This year's Academy Awards were bittersweet for me. For the past many years (so many I've lost count) my best friend Brian would call me or I would call him after the telecast had ended and we would dissect the Oscars ceremony (everything from the winners to the ceremony itself). Sadly, this tradition came to an unexpected end with Brian's death on 12 June of last year. While I have always looked forward to the Academy Awards and I have always enjoyed them, this year the ceremony could not help bring to mind that I would not have my best friend with whom to discuss them. This post is then dedicated to his memory.
Over the past many years that I have watched the Oscars (ever since I was a lad), there have been some Academy Awards ceremonies that have infuriated me. Either they dragged on far too long, individuals or films I thought undeserving would win awards, or they would be just plain dull. Fortunately, the 84th Annual Academy Awards was not one of those ceremonies. I was quite happy to see the return of Billy Crystal. The youngsters can go ahead and complain about him not being hip or cool enough, he is funny and that's what counts the most when it comes to Oscar hosts. I particularly enjoyed the usual opening bit with Billy being inserted into various films (especially The Artist and The Adventures of Tin Tin). As is usual with Oscar hosts, some of Mr. Crystal's jokes fell flat, but then it seems to me fewer of his jokes bombed than those of many other hosts. Over all, I thought he did a very good job.
I also have to say that over all I was pleased with the presenters at this year's Oscars. I thought both Colin Firth and Natalie Portman sounded very sincere in their presentations of the Best Leading Actor and Best Leading Actress categories, and they both have marvellous voices (honestly, if I could I would sound like Colin Firth). I thought Emma Stone and Ben Stiller's presentation of the Best Visual Effects Award was very funny. It was amusing seeing a perky and nearly hyper Miss Stone interact with an unusually staid Mr. Stiller. I found the cast of Bridesmaids presentation of the shorts categories very funny too--particularly the Martin Scorsese drinking game. I also loved seeing Sandra Bullock speaking fluent German again. In fact, the only presenter with or to whom I cannot say I was happy or indifferent was Angelina Jolie. I honestly do not think flashing one's right leg is a very classy thing to do at the Oscars at all. Beyond that act, however, I must also say that I thought Miss Jolie is far too skinny. Never mind that she is so thin as to be unattractive, Miss Jolie is so skinny that I have to admit I am now a bit worried for her health. I am a good four inches shorter than Angelina Jolie and I rather suspect I weigh more than she does, and I am not fat by any stretch of the imagination!
One high point for me was a filmed skit by Lord Christopher Guest's troupe portraying a focus group commenting on The Wizard of Oz. I thought the skit was hilarious, particularly Fred Willard and his infatuation with the flying monkeys. I really think this should become a new Oscar tradition, with Lord Guest's troupe portraying a focus group tearing apart a classic film every year.
Of course, as much as I loved the skit by Lord Christopher Guest's troupe, I have to say that the best part of the Oscars were two acceptance speeches. The first came from Christopher Plummer, now the oldest Oscar winner for having won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Beginners. Not only was Mr. Plummer impeccably dressed, but he was charming, funny, and sincere all at the same time. I loved Mr. Plummer's quip to his award, "You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life." The other great acceptance speech of the night for me came from Jean Dujardin. The French actor demonstrated his love for American movie history not only by thanking Douglas Fairbanks, but by giving the Academy an education in its own history as well! Like Mr. Plummer, Mr. Dujardin was also charming and very sincere in his acceptance speech. I can easily see why so many women are in love with him!
While I was happy with the Oscars ceremony for most part, as usual there were things that irked me about this year's Oscar ceremony. I was very unhappy with this year's movie montage. Unless I am mistaken, the oldest movie from which they featured a clip was Midnight Cowboy, which was released in 1969. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences then effectively ignored forty years worth of movie history! What makes this year's movie montage seem even worse is that it occurred in a year when some of the nominees (The Artist and Rango stand out in my mind) paid tribute to the classic films of the past. It would seem that while various motion pictures these days recognise the importance of American film history, the Academy thinks it's more important to show clips from the Twilight movies than Wings, Gone With the Wind or Casablanca!
I must also say that I was very unhappy with this year's In Memoriam segment. For the most part I thought it was tastefully done, although they could have used more clips. That having been said, this year it seemed as if they excluded more classic actors than they usually have. They entirely omitted James Arness (he made movies before his long run on Gunsmoke), James Farentino, Michael Gough, Barbara Kent, Harry Morgan, Charles Napier, Elaine Stewart, and Googie Withers. While I do not wish to be overly critical of the Academy's choice of whom they did include in the montage, I will point out that each of these actors made many more movies than just four films! Excluding them (some of who, such as Harry Morgan and James Farentino, were very prolific) seems nothing short of a travesty to me. Really, I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to hire Turner Classic Movies to do the In Memoriam. TCM always does such a fantastic job with their "TCM Remembers" montages and they include nearly everyone!
