The 85th Annual Academy Awards came and went yesterday with, all things considered, very few surprises.
Host Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame by-and-large stepped-up and proved that there was no need to work on an animatronic Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg to continue hosting the awards show 20 or 30 years from now. Still MacFarlane's "regular," mildly to wildly inappropriate, updated "Archie Bunker" persona on Family Guy perhaps made for a rather good fit for the Oscars. I say this because it's become rather obvious to me since beginning to cover the Academy Awards on my blog that Hollywood / the Academy are far more "middle of the road" indeed "Americana" than many, especially those on the right would give them credit for.
Hence, both the audience in the theater and at home would wince a bit as MacFarlane (or his "bear" "Ted") made jokes about women, Jews and Hispanics and then happily applaud Hollywood giving itself recognition through the Best Picture Award (for Argo) for its "stepping-up when Washington (or Langley) call."
This "see we can be as Patriotic as anybody else..." sentiment on the part of mainstream Hollywood / the Academy becomes all the more clear when one considers its effective "deep-sixing" of Kathryn Bigalow's Zero Dark Thirty (one award for ... sound editing which it shared with the Bond picture Skyfall ;-). "America does not torture" in Hollywood productions anyway (except when it looks really, really cool, like on 24) and wow does it not want to talk about it if it does. Left utterly unanswered with Zero Dark Thirty's abandonment, is, of course, the question of the actual role of America's post-9/11, largely Bush Administration's, water-boarding of Al Queda's prisoners in the capture of Bin Laden. Did it work? One can only imagine Dick Cheney cracking his knuckles and with his half-smile responding: "Boy would you like to know..." Apparently some matters are, well, "best left unresolved..."
But let's then "take out the flags" and celebrate Argo, honestly the only possible "positive" story that one could assemble (and it took 30+ years to do so...) out of the otherwise universally awful story of the Iranian hostage crisis if taken from almost any other perspective: US (humiliating), Iranian (despicably shameful), diplomatic (absolutely no one is safe), human (people are pawns). And of course the real "payoff" will come if in a number of years we find ourselves bombing Iran. Ahmadinejad, is Argo in your Netflix queue?
So then perhaps the only real surprise of the night (Argo came into the Oscars the odds on favorite for Best Picture) was when the honestly nice, sweet, talented (and with many, many Oscars/nominations in her future) Jennifer Lawrence won the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award (for her nice sweet role in Silver Linings Playbook) over similarly prolific/talented Jessica Chastain's Award-deserving performance in Zero Dark Thirty completing Zero's near complete shutout.
Indeed, I wonder what the award's going to do to Jennifer Lawrence's career now as the roles that I thought she was at her best were in the X-Men: First Class  and the House at the End of the Street  to say nothing of The Hunger Games . Is she going to be "too good" for those kind of roles now? (That would be a shame and a waste of her youth). And Jessica Chastain was certainly no "one note schmuck" either, having played varied and Award caliber roles in The Tree of Life , The Debt , The Help , Take Shelter  and even Lawless .
The rest of the Awards seemed to me to be scattered rather fairly among a remarkably diverse and competitive field: Both Christoph Waltz (in Django) and Daniel Day Lewis (in Lincoln) certainly deserved their awards even as they edged-out other actors who gave similarly outstanding performances. Anne Hathaway won the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance as Fantine in Les Miserables . She was outstanding but also certainly the safer choice to Helen Hunt's equally outstanding, if far more challenging, performance as a "sex-surrogate" in The Sessions.
While Ang Lee (Life of Pi) was certainly a worthy choice in the very competitive category for Best Director this year, I do wonder if Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) wonders now if he'll ever win another Best Director award. I was mildly surprised that Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) won the award for Best Original Screenplay, though his award here might have been in partial compensation for not giving him the award a number of years back for his equally original Inglourious Basterds . The Best Adapted Screenplay Award going to Argo was not surprising as it was destined to win Best Picture as well.
That various make-up and staging awards went to Les Miserables  and Anna Karenina  seemed appropriate as these aspects of the films made these versions of the two stories distinct from the others that preceeded them.
Another mild surprise was the Bond movie Skyfall's winning of two Academy Awards (Best Original Song and Sound Editing). Live and Let Die  famously won an Academy Award for Paul McCartney's original song for that film. However, generally Bond films are generally passed-over at the Oscars. Perhaps this year, because it was the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film, Dr No , was exceptional. However, I do wish that Judy Dench and Javier Bardem (Spanish accent and all...) had gotten nominations for their performances in the current Bond film.
The "show" itself went quite well. Highlights for me were the tribute to Hollywood musicals of the last 10 years especially when the cast of this year's Les Miserables  came out to sing "One More Day" burying any lingering question about whether the cast was really up to the task of singing in the film and then Seth MacFarlane and "On the Red Carpet" pre-Oscar Show's Kristin Chenoweth tribute "To the Losers" at the end of the show ;-). Lyrics like: "This to those who're wearing fake smiles now and wondering why they went out and got dressed for this thing" deserve their due credit. ;-).
I'm also happy that the Independent Spirit Awards  given out earlier in the weekend gave The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Safety Not Guaranteed their just due... There are _many_ films that come out each year that are excellent and don't find recognition at the Oscars.
So all in all, in what was a rather competitive year at the Oscars this year, most of the films and performances nominated were given their just due. Still I remain in my conviction the Academy is actually far more "middle of the road" / "safe" than most critics (especially on the Right) give it credit for. But then, given the Academy's size and breath, can one really expect it to be anything else?
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