2010: An Oscar Commentary

In movie terms, 2009 is now completely behind us, and overall, I would call this year’s Oscar show delightful. Despite a disappointing, underwhelming hosting job by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, this show was a huge improvement over last year’s show. Part of the difference, perhaps, had to do with much more satisfactory results this year. You may recall that last year my mood soured early when WALL-E, the best film of the year, was spurned again and again in favor of vastly inferior fare. It didn’t help, though, that last year’s ceremony felt oddly bloated in all the wrong ways. They were trying new ideas, and most of them were flopping.

This year, I would say, the new ideas worked beautifully, again and again. They were hitting nearly everything dead-on, until things started to wear just a little bit thin at the end of the broadcast. The presenters were solid, the speeches were largely short and sweet, and best of all: The focus really felt like it was on the art of film and filmmaking. The few digressions, like a retrospective on John Hughes, and a montage about horror movies, were low-key and entertaining (unlike last year’s not-so-great montage of show tunes).

Now, let’s see how the nominees did once the dust settled. The Hurt Locker, of course, was the big winner of the night, taking home 6 awards out of 9 nominations. This makes it the 3rd most-awarded film of the decade (tied with Chicago, behind The Return of the King and Slumdog Millionaire), but looking at all of Oscar history, it only ties for 26th place with 9 other films (including Forrest Gump and The Godfather, Part II). Avatar, meanwhile, despite being the highest-grossing film in movie history, only won 3 of its 9 nominations, all in “aesthetic” categories.

Meanwhile, of the other Best Picture contenders, Precious and Up both won 2 awards, while Inglourious Basterds and The Blind Side got only a single win (out of 8 and 2 nominations, respectively). The other 4 films went home empty-handed, a particularly biting loss for Up in the Air, which had 6 nominations and seemed like a front-runner a few months ago. Of the other nominees, Crazy Heart won 2 of its 3 nominations, The Young Victoria won 1 of its 3 nominations, and Star Trek won 1 of its 2 nominations. Perhaps the extra Best Picture nominees are what make the awards feel more spread out than normal. I don’t think they actually are.

Now, to see how my predictions went. It looks like I actually called 13 out of 19 with my initial predictions, and then nudged my score up to 15 when I re-examined my picks yesterday. Last year I had only 8 right originally, but managed to bring it up to 14 before the ceremony began. It’s a slight improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. Ironically, a few of my changes this year actually would have won originally, but I second-guessed myself. Even though I gained ground overall, I could have gained even more with a little more confidence. Ah, well.

Full commentary continues below the fold.

Oscar advertising has been blaring for weeks with the claim that we’ve “never seen Oscar like this.” Well, in a few minutes, we’ll find out if that’s true. And, more importantly, if that’s a good thing. A strong opening musical number with Patrick Neil Harris leads to some uneven comic patter from Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. I think I’m ready for some awards.

Best Supporting Actor: Thank goodness they abandoned last year’s introduction format and went back to showing actual clips of the nominated performances. It was a nice idea, but this is much better. And the award goes to Christoph Waltz, as expected. It was a great performance from an actor most of us had never encountered, and I loved it. I’ve only seen 3 of the nominated performances, but this was definitely my pick.

Now, Ryan Reynolds is out to tell us about The Blind Side, by far the least deserving of the nominees. I could name . . . a lot of movies that should have gotten a nod before this one. I hope it at least got a few more people to tune into the Oscar broadcast, since that was obviously the intention here. I do like this idea of introducing and discussing the ten Best Picture nominees gradually over the course of the show.

Best Animated Film: Announced by Cameron Diaz and Steve Carrell. What a great idea, having the the animated stars of the nominated animated films pop in for interview portions about their films. Also, I still really need to see The Secret of Kells. And, of course, the award goes to Up. This is right, but it’s a shame that Fantastic Mr. Fox can’t win anything. It, too, was one of the best films of the year, but went virtually unrecognized here, confined to the animation ghetto.

Best Original Song: Announced by Amanda Seyfried and Miley Cyrus. I wasn’t sure about nixing the performances of the songs this year, but I like what they’ve done better, actually. As expected, “The Weary Kind” wins from Crazy Heart. I actually liked this song, and it was probably my favorite of the nominees (although I also really liked “Loin de Paname” from Paris 36). No surprises yet, but definitely a nice, streamlined show. I really love their new ideas so far.

Chris Pine is out to talk about District 9, which means a commercial break is on the way. I am reminded of what a cool movie this was. It doesn’t have the ghost of a shot at the award (which begs the question, “Why bother to nominate it?”), but I am immediately reminded of the answer: Because people should know about this movie, and go see it. I liked Avatar, but I hope this is the direction movie science fiction is going.

Best Original Screenplay: Robert Downey, Jr. and Tina Fey presenting. Great pair. This is becoming a pattern for Fey. She announced the same award last year, but it’s a good fit. And their pre-announcement bit was awesome. The award goes to The Hurt Locker, which is a good sign of things to come for that film. I would much rather have seen it go to the more deserving A Serious Man (which had no other nominations besides Best Picture, and will now go home empty-handed), Inglourious Basterds, or Up, but it’s an improvement over the past two years, which saw the award go to the worst writing rather than the best.

Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald are out now for . . . what? A tribute to the late John Hughes. Cool. I’m just going to sit here and enjoy this, okay? That was really nice, and really classy. Didn’t a lot of people die last year, though?

Samuel L. Jackson brings out Up, so I guess they’re getting the long-shots out of the way early. That’s okay in this case, since it’s a nice follow-up to that film’s win in the animation category. I saw Up three times last summer, but it’s been awhile. I think it’s time to see it again. Another instant classic from Pixar, and a reminder that I can’t see what the next decade brings from them.

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Saldana are here now to present the awards for the shorts. I haven’t seen any of the nominees, except for most of the animated shorts. I can’t remember these categories getting much attention last year, so this is pretty cool. I really like the way the focus has been on the films this year, and that they’ve kept things interesting.

-Best Animated Short goes to “Logorama,” the one nominee I haven’t seen. It looks pretty cool, though. I need to find a way to check it out.

-“Music by Prudence” wins Best Documentary Short. Wow, that was awkward. Was that a stage-crash? Moving on.

-“The New Tenants” gets Best Live-Action Short.

Best Makeup: Ben Stiller brings some hilarity to the stage, arriving in full Na’vi get-up. Wow, that’s . . . wow. That’s some funny stuff. And Star Trek is the winner. Yay! I really liked Star Trek, and although this was a great year for science fiction, it wasn’t great enough for a franchise movie to get into the major categories. Still, this is a cool win. And we get to hear some of that awesome score.

Jeff Bridges is talking about my favorite film of the year, A Serious Man, which seems to confirm my theory that the likely winners won’t be discussed until later in the show. I actually watched this movie again just night before last night, and loved it all over again. If you haven’t seen this yet, do yourself a favor and get your hands on it. Seriously.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Rachel McAdams and Jake Gyllenhaal are presenting. The award goes to Precious, which I can’t even pretend that I’m very happy about, though it would be silly to feign surprise. After all, this was the most visibly adapted of the nominees, and it can just make everyone feel good to give it the award. I would have given it to literally any of the other films before this one, especially In the Loop, which had probably the most brilliant dialogue I’ve heard from a film in recent memory. Of course, I understand that it was also largely improvised, so there’s that. Very touching speech from the winning writer, by the way. And . . . Steve Martin kills the moment. But that’s okay.

Queen Latifah announces the honorary awards for Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall (who is awesome).

Best Supporting Actress: Robin Williams is announcing the award, since Heath Ledger obviously can’t be here. Not sure what the logic is: Is it because Williams is a joker? (Too soon?) Mo’Nique wins, as expected. This is definitely not surprising, and she did give quite a performance. However, it was also an utterly repellent character in a very difficult film. I’d rather have seen Anna Kendrick win. Mo’Nique is making an absurd speech about how this shows that the award doesn’t have to be political. Which nominee would have been a political win, if not her? She sounds delusional.

Colin Firth brings out An Education, and I haven’t much to say about it. I would recommend that people see it, even though I felt the ending was totally dishonest. It won’t be winning any awards tonight.

Best Art-Direction: Sigourney Weaver is presenting, which is probably appropriate. It’s time for Avatar to win an award. And . . . yes. The award goes to Avatar. No arguments from me, that movie was freaking gorgeous. What a lousy, weird bunch of half-speeches. I can’t imagine using my Oscar moment to worship James Cameron, but whatever.

Best Costume Design: Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker are announcing this one. The award goes to The Young Victoria, which I think is what I expected. I can’t remember now. “I’d like to dedicate this Oscar to costumers who don’t make movies about dead monarchs or glittery musicals . . .” Awesome speech, and a little slap in the face for Oscar. With three awards under her belt, she can definitely afford it. Bravo.

Charlize Theron (odd choice) talks about Precious. As I have intimated already, I didn’t really care for Precious, although it was definitely a step ahead of The Blind Side (in that it is actually a well-made film). It was just an almost entirely unpleasant viewing experience, and I found it incredibly manipulative of the audiences’ emotions.

A tribute to horror movies? What? I guess it’s because horror movies never, ever win awards here. Cool bit of confluence here, though, since I am currently taking a class on horror film. Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart should not be out here introducing it, though. That sucks, and is stupid. Pardon me while I watch this montage. That was pretty sweet, but for the last time, Twilight is not a freaking horror movie.

Best Sound Editing and Best Sound: Presented by Anna Kendrick and Zac Efron, but narrated by . . . Morgan Freeman? Nice. The competition heats up between the two big nominees, as The Hurt Locker beats out Avatar for this award. That’s a good sign, or is it? I really thought that the technical awards would be a sweep for Avatar. Anyway, on the next . . . and The Hurt Locker gets it again. With 9 nominations apiece, the count now stands at The Hurt Locker with 3 wins and Avatar with 1.

Elizabeth Banks is giving us the quick run-down on the sci/tech awards. Which we don’t care about enough to hear anything, apparently.

