Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar 2012, a ho-hum evening

To almost no one's surprise, The Artist wins best picture.
I can always tell when it's Oscar night. The dazzling fashions? Not really. The excitement of seeing movie stars on TV? Not so much. I know it's Oscar night because it's the only night of the year that you'll catch me watching E!, the entertainment channel. Of course, I only watch the red carpet ceremonies on E! until ABC begins its Oscar coverage. This year, I was glad I tuned into E! because the highlight of the evening arrived when Sacha Baron Cohen (in full Dictator regalia, dumped ashes on red carpet interviewer Ryan Seacrest.

Cohen, whose next movie is called The Dictator, said the urn he spilled down the front of Seacrest's tuxedo contained the ashes of the late Kim Jong-Il. Kim Jong-Il, said Cohen, wanted his ashes sprinkled on the red carpet, as well as on Halle Berry's chest.

Hey, on a boring and mostly predictable Oscar night, you take your thrills where you find them.

Host Billy Crystal improved over last year's combo of James Franco and Anne Hathaway, but -- let's be honest -- that duo set a very low bar. It didn't take long for me to begin wishing Eddie Murphy hadn't dropped out as the host.

At times, Crystal seemed to be the only person chuckling at his one-liners, and his opening movie montage and subsequent song started well enough, but soon drifted into mediocrity.

Oh well, Crystal inserted himself into a scene from The Descendants, awakening from a fake coma after George Clooney kissed him, which I guess was supposed to be funny and daring.

When Chris Rock appeared to present the award for best animated feature, he joked about how easy it was to provide a voice for an animated character. He also provided a hint of what was missing from the evening, a little sharpness, a little irreverence, a little willingness to make jokes that didn't seem to suffer from varicose veins.

The awards?

It was another year of honoring pictures that didn't exactly go crazy at the box office. I was only surprised once, and that was when Dame Meryl Streep -- she of the 17 Oscar nominations -- won best-actress for playing Margaret Thatcher in

The Iron Lady. On this Oscar night, Meryl became The Gold Lady, beating Viola Davis, who seemed to be the favorite of almost every prognosticator, including me. Streep won for a fine performance in a movie that scored a 53 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not exactly the stuff of which Oscars are made.

Said Streep: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no. Oh, come on. Why her? Again?'"

As a Viola Davis fan, I felt she'd read my mind.

Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for The Help, though. She was one of the few Oscar recipients who showed some genuine emotion.

Woody Allen won for writing the best original screenplay (Midnight in Paris), but didn't show up at the ceremony. I wondered if he was home watching the Oscars or if he'd switched over to the NBA All-Star Game.

And what was the Academy thinking? Did Adam Sandler really belong in a bit in which various actors ruminated on what makes a great movie?

And what was up with the Cirque Du Soleil number? I took it as one more sign that Hollywood -- which spent the whole evening trying to remind us how much we love movies -- has lost confidence in itself.

Angelina Jolie figured out that the best way to get attention at the Oscars is to do a little flaunting; she showed some leg. Granted, it was only the right leg that protruded brazenly from her gown, but she made a show of it.

I had one genuinely happy moment watching the Oscars, aside from the fact that I impressed with myself for being able to Tweet throughout the program, a minor achievement to be sure, but an achievement nonetheless. My moment of joy arrived when Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for the best documentary short. Junge (They Killed Sister Dorothy and Iron Ladies of Liberia) lives in Denver, and, more importantly, is building an impressive body of documentary work. He's a true talent, and his Oscar was well-deserved, especially since he was nominated a year ago in the same category (The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner) and lost.

Saving Face tells the story of Pakistani women who have become victims of acid attacks, mostly by crazed husbands. It's an eye-opening film, and amid its horror and suffering, it manages to suggest that a bit of surprising evolution may be taking place in Pakistan, at least when it comes to such abused women. (For the record, Junge is the second Denver filmmaker to win an Oscar in this category: Donna Dewey -- A Story of Healing == was the first.)

Enough with the local color.

I thought it was mildly ironic that a French filmmaker (Michel Hazanavicius) won an Oscar for making a film in Los Angeles that celebrated movie history. He beat Martin Scorsese (for both best director and best picture), an America who went to Paris to make Hugo, a film that also captured some of the wonder of early moviemaking.

Oscar predictors may have been feeling slightly uneasy early in the evening when Scorsese's Hugo began to pile up technical awards (cinematography, production design), but the evening ultimately worked its way toward the expected finale with The Artist winning best picture, its fifth Oscar.

And one thing's for sure. You can bet that there'll be plenty of rueful jokes from industry insiders about Harvey Weinstein (of the Weinstein Company) and his uncanny ability to win Oscars. The Weinstein Company distributed The Artist in the U.S.)

Oh well, it's late in the evening, and I'm ready to put Oscar to bed. If you've been at an Oscar party, you're probably just arriving home, wondering why you have to get up for work tomorrow morning and unable to escape the slightly depressing fact that you do.

You can find a complete list of winners at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences web site.

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