Putting Out the Fires: Oscars 2012 Aftermath

Well, the ceremony’s done, the statues have all been given out, and noses have been browned; the 84th Academy Awards are now in the books. And I have an opinion on them even though I didn’t even watch them.

I don’t know that there should be much surprise in regards to what won and why. The Artist had inevitability on its side; the film was destined to win the top awards at the Oscars. That makes questions of worthiness almost moot. Remember last year, when The King’s Speech beat The Social Network? Remember when Tom Hooper beat David Fincher in a “who’s a more talented director” match? Last night’s show more or less echoes that kind of head-scratching voting. I grant that the Academy got it right, or more right, the year prior (and for several years before that as well), and with that in mind I’m inclined to be more charitable about seeing Michel Hazanavicius beat Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese at the highest levels of the Academy game.

After all, The Artist does something that those other films– notably Hugo, to which it is often and erroneously compared– do not do, and which didn’t occur to me right away: it embraces and flatters the studio side of the filmmaking process at the expense of the creative side. What else can you say about a film whose star, in choosing to make a film without the assistance of the studio system, winds up failing utterly– until he’s brought back into the studio fold by the star actress he helped create? I don’t find this point quite as insidious as Ms. Longworth, but there’s no denying that The Artist plays to Hollywood’s ego, or that Hollywood loves to be glorified. For all of the film’s good qualities– and it does have many*– its worst ones almost guaranteed it victory last night.

That doesn’t explain to me at all why voters chose to rob George Clooney of his first Best Actor Oscar in favor of  Jean Dujardin, but maybe the French performer’s win is just a matter of holding the party line. If Hazanavicius had the Best Director award in the bag, and if The Artist itself was set to take home the biggest prize of the night, then it stands to reason (Academy reason!) that Dujardin had to walk out of the Kodak Theater with a golden man in his hand, too. I’ll say it flat-out– Dujardin’s performance is nowhere near as good as Clooney’s. But the problem with putting them head-to-head with each other– and let’s face it, they were the only two nominees with a chance of winning**- is that their performances are completely different in such a way that they’re not easily compared. What The Descendants demanded of Clooney differs vastly from what The Artist required of Dujardin. The call nonetheless still seems quite easy to make, though, and I’m surprised at the outcome in that particular battle even if it pegs me as being naive.

Of course, some of the categories went they way they should have. Hugo, for example, won almost all of the technical awards sans Best Editing, raking in as many statues as The Artist. Their relationship strikes me as mirroring that of The King’s Speech and Inception last year, in which the former film won all of the high-profile awards where the latter won the awards that cineastes might find genuinely more exciting. I suppose I can’t really be let down by that; Hugo looked and sounded amazing, and proved to be a perpetual aural and optical buffet*** for its viewers. Couple that with the victories of both the magnificent Christopher Plummer for Best Supporting Actor and The Muppets, which won for Best Song– and by The Muppets I mean Brett McKenzie****– and the list of winners looks far more pleasing. 

And there were a few surprises as well (Meryl Streep winning Best Actress not being one of them). Woody Allen, for example, beating Hazanavicius for the Original Screenplay award took me pleasantly off-guard, and maybe again this pegs me as naive but let’s hear it for Octavia Spencer. Was she expected to win Best Supporting Actress? Either way she had some really stiff competition in that category, so good for her, even if I didn’t see her performance myself.

Mostly, I’m happy that the event is over. Writing about films is one thing; I like contextualizing my opinions on the movies I watch and analyzing them and sharing my thoughts on them with you all. But writing about films as racehorses is another entirely. That sucks all of the life out of the process. Yet I’m in a place where it behooves me to commit my thoughts on the Academy to a blog post, and I am certain most other film writers would be inclined to agree that it’s insensible to forsake writing about the Oscars entirely. So as fun as this has been, I’m glad it’s finished– now we can all start focusing on the 2012 release slate.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of this year’s show? Did you think the right films and performers won? Sound off in the comments section!


*My review is pending. Talk about being late to the party.

**Sorry, Gary; I love you but between Clooney and Dujardin you didn’t have a chance, and I’m sure that if I’d seen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I’d be going on about how you  deserved to win over both of them. Please don’t Stansfield me.

***Hey. That’s kinda like the name of this blog.

****But at the same time it’s almost a hollow victory because the only other song nominated was, frankly, terrible.

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15 thoughts on “Putting Out the Fires: Oscars 2012 Aftermath

  1. You’re always so magnanimous, even though I don’t watch, I feel bad about how much the inauthenticity bothers me. (The Social Network was the only good movie I saw from the 2011 show, so I was livid about Fincher losing Best Director. Even after seeing The King’s Speech, it still bugs me.) The achievement of making a great silent film almost a hundred years after they were popular is not a small one, but the fact that it won over movies that were equal or better (yes, I’m one of the squealing Midnight in Paris fangirls) on such weak grounds irritates me to no end. George Clooney is so talented that he actually annoys me and I STILL hate to see him get robbed like that. It wouldn’t bother me so much if there was an impartial award show, but with art being so subjective, someone would end up grumbling anyway. Still, it’d be nice to have awards given by people with taste AND imagination, who aren’t swayed by money or flattery. The first annual Film Geek Awards. If only.

    2012. Brave and The Hobbit. If I could buy my tickets right now, I would.

    • The only thing worse than having to write about the Oscars is bitching about them endlessly, so I try to avoid that. There’s a moment in the early seasons of Scrubs where Christa Miller tells Zach Braff that she neither likes him nor hates him, but rather “nothings” him, which more or less sums up my attitude toward the Oscars quite handily. There are more important things to get worked up over.

