Todd McCarthy on why Spielberg deserved to lose, how the wrong doc won and the night's pervasive lack of class.
Since producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron banned the evidently stuffy "85th Annual Academy Awards" phrasing from Sunday's broadcast, that's the only name I'm going to use for the poorly managed affair that passed for Hollywood's biggest night. If this is supposed to be the entertainment capital of the world, how is it that most of the presenters seemed as though they had read through their routines no more than once, that Melissa McCarthy achieved the impossible by failing to elicit a single laugh and that the gathered co-stars of The Avengers showed so little rapport they looked as though they'd never met before?
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Yes, the ratings were up, but that means as much as saying that a movie is good just because it made money; a strong young following for host Seth MacFarlane, tight competition among popular top-tier films and the relative obscurity of last year's big winner, The Artist, made the uptick almost inevitable. I've always gotten a kick out of MacFarlane's equal-opportunity offensive humor and like Family Guy and Ted a lot, but last night he was like an all-star who struck out a lot and batted .167 in his first World Series; notice how, during the second half of the show, he did virtually nothing but routinely introduce the next presenters. And from now on, I will like him less because of his John Wilkes Booth joke, which someone should have nixed ahead of time.
Everyone's jumped on the producers for saluting themselves with the Chicago tribute, with very good reason; except for the two James Bond numbers from Shirley Bassey and Adele, the musical interludes were useless, a reminder of the Academy Awards' bad old days. The visual monkeying with the Bond montage was poor and the much-ballyhooed gathering of all six Bond actors didn't happen, allegedly because of Sean Connery's distaste for Broccoli; announcing that the orchestra for the show was actually in the Capitol Records building rather than at the Dolby Theatre had everyone wondering why and an overall lack of class was pervasive; perhaps only Daniel Day-Lewis, in his acceptance speech, caught the way such an affair can and sometimes does combine the amusingly irreverent and the genuinely sincere.
The show also seemed very badly handled directorially, in that we almost never seemed to be seeing audience members we should have been seeing at the right moments. My impression was that there were far fewer shots than usual not only of nominees but of others in the crowd. The camera once lingered for no reason on Harvey Weinstein. Another showed Salma Hayek applauding apathetically. The only good cutaway of the entire evening, which was easily planned due to song lyrics, came when the gay men's chorus sang that -- unlike a laundry list of other female stars -- Jennifer Lawrence had never shown her boobs, whereupon we saw her pump her fist with satisfaction. But then, when her happiness continued with her best actress win, she unaccountably managed not to thank her Silver Linings Playbook director, David O. Russell. Still, she's supposed to make a couple of more films with him before long, so maybe she'll get another chance.
As almost entirely unsatisfying as the show was, the actual awards, in such a heavily contested year, were pleasingly unpredictable, at least in part: The film that finished the evening with the most statuettes, Life of Pi, didn't win best picture; that film's director, Ang Lee now joins Frank Borzage, John Ford and George Stevens as winners of multiple directing awards for films that did not win best picture; Day-Lewis became the first to win best actor three times; cinematographer Roger Deakins unfortunately moves further up the list of great talents with the most nominations and no wins; a director (Brenda Chapman) who was fired from a film (Brave) won an Academy Award for it; and the first lady presented the top award of the evening -- a potential tradition (perhaps inspired by Bill Clinton's surprise visit to the Golden Globes) that I personally would prefer to see nipped in the bud.
When I wrote about Argo after its first screening at the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day weekend, I predicted that its flattering depiction of Hollywood characters as good guys in the fight against Iranian revolutionaries would sit very well with people who matter at year's end, so its ultimate emergence against more than respectable competition came as no surprise.
If we ever got a look at the balloting, I'd guess the closest race was for best director, a category thrown into perhaps unprecedented disarray due to the absence of Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Quentin Tarantino as directors of best picture nominees. I suspected Lee would win, however, on the basis of the unique challenge he faced in telling the unusual story of Life of Pi; the odds were against it, but he pulled it off. Many predicted the honor would go to Steven Spielberg for having finally succeeded with his long-delayed Lincoln, but I had to subtract some points from him simply on the basis of that film's semi-embarrassing opening scene and for his not having had the judgment to end the film when Lincoln walked out of his office to go to the theater; we know what happened then. My greatest personal disappointment was that a perfectly fine feel-good documentary (Searching for Sugar Man) beat out a superb heavyweight contender (The Gatekeepers).
And for a final note on fashion, since when did Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series set the bar for men's hairstyles? Long, flowing white locks seemed virtually de rigueur for below-the-line winners this year.