow, I do.  I still love the Oscars.  There's something official about them, backed by 84 years of history, almost as long as movies themselves have been around.  The Oscars matter, even after we've accepted the fact that they're decided by a group of people who are just marking ballots after coming home late from a 16-hour shoot, who haven't seen half the films and have no real clue whether Moneyball had better sound mixing than Transformers: Dark of the Moon or not.  We still have the illusion that these are the year's definitive bests in their respective categories, and what are movies if not illusions?

So, yeah, I didn't much care for The Artist.  But its Oscar for Best Picture still means something, still gives it its place in history alongside such beloved classics as The Greatest Show on Earth and The Life of Emile Zola.  You can't un-award an Oscar, or even a nomination.  Jonah Hill will always be Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill.  Coming soon: 21 Jump Street, starring Channing Tatum and Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill.  There's something comforting in that. 

I have no real problem with most of the winners, either.  They gave Woody Allen an Oscar for his script for Midnight in Paris, which I predicted (the Best Screenplay award almost always goes to a Best Picture nominee, so it was either that or The Artist, and I figured a lot of Academy members would be prejudiced against voting for a silent film for a screenplay award), but which nonetheless came as something of a pleasant surprise.  Having personally only seen nine of the 20 nominated acting performances (including zero for Best Actress), I had no real stake in the outcome of any of them (though I do think Jean Dujardin is a tad overrated).  True, a win for Melissa McCarthy would have been awesome, but did anyone really think that would happen?

I'd also like to thank the Academy for giving Best Adapted Screenplay to Alexander Payne, who has already won, and not to John Logan, who has never won, and yet keeps getting nominated even though he's awful (his script for Hugo would have made a great Public Service Announcement for film preservation, but it's not really a screenplay, is it?).  This even makes me forgive them for giving the Best Animated Feature Oscar to Rango, a movie I loathed (and anyway, I haven't seen the other nominees, or have any wish to do so), or Best Song to "Man or Muppet," a song that makes me want to machine wash a Muppet on high, with bleach and no fabric softener, from a movie I also loathed.  And for giving War Horse absolutely nothing.

It was actually the most enjoyable Oscar ceremony in years.  Billy Crystal was back, so they had a host who was funny and knew what he was doing; they had Cirque du Soleil doing a pretty cool performance; they skipped the performances of the Best Song nominees; and, best of all, they moved the lifetime achievement awards and the Jearn Hersholt Humanitarian Award to a different ceremony entirely, so we were spared half an hour of somnolent platitudes.  Thank you, producer Brian Grazer... you may be the first person in history to shut Oprah up.

Now if someone could just explain to me why, in a room full of sound mixers, they couldn't find someone to fix the sound.