      Clooney not winning Best Actor is the only thing about the show that comes that close to really burning me, but I imagine that years from now people will still point to The Descendants as one of his best roles whereas I’m unsure how much this is going to do for Dujardin long-term in Hollywood. The interesting thing about The Artist is that it’s a silent film only in the most literal sense; as far as mimicking the rhythm, style, and technique of actual silent-era films, it doesn’t really come close. Maybe Hazanavicius wasn’t really shooting for authenticity, but I guess it takes a measure of guts to sell any kind of silent picture to America.

      Yeah, my brain is already in the theater for Brave and The Hobbit, waiting for the shows to start. All munching on popcorn.

  2. The surprises for me were Animated Feature, Cinematography, Film Editing, Make-Up, and Adapted Screenplay.

    I thought/hoped “Chico & Rita” would win for Animated Feature.
    I thought “Tree of Life” would get this as a compensation award.
    I was amazed “Girl…” won anything–not because of quality, but it does’t seem to be a type of movie the Academy goes for.
    Who knew that one really good make-up job on one actress could beat a whole film with great make-up.
    I was pulling for “Hugo”. I read the book, and the film is much better.

    • I expected Rango to win. Gore Verbinski deserves some pity Oscar love, and it really had no major competition. If Tintin had been nominated, then that would have been a different story, but this is what happens when Pixar has no legitimate offering in a release year.

      I was rooting for Hugo too, Victor. Really wanted it to win, but I knew in my heart it wouldn’t so I didn’t let my expectations shoot to great heights. I was thrilled to see Allen win; Midnight in Paris is wonderful and has a fantastic screenplay.

  3. More than anything, the Oscars are won due to politics. A lot of money is spent on ads in the trades trying to convince people to vote for the movies. There are stories of voting members turning their ballots over to their spouses or voting for a person due to their body of work rather than that specific performance (this applies to old people in particular). Steven Spielberg’s films largely have been considered too populist for awards, and his couple of wins almost seemed like they were done grudgingly by the Academy because if “Schindler’s List” didn’t win, there would be a community uproar. I’m surprised “Hugo” won as many awards it did, but it win the “big” categories because this wasn’t one of Scorsese’s “serious” films, since it was made for kids. “The Artist” was fresh and unique and truly artistic, so it doesn’t surprise me that it swept the major Oscars. It didn’t hurt that it was an independent film, yet was the only one filmed in its entirety in Hollywood.

    • Money and politics do have an enormous amount to do with the Oscars, I agree– and that probably helped The Artist immensely, given that Harvey Weinstein is the sort of guy who’s capable of selling binoculars to a blind man. If we’re admitting cash as a big driving factor in Oscar voting, then I don’t think that speaks in favor of The Artist‘s creative merits.

  4. I don’t think Clooney’s performance was more worthy than Dujardin. Why? Because he gets to have more dramatic scenes where he gets to make long, weepy monologues? Because Dujardin makes it look effortless while Clooney’s work seems like it’s about to give him a depression?

    This is the same kind of thinking that has prevented actor in comedic role from ever getting the type of credit they deserve.

    • Is George Valentin a comedic role? I see what you’re saying, so I’d be inclined to agree– but Matt King has a number of comedic beats, too. It’s not like he’s the one dying and hooked up to machines; he gets to be sad, angry, guileful, and even funny when Payne wants him to be. Either of them winning would put a crack in the “funny roles don’t win Oscars” mentality.

      And I also agree that Dujardin makes his work look effortless, but he’s also doing far, far less since he’s trying to recall a far less nuanced method of acting from an era that required the sort of hamming and mugging Peppy Miller denounces in her interview in the restaurant. Which is exactly what the movie calls for, so that’s not a knock against him per se.

      On that same token, Clooney feels equally natural in his own role, and The Descendants calls for a huge range of action and emotion and requires much more nuance, which is why I think his performance is superior.

      • If it looked effortless, it’s because it required no effort. Dujardin did nothing more than cock an eyebrow for a majority of his scenes. I don’t like directly comparing nominees against each other, but every other actor in that category did a better job.

        • Harsh! I quite liked what Dujardin did, but I can’t deny that in comparison to his competition, the role of George just looks less impressive.

  5. Something tells me that going with “A Constant Visual Feast” was the right choice. That other one’s just a bit too verbose. ;)

    I have yet to see The Artist, but I like that pull from it, and had I known those events, I might have been all the more certain of its victory(s). As it was, it was all-but-guaranteed to win Best Pic, so the only real big questions were Director and Best Actor.

    I was surprised at Streep’s win – it really seemed as though momentum (albeit a meaningless thing in a race that was determined months ago) was really going Davis’ way. Not quite a shocker, but a disappointment nonetheless.

    I was, of course, glad that Hugo took home as much gold as it did, but the order of awards handed out was starting to lull me into believing it had a chance at Best Pic. Alas…

    • Yeah, I think I made the right choice sticking with ACVF. Gets the idea across and it’s nice and punchy.

      Hope I didn’t spoil The Artist for you– I’m writing under the assumption that people have seen it, and while none of that’s all that revealing (the fall-from-grace thing is part of any synopsis, and the ending is sort of inevitable), I like keeping mystery intact for people when I can. But you’re right nonetheless, this was more or less “to be”, so to speak.

      I guess Streep’s win didn’t surprise me because it’s Streep doing something big and political and important. That also seems like a recipe for instant success.

      Trust me, I would have been thrilled to see Hugo win BP, too, but I’ll take the technical prizes for it any day of the week, even if it’s just as good for its thematic and narrative facets as it is for its technical accomplishments.

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