Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar Postmortem Pt. 1: Overview

Well, the 85th Annual Academy Awards came and went, putting a cap on what has been one of the most unusual awards seasons in recent memory. To no one's surprise, Ben Affleck's Argo was crowned the Best Picture of 2012, also taking expected prizes for Chris Terrio's screenplay and William Goldenberg's editing.

In a competitive year like this one, you knew that a lot of the wealth would be spread. Eight of the nine Best Picture nominees won Oscars. Sadly but foreseeably, the only one not to win just so happened to be the single best film of the year, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Life of Pi claimed the most trophies of the night, taking three craft categories and Ang Lee's second Best Director Oscar for a Best Picture losing film. Weird, but a hearty congratulations to Mr. Lee. Problematic though the adaptation may be, pulling off that movie from the director's chair was a feat.

The second place tally of three wins is shared between Argo and Les Miserables, which triumphed in Sound Mixing, Makeup, and slam dunk Supporting Actress contender Anne Hathaway.

Django Unchained reprised its pair of BAFTA wins and Globe wins in Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay, making both Christoph Waltz and Quentin Tarantino double Oscar winners. Bugged as I am by these wins, I did enjoy watching Quentin take the stage to deliver a typically loose but charmingly geeky acceptance speech. Good for him.

Lincoln was able to take home more than just the sure-thing Best Actor prize for Daniel Day Lewis -- whose acceptance speech was excellent, by the way. In one of the night's few true upsets, Rick Carter and Jim Erickson bested flashier and more ornate competition in Best Production Design. As much as it sucks that Anna Karenina's brilliant designers got shafted again (Greenwood and Spencer should have won for Sherlock Holmes already), I have to say that Lincoln is a very handsome, and very atypical, winner.

Another double winner, although not a Best Picture nominee, was Skyfall, taking Sound Editing and Song, becoming the most Oscar honoured Bond film of all time (the Academy has never truly embraced 007).

One-win wonders include Silver Linings Playbook's Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress, Amour for Best Foreign Language Film, and Anna Karenina for Best Costume Design (well deserved). Searching for Sugar Man completed its clean sweep of the season by winning Best Documentary, and my last minute instinct that Brave would pull out an upset over Wreck-It Ralph in Best Animated Feature proved to be true. I guess I'm glad I called it, but I'm also super bummed that the better film lost what might have been one of the night's closest races.

But not a closer race than Best Sound Editing, which was such a nail-biter this year that it produced what is unarguably the evening's single most surprising result. My jaw it the floor when Mark Whalberg announced a tie, which is incredibly rare given how many voters there are in the Academy. The award was split between Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty, which managed to come out of a tough, controversial awards season with at least one Oscar to show for it. Both films had fantastic sound designs.

And a personal highlight for me, was seeing Paperman claim Best Animated Short, the one win I wanted most out of the entire show. I superstitiously refused to predict it even though it made sense, so that was one of the five I got wrong. I think I did okay for myself on the predictions front though: 19 out of 24 is a nice bit of redemption after last year's dismal showing.

And that brings us to the show itself.

The telecast, as designed by musical-loving producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron was bloated, uneven, and overstuffed with arbitrary musical performances...

And I loved almost every minute of it.

This is not going to be a majority opinion in most circles (and certainly not on the Internet which seems to detest musicals), but I'm defending -- nay, celebrating -- the flamboyant audacity, confidence, and fun of the Zadan/Meron Oscars. It's no secret that this pair is big on musicals, having produced Chicago, Hairspray, and most recently the TV series Smash. They were not coy about this year's show having a heavy  musical slant, which incited preemptive dread from many a critic, but did not dissuade them from their vision.

If you only plan to do produce the Oscars one time, then go big or go home. And go big they did. "Celebrating the movies through music" was the theme, and there were nearly a dozen or more musical numbers throughout the show putting smiles on my face. Everything from Seth MacFarlane's cheeky "We Saw Your Boobs" song to a robust Les Mis medley by the film's cast to Barbara Streisand's moving performance of "The Way We Were" following the Memorium segment made me glad I was watching this.

For this unapologetic and singular approach to the show, it becomes ever apparent that Seth MacFarlane was a terrific choice to host. Aside from his musical talents, his writing really got a big showcase in the 15-minute opening monologue and sketch. It probably tested most people's patience, but my patience passed that test because I was laughing a great deal.

Was this all needed? Were most viewers even tolerant of all this singing? Probably not, but I recall making a similar argument in defense of Les Mis a couple of months ago. It's better to make something that's love-it or hate-it than to try and pander to the lowest common denominator. I suppose I'm just lucky that I fall into the love-it category this time around.

All in all, I had a great time watching this year's Oscars. It had a committed identity for the first time since the 2009 show, and it was an identity that, while far from perfect or popular, I was very happy to get on board with.
"Whoops! There goes another rubber tree plant!"

And now it's time for us all to take a breather. It was a particularly long and interesting season, and I'll come back in a week or so with some highlights and pet peeves (in list form, as usual), but for now, I'm thinking a nice long break will do me good.


  1. Perhaps the biggest shock of the night was the fact that MacFarlane went through the whole night without doing his Stewie or Peter voice from Family Guy.

  2. Macfarlane did well with the material given, but I was a little bored with the musical theme. Don't get me wrong, I love a good song and dance number, but they should have written new material rather than praising the old stuff.

    One addition that was nice was the clip montages of the best picture nominees. It always seems like the show is trying too hard to be funny and forgets why its there: to praise this year's art.

  3. Hmm, I have mixed feelings about most of the winners this year. The two wins Django got was painful to swallow. Though Argo was a very good movie, there were lots more movies I would have went with before choosing Argo as the best film of the year. I hate to say this, but Ang Lee winning best director for Life of Pi was uninspiring. Ambitious as his attempt may be, the actual quality of his execution really didn't match people's grand perception of it. (That's just my opinion of course). Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln and Amour would have been much better choices. My single favorite win of the night has got to be Zero Dark Thirty in Sound Editing... It won something! And it was a more than worthy winner to boot. (the tie with Skyfall was also a very pleasant surprise). And Adele wining Best Song for Skyfall was just awesome. Good Job on that Academy!