Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Reactions

I said in my Oscar predictions post that I hadn’t paid as much attention to the Awards season this year, and given my prediction results, perhaps I should have. Excluding the three shorts, which I unfortunately didn’t see this year, I only got 15 out of 21 correct - not horrible, but not very good either. Luckily, my office didn’t have a pool this year, so I didn’t embarrass myself (I was in the top three from 2005-2007, winning in 2007, and haven’t placed since).

I cannot say I was shocked by too many of the awards that I got wrong. The biggest was best director, where I probably let my personal feelings that David Fincher made the best film of the year, and had the type of career that would lead him to beating Tom Hooper, even if his film, The King’s Speech, would win best picture. This was the one award that I disliked the most. The only other one that angered me was poor Roger Deakins losing the cinematography award for the ninth time - particularly because it meant that the Coens True Grit got completely shut out.

The one “surprise” that made me happy was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross winning the Score award for The Social Network. Reznor is a musical genius, and his work on The Social Network deserved to win - but I thought it was a little too strange and non-traditional to win the Oscar. I was happy to be wrong.

The other three I got wrong were not shocking. I knew that Foreign Language would be tight, and that In a Better World could easily win. The biggest surprises for me, was Alice in Wonderland winning Art Direction and Costume Design - I thought that didn’t like the film enough to give it two Oscars.

So overall, it was a split year at the Oscars. The King’s Speech (Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay) and Inception (Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual effects) won four each, The Social Network (Adapted Screenplay, Score, Editing) won three, Toy Story 3 (Animated, Song), The Fighter (Supporting Actor, Support Actress), and Alice in Wonderland (Art Direction, Costume Design) won two each. The other winners were Black Swan (Actress), In a Better World (Foreign), Inside Job (Documentary), The Wolf Man (Makeup). I like split year more than sweeps (the most boring ceremonies I have ever seen were the years where Titanic and The Lord of the Rings swept, and after every win we had to hear about the genius of James Cameron and Peter Jackson).

I felt the same way about the ceremony as I did about most of the awards season - largely indifferent. Hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway were fine - they had a nice chemistry together, and there were some great moments, but largely I thought they were let down by the writing. They did what they could with it, but Franco in particular started to wear on me through the show - as they continued to make him act stupid. Hathaway was better I thought. If they hired better writers, these two could have been better. Still, I think if I am the producers, I think next year I go back to hiring a comedian, with better instincts to host. Back to back duo years, and neither time did I think they did better than Jon Stewart. Not sure who I’d hired, but that is where I go.

The speeches were for the most part rather bland - typical thanking the “genius” director, the cast, the wives, etc. The next day, the only ones I truly remember is Melissa Leo, because she dropped the f-bomb, and Colin Firth - because he was actually witty and funny and self depreciating like only the Brits can do. It was nice to see people I am a fan of - Natalie Portman, Melissa Leo, Christian Bale, Aaron Sorkin, Trent Reznor win, and they had nice moments in their speeches (although Leo trying to act modest after she took out an ad promoting herself felt disingenuous).

The biggest question for is not the ceremony itself, which no matter how good or bad, is something most of us will forget in a week. The question becomes where the winners of this years Oscar ranks among the previous winners. As any of my regular readers know, I was a Social Network supporter the whole season. But unlike many of many Social Network fan comrades, I do not think that The King’s Speech is an embarrassment to the Academy. Do I think we may look back in years to come and wonder why the Academy went with the King’s Speech over The Social Network, like we ask why they went with Ordinary People over Raging Bull or Dances with Wolves over GoodFellas or Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction or Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan or Crash over Brokeback Mountain? Yes, but just like all those other films that won, I don’t think The King’s Speech is an embarrassment - yes all of these films won over a film I think is clearly better, but all of those films catch a bad rap simply because they won. Ordinary People is a great film, as is Dances with Wolves. Forrest Gump and Shakespeare in Love are solid, audience pleasing films, as is The King’s Speech. In terms of Oscar history where does the King’s Speech lie? Right around the middle of the pack. The people who rank these winners as the worst ever should go back and watch Around the World in 80 Days or The Greatest Show on Earth or Gigi or Broadway Melody or Oliver or Cavalcade or Cimmarron or Chariots of Fire or Gladiator or The English Patient or Tom Jones or The Great Ziegfield or Going My Way or Mrs. Miniver or The Life of Emile Zola or Out of Africa or Hamlet or A Beautiful Mind. And that’s off the top of my head.

