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Friday, March 1, 2013

The 85th Academy Awards- My Reactions


           Like many of you, I stayed up to watch the entirety of the 85th Academy Awards Sunday night.  Unlike many of you, that meant being awake until 6 a.m., because the 6-hour time difference between Germany and the East Coast is, sometimes, very much an inconvenience.  Despite my massive lack of sleep deprivation, I still managed to enjoy myself (until the very end, but we’ll get to that).

            Let’s look at the show first before delving into the awards themselves.  The actual performance aspect of the Awards is always a mixed bag.  Some years it’s well-done and a lot of fun, like when Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin teamed up during the 2010 show (which still ranks as my favorite of all the Oscar telecasts I’ve watched).  Some years it’s terribly awkward to sit through, like just one year later when Anne Hathaway famously ended up next to a *possibly* drugged James Franco for the entire night. 

            This year, honestly, I thought was more or less in the middle.  Yes, Seth McFarlane’s „Boobs Song“ was a reach, and I perfectly understand the arguments that it was ultimately degrading and unnecessary, regardless of the self-aware, parody-related reasons he *probably* had for singing it.  However, the sock puppets video was pure gold, the Sound of Music throwback was great, and although he pulled no punches with his roasts, as many others have pointed out, these people spend their days pretending to be other people.  So I don’t see a little irreverence once a year (twice if you count the Globes) as a bad thing for this crowd. 

            All of the none-Seth McFarlane-related parts of the show were equally mixed.  Some presenters (like the Avengers team) were funny, but the rest ranged from „nothing special“ to „how did those two manage to wander on-stage“ (if you were watching, you know who I’m talking about).  The broad montage of big show-piece numbers from past musical films sounded good and looked good (as did Adele’s performance of „Skyfall“), but the whole time I couldn’t help but feel bad for the other nominated songwriters.  Why devote a whole show to „Music in Films“ (and section off huge chunks of time for performances) and not bring up the nominated artists to perform their songs?  Why instead drape adoration across the shoulders of a single nominee in a way that screams, „Yeah, hopefully the rest of you stayed home tonight?“  Just saying. 

            Alright, enough of that nonsense, onto the awards!  Honestly, I’m *relatively* pleased with how they turned out.  In a year filled with strong, memorable films, the Academy found a way to spread the love pretty evenly.  6 different films went home with multiple awards- 4 for Life of Pi, 3 for Argo and Les Mis, and 2 for Lincoln, Skyfall, and Django Unchained.  I actually had no problems with Ang Lee taking home Direction, and was quite glad to see Django win for Screenplay.  Although I would have preferred Zero Dark winning that one, Tarantino’s speech was easily the best of the night, second only to Daniel Day Lewis‘.  I also would have preferred seeing Lincon take home a few more, but that’s a personal nitpick. 

            Not that every award sat well with me, however.  I held out hope to the last minute that Sally Fields would sneak out with Supprting Actress for Lincoln, but every rumor was confirmed when Anne Hathaway took the trophy.  I am still of the opinion that she won the award NOT for her performance, but simply because she played a character that has been a cultural fixture for a century and a half, and also benefited from trailers that lavished a HUGELY inordinate amount of attention on her character’s 10 minutes of time in the story.  Ah well, what’s done is done.  Hopefully she’ll use her newfound renown for good and not evil. 

            Although I am very much a defender of Brave as a good Pixar movie, I was still surprised that it managed to take away Animated Film from Wreck-It-Ralph, which I thought had waltzed away with the award months ago.  I still maintain that ParaNorman was better than both of those though, and I‘m sad that the team at Laika will have to wait a bit longer to get a big award.  Seriously, if their first two films are signs of things to come, they could become the studio to break the long-standing Dreamworks/Disney/Pixar stranglehold on American animation.  Fingers crossed. 

            Aside from those two, I felt the awards were going along swimmingly until Jennifer Lawrence managed to take Best Actress away from....well, any of the others would have been a better choice, in my opinion.  My attitude towards Silver Linings Playbook has softened considerably since I saw it (and promptly smacked my head in astonishment that it was considered more Oscar-worthy than The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, or Cloud Atlas).  My grudging appreciation of the film as an above-average rom-com aside, however, Jennifer Lawrence remains the least interesting and least engaging part of a film that had no business getting nominations outside of the male acting categories (seriously, Jacki Weaver got a nomination?  For saying „I’m making food for the game“ about 10 times?).  I had also been forced to spend several weeks prior to the telecast voicing my issues with the film just to get responses like THIS- „But Jennifer Lawrence is so hot!“ 

The frustrating part is, I like Jennifer Lawrence.  I like her a lot.  Winter’s Bone was a fantastic movie, and I’m willing to chalk her lack of energy in Hunger Games up to the lackluster direction that infected the rest of the film.  I’d love it if she could join Anne Hathaway in the next wave of top American actresses.  This just was not the performance that should have gotten her an Oscar.  Like with Anne Hathaway though, if she is able to parley the fame she’s getting now into better roles in better movies, then this might end up not being such a bad deal after all. 

That brings us to the last big surprise of the night- Argo winning Best Picture.  Not that it was a surprise, exactly, the winds of fortune had been blowing in Ben Affleck’s favor for weeks prior to last Sunday, but I was still disappointed.  Not surprised though.  This year was loaded with very good historical period pieces, most of which centered around specific events in American history.  Out of all of those films, Argo was the most straightforward and uncomplicated, the most positive and uplifting, the least controversial (read, „least likely to make you question your faith in America’s moral righteousness“), and had the most „dramatic“ ending. 

And right there is my biggest problem with Argo- aside from the romping comedy bits of seeing Hollywood heavyweights help the CIA do a good thing for a change, the part that seemed to appeal to audiences the most was the skin-of-the-teeth chase at the very end to get the operatives out before their identities are discovered.  Sadly, Argo achieved this by bending history far more than Zero Dark or Lincoln do.  Not one part of the chase and the associated close-shaves happened the way Ben Affleck plays them, at least not to that extreme. 

Not that that’s a bad thing- a movie needs to be a movie first, and history second.  But by doing that, Argo sacrifices its shot at being a solid and educational drama for the sake of being a solid, old-school thriller.  And it is a great, classical-style thriller.  But ultimately not a very deep or engaging movie (although it does take the time to remind audiences of America’s oft-whitewashed role in causing the Iranian Revolution, for which it deserves credit).  Lincoln, Zero Dark, and Django took a lot more chances, ask much harder questions, and challenge audiences much more.  In my opinion, that makes them better movies, and more deserving of Oscar Gold.     

In the end, of course, all of this (even the Academy’s choices) are mere subjective opinion, and are only as important as we make them.  It’s all part of the great big ongoing debates that make artistic pursuits so much fun.  Every so often, we need to remind ourselves of that.  Especially when smaking the couch in anger that „your film“ got denied.  Which I may have done quite often Sunday night.  Possibly. 

-Judge Richard 

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