|Jessica Chastain, a much nicer subject for contemplation than the awards themselves|
“A fucking low-budget silent black and white film wins best picture, and everyone's like, 'UGH, how annoyingly predictable.'” —Bastard Keith
There was always something a little off about the Oscars this year, and nothing more so than that The Artist, which is, as my good friend Bastard Keith observed in the above quote, a fucking low-budget silent black and white film, being the anointed Best Picture winner. Since the beginning of the awards season. Which started in fucking September this year. Whether or not the movie was good, this decision was made a long time ago, and has little apparently to do with The Artist as a movie.
When you get down to it, this year's whole Oscars had nothing to do with 2011 in movies. The true theme of the year, to me, was well- and intelligently-done genre filmmaking. My favorite for the year, Attack The Block, was that. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was that. Drive was that. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Moneyball (which is a sports movie.) Relax the quality standards a little bit, and Fast Five qualifies (it was certainly wildly entertaining and brought off with great skill), as does The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a marvel of technique and polish, which obfuscated its manifestly stupid story. Relax the “genre” qualification and you can make a case for Midnight In Paris as SF. Of those, only Midnight In Paris ever had a chance of winning an Oscar (which it did, for Woody's terrific original screenplay.)
For non-genre pieces, there was the gorgeous (and, naturally, doomed in terms of wins) The Tree Of Life. And the splendidly observed drama The Descendants. And David Cronenberg pulling one of those Scorsese Age of Innocence “hey, I'm going to make a period drama that's just fucking seething with intensity, except mine's going to have BDSM in it” acts with A Dangerous Method. And Shame (oh, Shame . . .) And Martha Marcy May Marlene. And Take Shelter. Of these, The Descendants was the Midnight In Paris, as above, winning only for Adapted Screenplay.
With all those movies, across a spectrum with “worthy of an Oscar nomination or two for some particularly notable aspect” on one end and “legitimately great” on the other, the three most talked-about movies of the year were The Artist (more talked about than seen), Hugo (same), and The Help (widely talked about and widely seen; The Artist and Hugo combined did about a third of The Help's business.) The Artist and Hugo were both about really interesting things (actually the same interesting thing: the early days of movies) and didn't hold up to close critical scrutiny, which is kind of fitting actually, since they're both more about loving the movies than thinking too hard about them (though, in Hugo's case, Martin Scorsese is, it goes without saying, someone who also thinks very hard about movies.) And The Help is a fucking disaster, but it's an extremely well-acted disaster that raised the profile of two wonderful actresses, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. Yet, those three pictures dominated the Oscar race and all the discussion thereof. And they're set almost completely apart from any of the other movies listed above. (Ed. Note: do not bring Midnight In Paris into this. I know I wrote about all three of them in the same post a few months ago, but Midnight In Paris is notably apart, not only for being a Woody Allen movie, but also for being set in the present and coming firmly down on the side of “living in the now” rather than romanticizing or overly dwelling on the past.)
The Oscar show itself was fucking weird. Here's what I learned, took away from it, observed, and so forth:
1—Billy Crystal sucked. It wasn't just that he didn't have a single funny joke all night. It's not even that he alternated between a kind of listless plodding and laughing at his own terrible jokes (when he wasn't outright fucking them up) . . . all right, fuck it, the blackface really did not go over well. I know he was famous for his Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation (thirty fucking years ago . . .) but seriously, dude? It's fucking 2012. If you really wanted to relive your youth, Billy, why couldn't you have just told Jessica Chastain or somebody “you look MAH-velous”? Take your blackface and shove it up your ass, if there's any room in there with your head.
2—Viola Davis . . . wow. It's hard to remember an actor who was that much of a favorite, I mean universally considered a lock, not win. There she was on the red carpet beforehand, in her own hair, talking about the speech she had prepared. She had to be fucking certain she was going to win. And then she didn't. It's important to remember that this was not a deliberate slap in the face, or a rebuke for overconfidence, or a reminder of her place. It was a bunch of dumbasses who don't think about their votes (I had a real eye-opener of a conversation with a SAG actor I know about voting in the guild awards recently. The individual in question had seen a grand total of one of the nominated movies and proceeded to simply check off that movie in all categories. I've had it confirmed for me by someone else who Knows Things that Oscar voting in the categories where you don't have to prove you've seen all the movies is exactly the same) voting for Meryl Streep instead. And not even out of outright racism. I think it's just name recognition. But goddamn do I feel bad for Viola Davis. I fucking felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and it wasn't even me. And I didn't even fucking like the movie. Ugh.
