Cynicism seems to be the prevailing theme among Oscar commentators the morning after the big event. The awards went to the wrong people, the ceremony was stale, Billy Crystal was too old and out of touch, etc. Yawn. What seems old and staid to me is this Monday morning bitching, the tropes of which haven’t changed since Crystal last donned tails and took the stage.
Overall I enjoyed the 84th Academy Awards show. I don’t begrudge Crystal for rehashing old bits, though I wish he could have breathed new life into some of them. The opening montage was able to eek out a few inspired edits (Moneyball’s baseball scouts as “young” writers), however it would have benefitted from a through-line plot better than “Should I host again?” Never mind that Crystal landed the gig on a technicality thanks to Brett Ratner’s big mouth, a fact never mentioned or mocked.1
The real crime of the show wasn’t creative, but technical. If anyone’s ears need rapping this morning it’s the sound crew. All night there was feedback from the microphones onstage, an annoying, echoed pitch that could be heard below everything. The stage mic even picked up Natalie Portman’s (admittedly misplaced) applauding fits as she presented the award for Best Actor. Worse, the sound was so horribly mixed that whenever there was music and speech at the same time, such as during Crystal’s medley or when the announcer shared facts about winners, dialogue was nearly inaudible. This is inexcusable. People can argue whether or not the show had any chops, but if you can’t hear the damn thing it doesn’t make a difference.
Part of what makes Billy Crystal such a great emcee is his ability to softly mock his targets, a fact that annoys his critics. They’d prefer he was edgier, but there is an art to what he does. Who else, for example, could have thrown so many potshots at Kodak without seeming like a jackass? Ricky Gervais has a similar talent for churlishness, but I couldn’t see him welcoming folks to the “Chapter 11 Theater” and getting a laugh.
As to the actual awards, I have no complaints. The critical community seems to have turned on The Artist as its reputation grew over these last few months, a phenomenon I’ll never understand. I keep hearing these excuses that it’s the easy choice; words like frothy and fluffy are being tossed about. Critics tend to concede that it’s good but only just so, an argument I can’t wrap my head around given how much crap is playing at theaters. Michel Hazanavicius is a master of cinematic impersonation, reviving styles of old with an impeccable attention to detail.2 The Artist is not a perfect film but it does what it does extremely well, and the world deserves more films from Michel Hazanavicius. You can bet we’ll get them now.
Hugo, the film which took home the second most awards, was my top pick of 2011. I am happy that such a richly nuanced film took home so many technical awards. The reason it topped my list last year is because it is the kind of film that moves us forward as a community, with Scorsese teaching us how to use the newest technologies in tandem with cinema’s oldest conventions. The major gamble that was Hugo (Scorsese? Kids? 3-D?) paid off in spades for the creative people who worked so hard to bring the vision of the film to life. Very well deserved.
All told, this year’s show was solid and reliable. The Academy’s attempts to skew the show younger have been half-assed failures in the past, not only because of their host choices but because of how frightened they are to break with tradition. Maybe they’ll get it right next year3, but in the meantime, I was only too happy to see Billy Crystal keep the stage warm.
Imagine the laugh if, in the opening sequence, Eddie Murphy made an appearance.↩
If you argue that The Artist uses styles from the 1940s and 1950s even though it takes place in the 1930s, you deserve a kick in the head.↩
If I had to pick a host, I’d lean towards Conan O’Brien. Not only does he have a decent track record with the Emmys, but he also has an undeniable respect for the medium of television and a reputation for turning the glitz and glam of Hollywood on its head.↩