Ah, the Oscars. In which the stars (including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Uggie, and Angelina Jolie’s right leg) come out to compete for the big awards. In which memorable moments are viewed by the world (such as Octavia Spencer’s acceptance speech) and in which disappointments abound (from Billy Crystal’s jokes, to Meryl Streep’s win, to Angelina Jolie’s right leg). And this year’s Academy Awards…certainly happened, despite some evidence to the contrary. Seriously, it was a fairly boring show, with only two memorable sketches and no real big surprises. Still, the results and the ceremony have caused some controversy, but frankly, I find myself siding with AMPAS this year. This must be a sign of the apocalypse, and I can only hope that the Academy resumes its tradition of pissing me off next year.
Alright, let’s get down to business. There were three big complaints that everyone has about the Awards that everyone, and I mean everyone, was complaining about: the predictability of the Awards, Meryl Streep defeating Viola Davis for Best Actress, and the fact that the films that were competing were not widely known by the public.
For those of you who don’t know, The Artist won the big awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It was far and away the favorite to win, and deserved to be. Unlike last year, when I genuinely DID lament the fact that AMPAS was seemingly out of touch (The King’s Speech was the favorite to win, but was not the best film of the year), I still believe this was the best choice amongst the nominees. Yes, I did say that Tree of Life was the best film of 2011, but there are not many people who agree with me. The Artist was much more pleasing, and equally as risk taking as Malick’s surreal masterpiece. I mean, how many people would genuinely watch a silent film in this day and age – and confess to liking it? I’m not going to criticize this decision for Best Picture at all. In fact, of the nominees, The Artist was probably the best film (admittedly I haven’t seen all of the nominees, but most of them look like fairly standard dramas) that actually stood a chance of winning. I just hope that this means more people will try to seek it out.
Besides, The Artist has Uggie. Can’t go wrong with Uggie.
Now, onto Viola Davis and Meryl Streep.
One of my professors, Valerie Boyd, wrote a piece on The Help that I whole heartedly agree with. Check it out here. For those who are two lazy to read it, shame on you. But the basic point is that The Help is a white washed effort, one that is not designed to be a serious analysis on race issues in America. Instead, it presents simplistic characters performing simplistic actions just to propel a story and make people “feel good” when they should not be feeling good about America’s racist past. I said the same things in my review, but Professor Boyd says it far more effectively (after all, she IS the professor).
What does that have to do with Davis? It demonstrates that the deck was stacked against her in terms of winning any award. The character she was called on to play was nowhere near complex enough to be taken seriously – all of the characters in that film were. That is not Davis’ fault. In fact, the fact she was nominated for an Oscar with such weak material shows what a talented actress she is. But it meant that, in analyzing her performance, the flaws of the film came through, and it was clear that it would have been a mistake to reward Davis. Streep, an industry vet who gave (by all accounts) a marvelous performance in The Iron Lady was the safer choice and, in the case of this race, maybe the correct one.
Still, there is an alternate universe in which Rooney Mara wins the award, which makes me happy.
Finally, the big one – that AMPAS is somehow out of touch for not nominating films like Harry Potter, or indeed, something that people actually “saw.”
Well, here’s the kicker, and here is where I am probably going to have everyone yelling at me. This is not AMPAS’ fault. This is your fault. Yes you, the viewer.
I’m being completely serious. Among the top grossing films of the past year were The Hangover Part II, Tranformers 3, and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I. Meanwhile, Hugo was a bomb despite rave reviews, The Artist has grossed roughly thirty million dollars, and there were big stories this year about how people were demanding refunds for The Tree of Life because they “couldn’t understand it” and Drive because it was not like The Fast and the Furious.
How can AMPAS possibly recognize public taste when the public taste has been so degraded? Throw the public a bone and nominate one of those blockbusters, even if there are more deserving films that are not widely seen. The point of the Oscars is to pick the best film that is most reflective of the time period. Last year, I complained because it failed that last goal. This year, I am not complaining, because The Artist actually is a reflection of the times – in which a risky film gets pushed out by “safe” blockbusters, only to gain a word of mouth reputation later. It’s also reflective on how constant pandering has degraded mainstream films to the point of incomprehensibility and have almost no redeeming virtues. The fact that people are having the conversation shows just how far we have fallen. First, The Hurt Locker was not seen by practically anyone (but was still miles better than Avatar), then there was talk of editing The King’s Speech to make it more “accessible” after it won. Now, this.
Let me put it this way – if you want to not be out of the loop at Oscar time, go out and see the films nominated for Oscars. That is why the ceremony even exists – to help people discover the great films that are just waiting to be embraced by the public.
Now, for my own personal complaint: WHAT IN GOD’S NAME WAS JUSTIN BIEBER DOING IN THE OPENING SKETCH?!!!!!! Seriously, this is meant to be a night celebrating excellence in the art of film. Bieber has nothing to do with movies, nor does he exemplify excellence in any way. Yes, I know he was there, as he “joked,” to attract the 18-24 demographic. Well, I’m 24, and wanted to throw a small animal at the TV when I saw him on screen.
See, THIS is why AMPAS should never try to blatantly appeal to any demographic.
Finally, here are the winners in the big categories
Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Jim Rash, and Nat Faxon, The Descendents
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, The Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Animated Film: Rango
Best Foreign Film: A Separation
Best Documentary: Undefeated