3—The blog Big Hollywood officially has to shut down now. There is no way a sane person can accuse Hollywood of liberal bias on a night with blackface routines, people winning Oscars for playing Margaret Thatcher, and the entire motherfucking night was about the fucking past.
4—It's not all bad. Those dudes who won for editing Girl With The Dragon Tattoo were awesome; they got up there and started talking and then they got scared with all the people looking at them and instead of doing something embarrassing they acknowledged that they were nervous and couldn't think of anything to say and took off. I liked those guys. As I did the high-off-their-motherfucking-asses dudes who won for Animated Short. They were just like “faaaaaaar fucking out, we're at the Oscars, dude, and we're kind of gay except maybe we're just high as tits, even we're too high to tell!”
5—In a related note, I liked that Robert Richardson got up on stage and was awesome for fifteen seconds and then just tipped the fuck out, even though—awesome as Hugo looked, and as much as RR was responsible for that—it's just not right that Tree Of Life didn't take that. The whole movie in Tree Of Life, even the parts when you're not supposed to, you're like “Wow, this is some excellent cinematography.” With Hugo a lot of it's the FX, the production design, Marty, Thelma, but with Tree Of Life it's just Terry Malick telling Emmanuel Lubezki “I want it to look like this,” Emmanuel Lubezki going, “Sure thing, sir . . . okay, how's this?” then Malick going, “Perfect. Thanks.” and then Lubezki going, “You're welcome.” Still, if you're going to lose to someone, it might as well be Robert Richardson.
6—Christopher Plummer was awesome. And now we no longer have to be like “why the fuck hasn't Christopher Plummer won an Oscar yet?” and retroactively try to give him one for Star Trek VI (a fine piece of cinema.)
7—Alexander Payne's (credited) co-authors on the Descendants script doing that brief sight gag about Angelina Jolie's dress was the second funniest thing that happened all night. Chris Rock's entirely-too-brief bit introducing Animated Feature was the funniest. Twitter erupted with people going “PLEASE, CHRIS, STAY AND HOST THE REST OF THE SHOW!” the second he was gone. Both had an air of “I do not give a fuck” that was extremely welcome.
8—I am extremely happy that A Separation broke the unfortunate streak of “if you've heard of it, it won't win” in the Best Foreign category. A Separation is a legitimately great movie, and its director, Ashgar Farhadi, gave what if you were paying attention was a pretty ballsy speech, with all kinds of “fuck you” signifiers to the Iranian ruling regime, while having nothing but love for the people themselves. Because, ya know, they may not have nuclear weapons but they do throw directors in jail. If it comes down to it, some country should give Farhadi auteur asylum (France is good like that, then he can have lunch with Abbas Kiarostami sometimes) so he can keep making movies because damn. A Separation is really, really, really fucking good, and I'm really glad it won.
9—Whoever was mixing the sound needs to be bashed repeatedly in the nuts with a cricket bat and given a refresher course in not fucking ruining three-quarters of the evening with that digital gurgling and that horrible harsh ring the main microphone had whenever anyone talked into it. Just about the only time all night when that fucker wasn't feeding back at a frequency that probably ordered every dog in America to activate plan Alpha and kill us all was when it cut out in the middle of the Documentary Feature guys being excited. Which was a total dick move, because they totally cut it out on purpose to keep those guys from talking. I mean, seriously, everyone saw it and knew exactly what you were doing, fuckface in the control room. You didn't fool anyone.
10—Did I mention how fucking terrible Billy Crystal was? He was AWFUL. Even the one notorious David Letterman year wasn't this bad, because aside from the infamous “Uma, Oprah” thing that Dave didn't let die, the rest of the night he was funny. The only funny thing Billy did all night was kiss George Clooney, and Clooney was the one who sold that bit. But, thankfully, Billy may have sucked but he didn't suck for long: it was one of the quickest-feeling Oscar shows I can remember, and apparently only ran long by 20 minutes. So there's that.
But yeah, I'm ready to be done with all this shit. Only 10 of my 20 picks were right, and the only award all night that really bugged me was Viola Davis losing. I sincerely hope that this is the last time Billy Crystal is invited back, as well as the last time Viola Davis has to get kicked in the ass like that. And may I never the rest of my days see such a disconnect between what actually happened in movies in a given year and what Oscar thinks happened in a given year. People need to start playing with the Harvey Weinstein playbook. It's not his fault that he has the magic formula, but monopolies inhibit progress. The Oscars, having taken this trip back through the looking glass, would best be served by moving on. And with that, so shall I.