Projection: Oscar – The End

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There is always a dead-zone feeling that sinks in late on Oscar night, an inevitable combination of “that’s it?” and “now what?” after all the awards have been handed out, when we realize six months of incessant speculation has led to…this. Gifts have been opened, the celebration has commenced, warm feelings have been exchanged…but now it’s over. And in spite of all the hand wringing that takes place in the wake, there is a stillness…a quiet.

In a way, it’s good to recharge and refocus, to take our eyes and minds off predictions and campaigns and endless competition, and direct our attention to what really matters: the movies themselves. On the other hand, there is a restlessness, a feeling of, “what am I supposed to do? Shouldn’t I be doing something?”

Hugo won Best Cinematography, kicking off the evening by kicking Emmanuel Lubezki in the gut yet again, denying the season-long frontrunner’s brilliant work in The Tree of Life the recognition he deserves.

“The End,” such as it is, feels especially weighty now since we are finally stepping away from the immense inevitability that set in over the course of the season. Most of that inevitability came to fruition last night. Interestingly, I found myself rather disappointed in the few “surprises” that transpired throughout the evening. Hugo won Best Cinematography, kicking off the evening by kicking Emmanuel Lubezki in the gut yet again, denying the season-long frontrunner’s brilliant work in The Tree of Life the recognition he deserves. Robert Richardson is nevertheless brilliant – and turned in amazing work on Hugo – but wow…the rejection of Lubezki and Tree of Life is what I will take away from that award. Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter won the Best Film Editing award for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an unfathomable shocker made all the more remarkable by the fact that they won the same award just last year, for The Social Network. On its face, this monumental upset is quite delightful, since the work was certainly more deserving than the category’s presumed frontrunner, The Artist, but it was such a left-field shock-slap that I was too busy trying to decipher how it could’ve happened to fully appreciate it.

That was assuredly the night’s biggest surprise, but in the major categories, nothing was more shocking than Meryl Streep’s Best Actress win over heretofore Best Actress champion Viola Davis. Here’s the thing: Streep is incomparable. A legend. She’s brilliant…I love her. She delivered another brilliant acceptance speech for the annals of Oscar history. But damn, everything about last night’s award seems calculated and wrong. Of course Streep is acting royalty, quite possibly the greatest of all-time. And yes, it’s been a criminal 29 years (!) since her last Oscar win, in spite of 12 nominations in the interim. There has always been a not-so-silent contingent pushing for “getting Meryl her third Oscar.” It’s never bothered me, for just in recent history, I thought she deserved the win for Doubt in 2009 and would’ve been with her winning for Julie & Julia in 2010. But this year, the push became a shove. The campaign became unsavory. And for the first time ever, I was bothered by “Get Meryl Her Third.” Surely, the movie is one issue. The Iron Lady is mediocre at best and insipid at worst. And while the work is suitably professional on Meryl’s part, but so workmanlike compared to some of the brilliant work she’s turned in just in recent years. More than anything, my skin crawls knowing this award comes as a result of a relentless Weinstein campaign. Harvey pushed and twisted and schmoozed and maybe even put guns to heads. And he got his way, as he always does. To have Meryl’s third Oscar, after all this time, come for such a limp movie at the hands of a brilliant strategist just seems wrong. To top it off, it shuts out Viola Davis, who undeniably gave the best performance in the category, and who is a vital, genuine artist whose passion has been on display all season. It would have been a more organic, more deserving, more relevant, and more important win. What a shame.

To top it off, it shuts out Viola Davis, who undeniably gave the best performance in the category, and who is a vital, genuine artist whose passion has been on display all season. It would have been a more organic, more deserving, more relevant, and more important win. What a shame.

While we’re talking about Harvey, the guy essentially walked off having stolen the Oscars. What a staggering haul – obviously there are the five wins for The Artist, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor – but also Best Actress for Streep…and of all things, Best Documentary Feature for Undefeated. I fear for the future of the Oscars now that Harvey is preying on every peripheral category (next year he will have an animated short in the race, just you watch).