The King’s Speech for me ranks around the middle of the list - along with other really good but not quite great winners. Films like The Sting, Rain Man, Terms of Endearment, A Man for All Seasons, Driving Miss Daisy and Slumdog Millionaire. Yes, The Social Network would rank much higher, but what future generations of Oscar watchers like myself will see when they watch The King’s Speech is an expertly crafted, expertly written and expertly acted costume drama.

Oscar history will probably look at Tom Hooper’s winner for Best Director a little more harshly - especially if David Fincher doesn’t win an Oscar at some point in his career. Fincher is one of the most acclaimed directors of his time, a true auteur, and a filmmaker who I think his filmography will grow in stature over time. Hooper on the other hand is just kind of starting out. The only other films of his I have seen are the Apartheid drama Red Dust, and the soccer drama The Damned United - and neither are likely to be remembered by future generations. If Hooper becomes a great director, perhaps it doesn’t look so bad - but if he becomes the next John Madden - who directed Shakespeare in Love and has since fumbled and stumbled his was through his directing career, then it will look awful.

Out of the three major wins for The King’s Speech, history will look most kindly on Colin Firth’s win. He has the type of resume where an Oscar win makes sense. It is a performance full of heart, humor and humanity, and I think is every bit as good as Helen Mirren’s performance in The Queen. If I had my way, I think I would have preferred Firth win for his performance in A Single Man next year - which was an even better performance - and have Bridges win this year for True Grit, which may not be his best performance (that would be The Big Lebowski), but was better than Crazy Heart. But that’s just me.

The only acting win that I think ranks among the best ever was Natalie Portman’s performance in Black Swan - and I’m sure that many will disagree with me on that. A great performance by Portman, the best performance of her career, who has become a favorite of many. I do feel slightly bad for Annette Bening, who loses for the fourth time, but I don’t think The Kids Are All Right represents her best work. If she gets another nomination, I think she will a real threat to win. Michelle Williams time will come as well - and I do think Jennifer Lawrence could easily become the next Portman or Williams if she handles her career well.

For Christian Bale, his win is a solid win - the type of performance that always wins, and is a testament to his career. It’s not his best work - he was better in American Psycho, and his work in The Machinist was probably better as well - but he finally had an “Oscar” film, and he wins. Rush already had an Oscar at home, so its hard to feel bad for him. With his second nomination in two years, Jeremy Renner has become an Oscar favorite - and if he gets nominated again, he’ll be a threat to win. For Mark Ruffalo, this is the first of what I think will be many nominations. And finally character actor John Hawkes now has a real opportunity to take his career to the next level.

For Melissa Leo, despite her unseemly self promotion, you cannot help but feel good for her win. She is one of the best character actresses out there, and has built up a resume full of great work since her days on Homicide: Life on the Streets. Her work in Frozen River was her best film work, and although I think she may go over the top in The Fighter, it is a fine performance, and certainly not an embarrassment. You have to look at Amy Adams as a real threat to win next time she gets nominated - she’s young, she’s beautiful and she has three Oscar nominations in her last five years. Helena Bonham Carter is also a three time nominee, but she has not done great work in the recent past - she works with her husband Tim Burton and in the Harry Potter movies. If her career enters another phase, she could win as well. The breakout stars her - the young Hailee Steinfeld and the old Jacki Weaver, will now have a chance to prove their noms were not a fluke. And for Steinfeld, it was probably good she didn’t win so young - the expectations on Anna Paquin after her win for The Piano in 1993 were so high, she never really could live up to them, and it took her a long time to settle into her acting career.

So that’s how I see the Oscars for this year. It’s time to move and look at the films from 2011.

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