Off the Carpet: AMPAS hits reset

Posted by · 9:49 am · February 27th, 2012

So, the Oscars happened.

There were two legitimate surprises at last night’s finale to the 2011-2012 film awards season. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” became just the 15th (I believe) film to win Best Film Editing without receiving a Best Picture nomination. The last was :The Bourne Ultimatum” in 2007, then “Black Hawk Down” in 2001. And the last film to win ONLY Best Film Editing was “Bullitt” in 1968. And Meryl Streep finally nabbed that third Oscar her fans and supporters have demanded for her with increasing intensity over the last few years.

Someone on Twitter said they thought Streep’s win over Viola Davis will not age well. I don’t know what we’ll think of it in the future, but I do know Streep and Davis are friends who would hate to know there are discussions and column inches being dedicated to this competition.

Still, all I can think is, “How unfortunate.” The snub — after such a long season of kudos for Davis — rings a particularly nasty note for some reason. The final push for Streep touted that “it’s time” stuff, like her third was more important than Close’s first, or Mara’s, or Williams’s or, certainly, Davis’s. But I guess it was. To say nothing of how dissing another leading actress of color just feels strange a week after the Los Angeles Times put numbers to what we already know: the Academy is old and white.

I won’t labor the point. It just strikes me as, again, unfortunate.

“The Artist” ultimately had the night it had hoped for with wins for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. But early on, nerves must have been fried. “Hugo” came out of the gate to win two awards and then ran through a few more, nailing down Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. That’s as many as “The Aviator” racked up, more than “The Departed” and more than “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” combined. Pretty impressive, and until “The Artist” grabbed Best Original Score, it seemed potentially indicative of a drastically different direction.

But you know the winners. You watched the show. The question is, what does it all mean?

I don’t know if I’m off on my own planet here (quite possible), but everything felt like a great reset for the Academy last night. Everything was about nostalgia, the unofficial theme of the year as it was. The Hollywood & Highland Theatre was decked out like a classic movie palace. The little talking head featurettes in and out of commercial beaks were a great study in introspection, “why we like the movies,” the most sterile of considerations.

When Brett Ratner embarrassed the Academy, they retreated. They went to Billy Crystal, who partied like it was 1999: the opening sketch putting the host in a number of the year’s films, the musical number that could have been written in Bruce Villanch’s sleep (he wasn’t on the staff this year), the safest of roads, all the stuff we’ve seen before. They went to Brian Grazer, who tapped Cirque du Soleil for a bit of added pizazz that fed right into the theme, an easy get since “Iris” was already set up in the theatre.

In the voting, the Academy had it both ways. They gave 10 Oscars to the top two nomination hogs and didn’t feel adventurous anywhere other than the above-mentioned Best Film Editing, which seemed a way of reaching out to what was likely the #10 film in the Best Picture field. Nothing for “The Tree of Life” (even a cinematography award that seemed preordained), nothing for genre (even a visual effects award for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” that seemed preordained), nothing for the best studio film of the lot, “Moneyball.” No coloring outside the lines.

And speaking of color, well, I already talked about Streep.

I was happy to see Robert Richardson win his third Oscar, even if I felt his colleague Emmanuel Lubezki more deserving. Three Oscars for Richardson and no ASC wins. Two ASC wins for Lubezki and no Oscars. Interesting, that.

I was happy to see Octavia Spencer get that reaction, even if I preferred Jessica Chastain in the field. Hers was a lovely speech, a true moment of humbled appreciation, an air she’s carried so organically all season.

I was happy for the filmmakers behind the incredibly moving “Undefeated,” even if I’d have preferred seeing Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky take the stage and accept an honor for getting a man off of death row.

I was really happy to see Christopher Plummer with an Oscar in his hand, offering the night’s best line. “You’re just two years older than me, darling,” he said to his prize. “Where have you been all my life?” He became the oldest winner of the award to date.

And I was extremely happy for Asghar Farhadi, whose “A Separation” was the best film to win an award last night and managed, despite fears that thinner fare might prevail, to charm the foreign film voters enough to claim its due.

But despite it all, and I mean this, I’m happiest for Harvey Weinstein, even if his film’s dominance this season has chafed considerably. His films netted awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Documentary Feature. He is, most definitely, back, and no one can say he didn’t work hard to get there again.

Nevertheless, nothing about the season, even the supposedly “radical” notion of a (near-)silent film winning a Best Picture prize in 2011 (as if the Academy doesn’t trade in novelties), feels like it will be at all memorable. The best films were left on the season’s cutting room floor, if you will. “Margaret,” “Rampart,” “Shame,” “Take Shelter,” those are the takeaways for me, not the froth AMPAS whisked off the top of the 2011 latte.

A final note on predictions, which I noted yesterday. I scored 19/24, which is a typical range. For a while there it was looking a lot better, though. But it was good enough.

And that was the 84th annual Academy Awards. In six months, the Venice and Telluride film festivals will be flinging us toward the 85th. What will we be talking about this time next year?

Will it be John Hawkes’s turn for “The Surrogate” as he goes head-to-head with his “Lincoln” co-star Daniel Day-Lewis? Will Paul Thomas Anderson be back at the dance in a big way with “The Master” (and Harvey in his sails)? Will genre find a foothold via “The Dark Knight Rises” or “Gravity” or “Prometheus?” Will Malick be back? Will Spielberg? Will Streep?

Let’s not go there just yet, shall we? We just put this one to bed.

More later today as Guy, Gerard and Roth chime in with their thoughts, and Anne and I finally kiss the season goodbye with the final 2011-2012 edition of Oscar Talk.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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