The Artist walked away with gold for Best Film, Actor, Director, Costume, and Original Score. Why was it the favorite? It’s a masterwork, beautifully capturing that glorious and quirky fleeting moment of silent film history. It’s now inspired a slew of copycats. The Rock’s next picture is going to be silent. He’s bringing back the pipe organ, which originally accompanied silent films, and all the sound effects are going to be performed by a live person, just like in the old days (I think that guy’s going to wind up in the hospital).
Yes, the old days. Hollywood is feeling nostalgic lately. Hollywood used to be Sly and Ah-nuld: ripped with big, big guns. Now it’s George Costanza with shrinkage problems. Downsizing and fewer films made. It faces an uncertain future, and it feels good to revel in the glory days of the past. In spite of its dark moments, The Artist is pure escapism. It’s fun. People need that right now when times are tough.
Hugo, another silent film-themed movie, this time in 3-D, jumped off the screen and into Oscar’s lap in the technical categories: Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. People have asked me why I think that Hugo is the best 3-D film ever made. For starters, the industry certainly thinks it’s one of the greatest, showering it with 11 Oscar nominations, more than any other film this year, and five wins. As an audience member, the film blew me away with its sheer artistry. Of course Avatar has its big wow moments, but Hugo’s technical accomplishments in the 3-D medium, frame by frame, are mind-blowing, and they aren’t for their own sake but rather serve the story perfectly. Plus I’m a sucker for any movie set in Paris.
Midnight in Paris struck gold in the Original Screenplay category. It was my favorite film of 2011. The dialogue is natural, and sometimes verges on improvised, but that’s the charm. You don’t feel the words being squeezed out of the screenwriter’s brain in this movie, as you do with The Descendants, which was forced and bland with an undercurrent of contempt for the world. It snagged Best Adapted Screenplay. No, The Descendants didn’t change my life or make me cry. I cried when it won Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Iron Lady was the golden girl of the evening: Meryl Streep took home the Oscar for Best Actress for Iron Lady over presumed winner Viola Davis for The Help. This was the most competitive category of the night. Meryl’s enormous talent is reason enough for the win. She’s not called the greatest actress of our time for nothing. Nevertheless, many were surprised that she won over Davis, who infused the character of the long-suffering maid Aibileen in The Help with dignity, humility, and heartbreak. I think nostalgia played a role here again. Meryl has been delivering the acting goods for decades, blessed by the acting gods with her gift, and now deified as one of them. Hollywood is grateful. She is the consummate performer, but she also puts tushies in movie seats. It was a Meryl love-fest.
The other acting awards went to Jean Dujardin for The Artist (Best Actor), Christopher Plummer for Beginners (Best Supporting Actor), and Octavia Spencer for The Help (Best Supporting Actress). Best Actor was a horse race between George Clooney and Dujardin, the French George Clooney, and luckily the Academy chose the actor who gave a real performance. Octavia and Christopher were the heavy favorites, deservedly so, and their wins came as no surprise.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” received the Best Animated Short. Watch for my interview of the filmmakers, coming soon! And check out my full review of the animated shorts program, which is now screening in theaters, On Demand and on iTunes.