John Travolta is playing up Inglourious Basterds for us, so now we’re down to the serious contenders. I think this will likely remain my favorite of that select group, and I’d like to see it take the big prize tonight. It is definitely the long-shot, dark horse, though (unless you count Up in the Air). The major awards are approaching fast . . .

Best Cinematography: Sandra Bullock emerges for this one. “These five nominees have done real good with the artsy part.”  Haha! Seriously, why Harry Potter? Oh, well . . . the prize goes to Avatar. I’m not surprised, but I’m not happy, either. I still say green-screen movies should not be getting this award.

A moment of silence (and a song by James Taylor?) for those who died last year.

Best Original Score: Jennifer Lopez and Sam Worthington are calling this one. I love this category, and they’re doing what looks to be a very cool dance montage for it. Awesome. I like this much better than seeing performances of the songs. Now it’s time for the announcement. The award goes to Up, which makes me very excited. I was afraid it would go to Avatar (though I would have been fine with Sherlock Holmes, because that was cool stuff). Really cool to see a win for Pixar, and a win for Michael Giacchino, whose music I have enjoyed a lot in the past. Great speech, too.

Best Visual Effects: Bradley Cooper and Gerard Butler are here to give the award to Avatar. Which they do. And more James Cameron worship from the podium. Geez, did he put this in their contracts? “If you win an award, you must talk about how awesome I am.” Enough already.

Jason Bateman, strangely, is presenting on Up in the Air. I don’t think any of the other nominees have been discussed by people directly connected with them. I really liked this movie, enough to see it twice, but the memory of it does not stay strong in the mind. I would enjoy seeing it again if the mood were right, but I don’t think it will age well.

Best Documentary: Matt Damon is presenting. I’ve only seen what I understand is the favorite contender: The Cove. It was quite impressive. And it wins, but I definitely saw some required viewing among the other nominees. It looks like this was a very strong category this year. I would definitely recommend The Cove, and I can’t wait to check out the rest of those nominees.

Best Editing: Tyler Perry: “They just said my name at the Oscars! I’d better enjoy it, because it’ll probably never happen again!” So true, Mr. Perry. So true. That was a great explanation of film editing, though. Very nice. This could be the award that predicts Best Picture . . . and the winner is: The Hurt Locker. Oh, boy.

Keanu Reeves is talking about The Hurt Locker, which is really a weird choice. Do they not want us to take it seriously? This was definitely my favorite film going into awards season, and although my enthusiasm towards it has cooled a bit, I would still be perfectly happy to see it emerge as tonight’s big winner (as it probably will); especially when the alternative is Avatar.

Best Foreign Film: Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino are presenting, which is cool. With 15 minutes to go, and the biggest awards still to be announced, there’s no way they’re bringing this in on time. Not that anyone thought they would. Anyway, I very much thought that The White Ribbon would win (not that I’ve seen any of them), but the award goes to El secreto de sus ojos. That speech was just way out of control, but the movie looks interesting.

Now, Kathy Bates (for some reason) is talking about Avatar. Very, very cool movie, but absolutely the wrong choice for Best Picture. Isn’t it? I guess this is the sort of thing that only time can tell, but my instinct now is that it is. It was a great spectacle, though, and I expect to experience it at least once more on the big screen before it leaves town.

Best Actor: The runtime just stretched out a good bit further. It looks like for both of the lead role categories, they’ve got both a montage of the performances, and the person-by-person tribute from last year. It’s still a good idea, but patience is running thin at this point in the night, and we just want to know who the winners are. The announcers are Michelle Pfeiffer, Vera Farmiga, Julianne Moore, Colin Farrell, and Tim Robbins. Kate Winslet presents the winner, who is: Jeff Bridges. He did give a truly amazing performance, and he is a tremendous actor. I loved Jeremy Renner’s performance, but Bridges was basically a lock. And he is hilarious behind the mic, if a bit long-winded. Correction: Very long-winded. Geez.

Best Actress: Announcers are Forest Whitaker, Michael Sheen, Oprah Winfrey, Stanley Tucci, and Peter Sarsgaard. Sean Penn is finally out to present the award (that was so long!). The winner, as expected, is Sandra Bullock. It’s hard to dislike her for it, but I really hated The Blind Side. It’s a testament to her performance, I guess, that I didn’t hate her character in it. She had it all sewn up, but Carey Mulligan should have won. Assuming that she’ll be nominated again (as I’m sure they have) is no excuse. Bullock gives the classiest speech of the night, though. I can’t be upset about that. Awesome.

Best Director: Barbara Streisand comes out to present, and makes no bones about what the stakes are in this particular race. I think we’re about to see major Oscar history made . . . and we have. Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) becomes the first woman to win an Oscar for directing. I don’t even know what to say, so I’ll just let it go as the night’s biggest moment arrives.

Best Picture: And, with very little fanfare, Tom Hanks announces that The Hurt Locker is indeed the big winner of the night with 6 wins. It’s a very respectable showing, an unsurprising outcome, and I’ll put this to bed with a sum-up in just a few minutes.

~ by Jared on March 7, 2010.

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