Breakdown: 82nd Academy Awards

· Joanthan Poritsky

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The statues are all distributed, the corks are all popped, and now it is time to talk about the 82nd Academy Awards in the past tense. We’ll get to who won, but first off I’d like to talk about who lost: the viewing audience. This has to be one of the worst awards broadcasts in recent memory. Overlong and underwhelming, the only thing interesting in the show was actually finding out who won, which is weird because that often takes a backseat to the rest of the spectacle.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were charming, albeit neutered, hosts. They farmed the opening number out to Neil Patrick Harris, which was predictably fine, but it seemed like a complete redux of his bouts as Tony and Emmy host. On paper it sounds poignant, but in practice it felt stale. I long for the days when Billy Crystal would superimpose himself into the top nominated films. I can understand the new hosts wanting to move forward with an original spin, only this felt like a step backwards.

I’m not going to dissect the interpretive dance number, or “Oscars 2: Electric Boogaloo,” as I like to call it.

I always tune in for the interstitial montages. There were really only two this year besides the traditional “In Memoriam.” The first was a John Hughes tribute, which was accompanied by a flock of the kids he made icons gathered on stage. The montage itself was probably the best part of the evening, capturing the essence of Mr. Hughes’ momentous career. It didn’t, however, dig any deeper than that, which is a shame. Back when Errol Morris was making these things there was a sense of storytelling to the montages. Even further back, Chuck Workman used to raise these clip-ups to another artistic level completely. Ah, the good ol’ days. The other big montage was a celebration of horror films. This was not nearly as successful as the John Hughes piece. Whoever made it relied far to heavily on clips from The Shining to get them out of creative ruts. Nonetheless, it was a fairly decent primer on horror films, but I’m sure fanboys and fangirls out there will protest.

It turns out spending time showing us all ten Best Picture nominees wasn’t all that much of a time-suck. The real gouge-your-eyes out moment came later in the night, when the awards for Best Actor and Actress were given out. Each nominee was treated to a celebrity pal toasting their careers and performances. Considering actors, and really all nominees, are supposedly being graded on a specific performance and not the breadth of their careers, the mini-retrospective monologues came off more obnoxious than celebratory. And let’s face it, four of the nominees are going to lose, so let’s move things along and get to the meat.

As for that meat: it’s a strange world where Sandra Bullock wins an Oscar for a mediocre performance in an even more mediocre film. All I can imagine is that the rest of the actresses up for the honor split the vote so severely that the safest bet, the middle of the road one, got the most votes. Mo’Nique was completely deserving of the Best Supporting Actress honor. Her speech featured a nice shout out to Hattie McDaniel, and this time it made a lot more sense than when George Clooney invoked the actresses name in 2006. Jeff Bridges looked like the happiest kid in the room, and Christoph Waltz still scares me after Inglourious Basterds.

While some were a bit put off by Sandy Powell’s acceptance speech when she won for Best Costume Design for The Young Victoria, I thought it was one of the most refreshing moments of the evening. She praised the costume designers who make non-period pieces, essentially imploring the Academy to vote in their favor more often. This has long been a sticking point of mine: the more frill and lace a film has the better chance it has of winning costume design. Modern pieces require a careful hand as well, so she’s right; the Academy should rethink who they give this award to.

I had Quentin Tarantino pegged for Best Original Screenplay, mostly because I think Inglourious Basterds lives up to the award’s title so well. Mark Boal brought us The Hurt Locker so the award is certainly well-deserved, however I have a feeling it will be the kiss of death for him. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the next mind-blowing Boal penned script. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire is certainly an innovative adaptation, plus its written lineage is right there it it’s ridiculously long title. Congrats to Geoffrey Fletcher, on that note.

I’m skipping a lot, I know. They’re threatening to play me off…

Finally, we now live in a world where a woman has won an Oscar for Best Director. Fourth time’s a charm. This truly was a momentous occasion. Ms. Bigelow did a phenomenal job with a very difficult film. Unlike a multi-(hundred)-million dollar spectacle like Avatar or a coming of middle- age piece like Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker is a loose cannon. It could have gone horribly wrong in another’s hands. There is very little story to the film, no relatable antagonists, and the driving theme of modern masculinity trickles out instead of bombarding the audience. The only thing that could wrangle such an unstable project is the steady hand of a powerful director. It is a cinematic achievement and deserving of all the honors it racked up last night. Congratulations to all.

So there you have it: perhaps the worst Oscars in over a decade. They went for glitzy but they landed on chintzy. It was long, it was boring, but dammit, I’ll be back next year to tune in for another show, hoping against hope that the broadcast will return to its former glory.