Sunday, February 26, 2012

84th Academy Awards (2012) - Hooray for Nostalgia!?

IMDb listing
Previous/Other years

Billy Crystal Rules!  Say what one wants, he delivers.  From the very first sequence where he passes through a montage of scenes from last year's top pictures, most nominated, some like Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible 4, not, he was a hit, in great form and carried this through a great show.

Hollywood's surprising conservatism that I commented on in my review of the last year's Academy Awards, came through again.  Martin Scorsese's 3D wonder Hugo came into the Awards show a favorite to win the top awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best (Adapted) Screenplay and Best Cinematography.  Yet it walked away with only technical awards as well as Cinematography (arguably "technical" in this case as well).

In contrast, the darling of the Oscar's this year was the well deserving film The Artist, a technically perfect nostalgic look back on Hollywood's Silent Screen era.  The picture won Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius) and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).

And Nostalgia arguably factored in pretty much all of the other prestigious awards:

Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Beginners.  He was certainly excellent, won on merit.  But it also felt like a "lifetime achievement award" as well.  Plummer is 82, only 2 years younger than the Oscars themselves.

Octavia Spenser won Best Supporting Actress for her role in a film that was arguably anachronistic.  It was said about The Help when the came out this past summer that while the topic itself was nice, it was yet another story written by a white woman about race relations in the South.  Yes, this worked well in the 1930s with the celebrated Oscar winning screen adapation of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind and even in the early 1960s with the similarly celebrated Oscar winning screen adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird.  But this is 2011/12.  Yes, Octavia Spenser, African American, was the only one who won an Oscar for The Help, a screen adaptation of the book by the same name written by Kathryn Strocket.  But the Association of Black Women Historians rightly asked last summer how long will it take before a story written by a black woman about race relations in the South will get such Oscar buzz?

Meryl Streep, universally acknowledged as the best actress of our time and possibly of all time, won her third Oscar after being nominated and then snubbed 14 other times (Yes, she's been nominated for the Academy Awards 17 times) because, yes, she's the greatest but also because she played here the role of the towering (and now aging...) British figure of the late 20th Century, Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Nostalgia is written all over this award...

Finally Woody Allen received the award for Best Original Screenplay for his film Midnight in Paris which was precisely about an American screenwriter of today (played in the film by Owen Wilson) nostagically looking back at Paris of the 1920s. 

I suppose that story-telling is always going to be largely based on nostalgia (And at its base that's what Hollywood does -- tell/sell stories).  And, it's not easy (and certainly would be limiting) to come up with compelling stories about about times, places and people who haven't existed yet.

Still I do find it fascinating that there was such an uproar last year over the Oscars' young hosts (Anne Hatheway and James Franco).  And then there was an almost counter-revolution in the Oscar balloting last year when a story about a dead stuttering English King (The King's Speech) won all the major awards, vanquishing the modern retelling True Grit (whose star was no longer the venerable John Wayne but a spunky young actress named Hailee Steinfeld playing a teenager) and the ultra-cutting edge films like The Social Network and Inseption.

This year, the Oscars' counter revolution was complete with the "resurrection" of Billy Crystal as host, something that to Crystal's and the show's producers' credit the show's initial sequence joked about.  And one must admit that Crystal was good!

Further to Meryl Streep's and Woody Allen's credits, both have become quite famous for working with and mentoring new talent.  Anne Hatheway (The Devil Wears Prada), Amy Adams (Doubt, Julie and Julia), and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) have all gotten to work with and learn from Meryl Streep.  And the list of young actors and actresses that Woody Allen has worked with over the past decades is simply too long to list here but they have included Mira Sorvino, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johannson, Javier Berdem, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, et al, et al.

So even though the same names often do pop-up over and over again, there are folks like Streep and Allen (and I do suspect Crystal) who do seek to "share the wealth" (or at least share their knowledge).  And any young person picked to host the Oscars in coming years ought to view both last year's and this year's shows and seek to learn from them.  And until then, I return to saying Billy Crystal simply rules The Oscars.  There's simply no one in these last 20 years who's been as good as he's been in hosting the show.

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