I am just going to give it to you straight, no BS, no chaser, and no excuses. It wasn’t so relatively straight forward as I thought, choosing the Oscar winners. In some cases I missed by a landslide in others I was pleasantly surprised, and some I knew I could not miss. I was surprised that The King’s Speech won both Best Picture and Best Director, though it may have more to do with the fact that I was entirely besotted with Black Swan. In a small way this is exactly why the big awards shows continue to draw us in, isn’t it? If we could pick the winners out of a deck of flying cards what would be the point, side from picking the best dressed, worst dressed, and not dressed at all? Sure, like any production of this magnitude, there were problems, little hiccups as it were, but overall I was rather impressed with the 83rd Academy Awards show. Did I pick all the winners? No. Did I guess close?
I concede to The King’s Speech but in all honesty, I’m not sure many thought it was going to take home four Oscars, let alone Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. I think it was an obvious choice for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, and while I can now see how apropos that it won Best Picture, I’m still surprised that Tom Hooper won for Best Director. It’s not that I don’t think Mr. Hooper is a magician, only that he has some pretty stiff competition – some of the biggest and brightest working in the business. Yet at every turn, this small film with the loud voice managed to tap into some collective need in the world for a little uplifting, rather a chance to believe in the power of the will over great tumult and seriousness. I’m not dismissing the film as a matter of happenstance but it goes without saying that some films cross all boundaries, heal many wounds, and somehow find a path through the mire for reasons seemingly unknown. We’re glad when they do, better for it, and gems like this are exalted for good reason.
It is a bit easier to review the winners after the fact, to look at your list, compare and consider, see how you went wrong or went right. I’m not sure how I misjudged Christian Bale and Melissa Leo for The Fighter. I think like many people, I was trying to come up with some recipe for my choices, some mathematic equation or strategy for a serious game of Connect Four. However, somewhere in the process, in the figuring out you do when you think you might find the answer if you spend a lot of time looking for it, I got caught up with the choices instead of weighing each film and each category separately. That being said, I still would have liked to see Hailee Steinfeld win for True Grit and while I admire Geoffrey Rush for innumerable performances, I can see how Christian Bale took home the Oscar. Bale has been ‘in-method’ for so long now I can’t remember the last time I saw him with normal weight on his bones. I’ll say this for him, most people have long forgotten about his tirade on the set of the last Terminator film. I know I have.
I don’t think anyone missed the correct answer for Best Actress. Natalie Portman earned her award and accepted it with grace and genuine humility – you can’t fake it when it counts, not even actors can do that. Portman attacked this role and she has the battle scars to prove it. She didn’t rely on gimmickry or special effects chicanery, no convoluted plots or aggravated consternation – Listening to her recount her training, the lessons, the dedication. This was a battle she fought for because at this stage of the game winning the Oscar is more than showing up and looking good, it is more than brooding, well delivered and meaningful expressions. When it comes down to the wire, the actor is out there all by him or herself and at the end of the day the performance needs no voice to express itself or advocate to make it known. The performance breathes and the performer feels the inhalation and the exhalation. The performer feels the bruises and the bandages, evidence proof that you cannot manufacture that which comes from within. That is how you win Best Actress or Best Actor.
If you haven’t read my review of Ben Affleck’s The Town you should and not just because I said so or because I authored it. It is a shame there wasn’t some way of sending Jeremy Renner home with some gold and deservedly so. But there is wealth in knowing that he’s really only just beginning his career and like Hailee Steinfeld, this is not going to be their last award and we have many, many films to look forward to seeing them in. Renner was amazing in The Town, a movie that was passed over during awards season but is an incredible step forward for director Affleck who proves that he’s no one show pony either.
I don’t think there was any guessing who was going to win for best adapted screenplay given that Aaron Sorkin was in the running and ultimately delivered the Fincherian film, The Social Network. Widely successful and broadly praised, the film seemed a front-runner for the awards season until it faced off against stiff competition and ultimately lost out at the Oscars. Essentially The Social Network is a concept film – the founding and the founder of Facebook. While Fincher made the film into the success it became, the trouble with concept films is that they more on the idea or ideas than on character. At the end of the day we connect with characters, with people like us or people we want to be like, not with ideas. Similarly, Inception and Winter’s Bone, though the later is less so, suffer by spending too much time pursuing or developing the idea, the thing, rather than revealing, developing, and transforming character. The best films achieve both character and story, though as simple as this seems few big idea films get it right.
I see the error of my ways in missing Best Art Direction (Inception), Best Cinematography (Inception), and Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing (Inception) as clearly this film was a feast for the eyes, ears, and senses. I think these awards clearly acknowledge the impressive cinematic accouterments of film while simultaneously commenting on what I’ve been saying since I screened Inception at the theater – where it exceeds at sensory detail in lacks in almost every other conceivable way, from thin characters to a cluttered, if not clumsy narrative so convoluted and contrived as to lose all presence of audience. Like a caffeine buzz or sugar rush the crash is inevitable. Inception feels like vertigo – a whirling, spinning movement where there is a feeling of motion when one is stationary, where there is a sense of complexity when none is truly present. I concede to these accolades and confess my distaste for Inception prevented me from appreciating it in this way.
I must say I was fairly confident in my choice for Best Costume Design (Alice In Wonderland), Best Original Song (We Belong Together – Toy Story 3), Best Original Score (The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), Best Documentary (Inside Job), and Best Film Editing (The Social Network). Alice In Wonderland was beautiful realized, an inventive and fun frolic with otherwise familiar characters and a story that has seen its fair share of adaptations. Randy Newman was a hoot when he received his award, noting that he has been nominated 20 times and only won twice – with a little crooked finger and a wink to the Academy. His song was not only perfect for the film but it spoke across ages and delivered a poignant, reflective ode to a beautiful story and the closure of a franchise. I don’t think The Social Network had much competition in the category of Best Film Editing any more than I thought Reznor and Ross’s score did. Both categories were exemplified by the film.
Of particular note and a nice segue towards my final thoughts on the Academy Awards, was the winner for Best Short Film, God Of Love by Luke Matheny. His exuberant, heartfelt speech was inspiring and important. He was obviously overwhelmed but he took a moment to remind us that his work stood with the impressive work of others and while he took home the award there should be something said of all the contenders. Award shows regale us with pageantry and spectacle, they praise some while encouraging others. Sometimes we guess the right answer or make the right choice and occasionally, perhaps more frequently than we admit, it is good to see the winners and acknowledge the runners-up in the collective ethos of filmmaking.