Another complaint I had about last night's Oscars ceremony is that I really think the honorary Oscars should have been awarded at the ceremony proper. Yes, I realise that giving James Earl Jones and Dick Smith their honorary Oscars would have added to the ceremony's running time, but then I would rather see the honorary Oscars handed out than much of the extraneous material that often pads the ceremony out. While I do enjoy Cirque du Soleil, I do not think they are necessarily more important than honorary Oscar winners.
While I know there have been many that have complained that the Best Song nominees were not performed, I have to say that I am not one of them. For me the performance of the Best Song nominees was always a low point in the Oscars ceremony, especially given the Academy's tastes in songs (having to sit through "Al otro lado del río" and "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp" qualify as two of my worst experiences watching the Oscars). What disturbed me more is that only two songs were even nominated! One cannot tell me that the Academy could not have found two to three additional songs worthy of being nominated for the Best Song category!
While anyone who has read this blog regularly for the past several years knows I am not that interested in the fashions at the Oscars, I must say that one of the things I did not like at this year's ceremony was Jennifer Lopez's dress. While most of the other actresses were in these beautiful gowns, Jennifer Lopez was in this ugly creation that exposed far too much, umm, J-Lo. I honestly did not think the dress was attractive at all. As much as I hated Miss Lopez's dress, I thought Penelope Cruz's dress looked beautiful. It was absolutely gorgeous, to the point that Penelope Cruz looked like a fairy tale princess. Honestly, I think it was one of the best gowns I have seen at the Oscars for years. I guess while I am discussing fashion, I should mention that Uggie the Dog from The Artist looked adorable in his bow tie. He was definitely the best dressed dog at the Oscars.
I suppose I have discussed the ceremony itself enough and I should move onto the awards. This year I cannot say I had any strong preferences as to who should win in most of the categories. This was partially because I did not get to see some of the nominees, but also because it seemed to me that many of the nominees were worthy of winning. I must confess that I was rooting for Tree of Life to take both Best Picture and Best Director. I have always been a huge fan of Terrence Malick (and not just because we share the same first name) and I do feel that he has been overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for too long. After Tree of Life I was hoping that Hugo would win. While I have not yet seen Hugo, I am both a huge fan of Martin Scorsese and the book upon which it is based, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (if you enjoy young adult fiction, you must read this book). That having been said, I am not at all unhappy that The Artist won both Best Picture and Best Director. Indeed, while I doubt that The Artist will see a new era of silent films, I think it could make the motion picture industry more open to black and white films. I also think it could lead some movie viewers to seek out the original, classic silent movies, which could result in them becoming more widely available. Regardless of what one thinks of The Artist (the first silent film to win a major award in 83 years), then, I cannot see how any classic film buff can claim its winning Best Picture is a bad thing!
One category on which I did actually have strong feelings was Best Animated Feature Film. For one thing, I must admit that I am shocked that The Adventures of Tin Tin was not even nominated! There were many animation fans who thought it was the best animated film of the year. That having been said, I am very glad that Rango won. I honestly think it was the best animated film of the year. Not only is very funny and intelligently written, but for classic movie fans (especially fans of Westerns) it has a whole host of classic movie references. In many ways it is to animated films what the The Artist is to live action films.
Another category on which I did have strong feelings was the animated short film category. I really wanted The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore to win, which it fortunately did. This is a simply amazing animated short, that includes virtually every possible form of animation, from traditional cel animation to stop motion to CGI. It is on YouTube, so if you haven't seen it you have no excuse not to see it now!
Here I must say that it was good to see Christopher Plummer win an Oscar. My sister was actually shocked to learn that not only had he never won an Oscar, but he was only first nominated for one in 2010! I was also happy to see "Man or Muppet" by Bert McKenzie win for Best Song (even if there were only two nominees *grumble*). I honestly think it is perhaps the best song to have been nominated in the category in literally years and certainly better than its competition ("Real in Rio," from the movie Rio).
Over all, I must say I was not particularly disappointed in last night's Oscars, although obviously there are things I thought they could have handled better. I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to make sure that their montages include movies from the entirety of the Academy's history and not just the last forty years. I also think that perhaps the Academy should simply let TCM handle the in Memoriam montage, as the Academy has proven over the years they can't be trusted to handle it themselves! I also think someone better buy Angelina Jolie a cheeseburger. Or better yet, several. With those caveats in mind, I must say that I did enjoy last night's ceremony a good deal. I thought Billy Crystal was funny, as were Emma Stone and the cast of Bridesmaids. I loved both Christopher Plummer and Jean Dujardin's acceptance speeches. I thought Penelope Cruz's dress was beautiful. And I thought Uggie the Dog was so cute in his bowtie. Actually, that is one thing they really need for next year's Oscars. They really need have Uggie back at next year's Oscars, and may be some other dogs! Contrary to what critics may say, there have never been enough dogs at the Oscars.