That Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter took home their second consecutive Best Film Editing Oscar — last year for The Social Network, this year for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, another hyper-kinetic David Fincher film — was an out-of-nowhere shocker. So was Meryl Streep’s Best Actress win, for her Margaret Thatcher portrayal in The Iron Lady — The Help‘s Viola Davis had been perceived as the well-established frontrunner, and The Iron Lady, from a distance, hardly seemed like the passion project that would bring Streep her third career Oscar win.
But the evening’s biggest surprise, for me, was the sheer enjoyment of the telecast. The opening sketch video, which randomly riffed on everything from Midnight in Paris to Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, was admittedly kind of a mess, but host Billy Crystal, having been tapped to replace the departed combination of Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy, quickly settled in with ease, offering a hosting presence of fast-paced wit and energy. In a year where films like The Artist and Hugo — both of which took home five Oscars — crafted passionate odes to cinema’s origins, it makes sense that producer Brian Grazer opted for a show of honest, stripped-down simplicity. And that’s exactly what Crystal delivered.
The most rewarding insertions, I think, were the personal testimonies — ranging from sources as divergent as Jonah Hill and Edward Norton — that delved further into the theme of cinematic passion. That the gloriously moving music from Moneyball was used on more than one of these occasions sort of makes up for the fact that Bennett Miller’s lovingly intricate character study went home empty-handed, thought I can’t reiterate enough how obviously deserving it was of that Best Film Editing Oscar. In retrospect, though, it makes sense that the Academy, left with a Best Picture winner whose editing didn’t particularly stick out as notable (not that it generally has to, mind you), went with the empty flashiness of Dragon Tattoo.
Elsewhere, it looked, just for a little while, that Hugo was building an under-the-radar attack. The cameras were cutting to Martin Scorsese every chance they got, and Robert Richardson’s win over Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) for Best Cinematography, while not necessarily an earth-shattering outcome, nevertheless further revealed the widespread admiration for Scorsese’s film. When coupled with Hugo‘s dual sound category wins and its Best Visual Effects upset (over the next-level work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes), the potential for a mounting upset seemed possible, but The Artist quickly got back on track once the Best Original Score trophy went its way.
Asghar Farhadi’s Best Foreign Language Film victory, for his massively rich A Separation, earned an enormous sigh of relief from yours truly — the category’s slate was far from meager, but when an achievement as obvious as Farhadi’s comes along, one really hopes that it gets its due. And though a predictably absent Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) topped Farhadi’s work in the Best Original Screenplay category, A Separation was nevertheless able to plant a flag as the evening’s most deserving winner.
The least deserving? Well, that’d probably be The Shore, which took home the Best Live Action Short Oscar for readily obvious reasons — name recognition, for one, and a by-the-book storyline that amounts to an overwhelming, largely unearned bear hug. That it overstepped the quite good Tuba Atlantic remained a point of annoyance for me. Oh well.
In terms of winner speeches, nothing truly stuck out to me this year. Octavia Spencer, winning Best Supporting Actress for The Help, was clearly choked up, and that had its effect. Alexander Payne (The Descendants) flashed his customary laid-back prestige, and if he might’ve come off as a tad entitled, I still find his persona’s peaceful confidence enjoyable and even somewhat humorous. If I had to single one out above the rest, I’d probably go with Christopher Plummer (Beginners), who revealed class and wit and charm and made it look as routine as brushing his teeth. Well done.
It feels good, mostly because I feel like I’ve been talking about these films for way too long now, to finally have the year completely in the rearview mirror. There were a host of memorable films nominated, which I’ve been reiterating forever now, but it feels like it’s time — or, rather, has felt like it’s time for a while now — to take a step back and let the films simmer a bit. There are a mob of promising-sounding films set to debut in 2012 — I put together a Top 10 back in December, to which I would obviously now add Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master — and I’m eager to get my hands on them.
So with that, the 2011-2012 awards season is thoroughly sealed. We have all the answers. The Artist did hang on, despite its ancient characteristics. Harvey Weinstein is back on the throne. Martin Scorsese, as if we didn’t know it already, is basically adored by every beating heart in the Academy. And Billy Crystal, as it turns out, still actually makes for a fully compatible host. Who’d have predicted that?
Full winners below.
Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
Best Art Direction: Hugo
Best Cinematography: Hugo
Best Costume Design: The Artist
Best Film Editing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Best Makeup: The Iron Lady
Best Original Score: The Artist
Best Original Song: “Man or Muppet” (The Muppets)
Best Sound Editing: Hugo
Best Sound Mixing: Hugo
Best Visual Effects: Hugo
Best Animated Feature Film: Rango
Best Documentary Feature: Undefeated
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Animated Short: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Best Documentary Short: Saving Face
Best Live Action Short: The Shore