That said, it’s impossible not to feel good for the Undefeated guys, for they were so shocked and grateful to be there, and the award was truly deserved. It should be noted that the two directors, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, are essentially newbies, not far out of film school, and Undefeated is basically their first legit feature film. This award redefines the phrase, “Welcome to the Club”…

I have to say, I also feel good for the Artist crew. It’s not their fault the movie was a wire-to-wire frontrunner that, like all dominant Oscar movies, was subjected to eye-rolling and hatred among sour pundits and disgruntled competitors. I’ve made my feelings about the film well known, but I could never deny such joy to such good people. Dujardin is brilliantly talented and is a delight to behold. I hope he becomes an international fixture, because he is infectious. Hazanavicius is a great talent as well, one who devised a brilliant idea and executed it beautifully. The film’s one sacrificial lamb, Berenice Bejo, is every bit as dazzling as her male counterparts. This group is so happy and so supportive of one another; one of my favorite moments of the night was the sight of Bejo translating into Dujardin’s ear during Natalie Portman’s ode to him during the nominee presentation. It’s well-known that Dujardin has struggled to learn English with middling results. But to see Bejo translate in whisper was just a beautiful moment. I agree with some of the criticisms of The Artist, and it certainly wasn’t my favorite film of 2011. But I understand why so many love it, I think the concept is pure genius, and I love this group of people who made it.

I’m happy, too, for Octavia Spencer, who unlike her co-star actually got to walk onto the stage and exalt in well-deserved Oscar glory. I’m also happy for Christopher Plummer, the oldest Oscar winner in history, who has always been funny, insightful, and graceful in his wire-to-wire run this season. I’m happy for Gore Verbinski, whose Rango truly deserved that win. Ditto Bret McKenzie’s “Man or Muppet,” my favorite Oscar win of the night. I’m happy that Hugo got well-deserved tech love. For all my curmudgeonly distaste for the more unsavory results, there was plenty to be happy about.

Finally, there is the show itself, and it was so blandly mediocre that I’m incredulous. Surely it wasn’t nearly as bad as last year. Billy Crystal was still charming. The old-school Hollywood “We Love Movies” theme was serviceable. It was the swiftest ceremony in recent Oscar history, which was merciful. I’m not with the faction who labeled the show “awkward” or “uncomfortable.” I wasn’t at all offended by Crystal’s Sammy Davis Jr. get-up – it was a callback to his decades-old SNL character and it made sense in the context of the Midnight in Paris bit. But for the most part, it really felt like the makeshift, stand-in, hold-the-fort telecast it was always destined to be in the wake of Ratnergate. Crystal is wonderful, but the material was neutered. The set was gorgeous, but the theme was safe and standard. The tinny microphone sound was annoying. The giant music book was odd. Cirque du Soleil was hit-or-miss. I liked the Downey-Paltrow documentary bit, chuckled at the Bridesmaids crew but wanted more, and the hands-down MVP of the night was Emma Stone. She was balls-out, go-for-broke, and absolutely genius. Give her an Oscar, please.

So, another year, another Oscar show to grouse about. Some good, some bad, a lot mediocre. Most memorable for me about this season is the progression of this feature. Thanks for coming along for the ride, appeasing me in this Oscar obsession of mine. It will definitely be nice to break away from the hysteria and focus on the freshness of the year ahead, but that nagging part of me will always be anxiously awaiting next Oscar season to begin.

Until it does, all will not be lost. I’ll be back next week to survey the field one year out, just for ridiculous fun. It’s always great to compare the POV from afar to the view once we are in the thick of the season. After that, periodic updates will pop up throughout the year, as it seems appropriate. And of course, any pertinent Oscar-related topics will surely be discussed on ProjectionCast, starting with this week’s upcoming episode, in which we will extend this Oscar Post-Mortem.

Happy Oscar Hangover, everybody!

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I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.