What needs to be said about the 84th Oscar pageant is the exceptional way homage was paid to the history of movies. Perhaps it is because the two films that were nominated and that took away the most awards tonight paid tribute to the early French silent film pioneer Georges Méliès (1861-1938), in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and to the silent film era with Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist.
The birth of cinema was in France so in the end it was fitting that accolades went to France for best film, director, and actor and five technical awards. Five technical awards also went to Hugo saluting Georges Méliès.
Scorsese is not unknown to film audiences both as a director and promoter of film preservation work. Producer Harvey Weinstein, heavily promoted The Artist nominated in several categories. Whenever you hear “a film that came out of nowhere”, it is because of PR from the producer, and Weinstein besieged Academy voters with “for your consideration” advertisements.
The art direction and attractions of the ceremony this year included a performance by the Canadian Cirque de Soleil whil film classics were projected on screen and old fashioned usherettes who walked through the theater with bags of popcorn. Actors, producers and directors and almost every Oscar winner spoke about their love of movies.
It was a year where there were some good films and a ceremony devoid of the movie magic of previous editions. The awards centered on a few virtuous films. The Descendants, which won best adapted screenplay (Alexander Payne) based on Kaui Hart Hemming’s novel of a troubled Hawaiian land baron; The Help, about domestic care in the south in the 60s, with wealthy white women served by African American women (best supporting actress to Octavia Spencer); The Iron Lady, a biopic on former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher (best actress to Meryl Streep); and Oscar nominated My Week with Marilyn, a sophisticated interpretation of the late actress Marilyn Monroe by Michelle Williams.
A jubilant Meryl Streep said after receiving her best actress award that she felt “old and jaded in the midst of two nominees who weren’t even conceived when she started coming to the Oscars”.
“This is a crapshoot”, she said. “Anyone was as deserving”. But is it? The majority of the 6,000 strong Academy voters is 97% white, 2% black and less than 2% Latino. 77% of the voters are male. The average age of the voters is 62, with 14% under 50. This diversity is not at all the same as the movie going public.
It seems unclear why getting an Oscar host is such a problem each year and some of the best presenters of recent years, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres should be asked back. A matured Chris Rock would be a welcome addiction too, who was on the scene to share a couple of gags with veteran emcee Billy Crystal who failed to enrapture audiences.
Although presidential hopeful Mitch Romney was increduously quoted recently as saying “forget about the gap between the rich and the poor, it’s hard to when it comes to the Oscars. The entertainment industry is a billion dollar enterprise and this year with a slow economy the ostentatious ceremony seems not as appreciated as in the past. Perhaps this is why the program directors decided to go with showing TV audiences the rich history this pageant represents.
The Oscars is a TV show dependent on ratings and Justin Bieber was part of a script by Billy Crystal, who claimed he could help him draw in the 14-24 demographic. It is unclear how well that went but a sign of the times this year was the frequent mention of Facebook and Twitter both inside and outside the pageant with most tweets about Tom Cruise, Jean Dujardin, Viola Davis and Angelina Jolie.
The 82 year old best supporting actor Christopher Plummer said he had “a hard time keeping up with award shows” and added “they’re inventing a new one every day”.
The memorial to people in the film industry who died this past year included the latest star to fall, the phenomenal and beloved Whitney Houston, and cherished actors such as Ben Gazzara, Elisabeth Taylor, and Peter Falk and director Sidney Lumet.