If you didn’t know better, you might swear that last night’s broadcast of the Academy Awards was a repeat; some nostalgic soul must have broken into the control room and started airing clips from Oscars past. It’d be a pretty easy mistake to make.
With veteran Billy Crystal as host, awards going to Meryl Streep and Christopher Plummer, a slate of Best Picture nominees dominated by period pieces, an appearance by the Muppets, and near-constant mentions of Martin Scorsese, it seemed the 84th Annual Ceremony had undergone some bizarre time-warp.
Of course, the less-fanciful explanation is that Hollywood’s yearly exercise in self-congratulation became a downright orgy of narcissism. A very classy, largely tasteful, pleasant orgy, mind you.
The Awards and those in attendance seemed subdued and restrained. There were no “Bjork Goose” dresses to speak of, no glaring fashion faux pas or taboos broken. Fashion sites seem to think Jennifer Lopez’s neckline was too plunging, but her gown was almost tame compared to what she’s worn in the past. Angelina Jolie’s flash of thigh was titillating…until she did it for the umpteenth time…right before she presented an award. Jim Rash (best known as the Dean on TV’s Community) was receiving that award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants, and should have gotten another Oscar for mocking Jolie’s leg-baring pose.
That isn’t to say there wasn’t any new blood. Emma Stone was back in red hair and red dress, there to support The Help and present alongside Ben Stiller. Towering over Stiller both physically and in enthusiasm, Stone showed exactly why her star is rising so fast. Hell, it looked like she even learned her lines for the presentation. The Help’s Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress over Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids, who not only helped her co-stars present a couple of awards, but also tried to seduce Billy Crystal in a sketch midway through the show. French newcomer Jean Dujardin won Best Actor for The Artist over such Hollywood stalwarts as Clooney, Pitt, and Oldman…but even that managed to harken back to the overwhelming theme of nostalgia. Sacha Baron Cohen appeared in his “Dictator” get-up to promote his new film and even managed to cover E!’s Ryan Seacrest in ashes, but he was curiously absent from ABC’s event coverage, even though he appears in one of their “Why I Love the Movies” montages.
The big winners were The Artist and Hugo, both films that further glorified filmmaking’s gloried past. Hugo took five awards including Cinematography and Visual Effects, while The Artist also walked away with five, including The Big One: Best Picture. And this is not to say that these films were not deserving, they were. Hugo and The Artist both showed that good films can still be made without violence and cursing and gigantic explosions while still being entertaining and charming. But they are also both slavishly devoted to the past and tailor-made to woo the Academy.
The expanded field for the Best Picture nominees also seemed largely superfluous. It became clear even before the ceremony that The Artist, The Help, and Hugo were the only films with a realistic chance of winning, and then The Help was pretty much eliminated from contention when the other two films snatched up pretty much all the other awards they were up for. War Horse, The Tree of Life, Moneyball, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close got shut out entirely. The Tree of Life didn’t even win Best Cinematography, which is pretty much the only thing that pompous pile had going for it. So it is hard to understand why there should be more than five Best Picture nominees when four of the nine don’t stand a chance of winning.
But I was overall happy with the turnout. I was rooting for Jean Dujardin for Best Actor, because I don’t think The Artist would have been a contender without his lively, spirited performance. I was also pleased that Rango won Best Animated Feature because it was easily the most inventive nominee of the lot, and seems largely forgotten now. I did think Visual Effects should have gone to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, because it did have incredible effects, and was dependent upon those effects in a way the other nominees weren’t.
Billy Crystal did his usual, capable job of hosting. He was occasionally witty, usually cornball, and uniformly inoffensive. He must have seemed like a terrific palate cleanser for celebrities who didn’t take to well to Ricky Gervais’s aggressive Golden Globes hosting. But again, if it felt like you’d seen it all before, it’s because you had. And that may have been the strongest theme of all to the 84th Academy Awards.
You’ve seen this all before.