Dilettante's Diary

Academy Awards Show 2012

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We figure this extravaganza deserves a page of its own!

Academy Awards Show 2012 (TV)

You might think that a high-brow site like Dilettante’s Diary would disdain anything as crass as the Oscars ceremony. But you’d be wrong. We all need some superficial glamour in our lives. And where are you going to get it if you don’t take any interest in pop stars and sports heroes? Nobody invited us to the recent installation of the new cardinals at the Vatican, and opera singers don’t have these extravagant celebrations of themselves. So it’s up to the Academy Awards show to provide our annual dose of junk entertainment.

It also gives us a chance to find out how our new digital television works. Luckily, we find that there’s a little button that turns off the sound. I think it’s called the "mute". This means that we can read newspapers during the commercials. Given that the commercials drive us away from ordinary tv, this little button makes for a relatively painless evening of watching. Especially since the producers of the Oscars show provided a bit of black screen at the end of every batch of commercials, before returning to the ceremony. That black screen, caught in the corner of our eye, gave us the signal to turn the sound back on.

In fact, the evening passed so smoothly that I surprised myself by staying up for the whole show. That had not been the original plan. Surely my unexpected endurance shows that the show moved along very well. One of the main reasons for that would be the elimination of the performances of the nominated songs. For me, that was always the deadliest aspect of the show. Without those songs, there were no desperate lulls. The speeches were admirably short and to the point, for the most part. (In future, though, producers should veto references to "Mom" and to growing up as a little kid in love with the movies.) The one major performance piece, a very elaborate and impressive acrobatic number by a huge team from Cirque de Soleil, was said to be all about the joy of experiencing the movies. (I must remember that the next time I find myself in a movie theatre that’s suitable for doing handstands and swinging on wires from the ceiling.)

Exciting as that demonstration may have been, the show as a whole was, although efficient, sadly dull. Some of that had to do with the setting. The theatre, with all that red velvet and gilt adornment, looks like one of the grand old opera houses of old. That lends a somewhat stilted air to the proceedings. It doesn’t look like a tv event. More like an evening of vaudeville. It seems to me that, in the past, we had some settings that were more space-age, more in keeping with a tv happening. And speaking of vaudeville, Billy Crystal’s comedy as host seldom struck a really funny note. It didn’t help that he kept stepping out of the role, as it were, to comment on his own material. One of the few of his lines that had any kick to it was the one about going to the movies to escape everything and do your texting. The only biting comedy came from Chris Rock’s in-your-face satire about the "difficulty" of voicing animated movies for outrageously high pay.

In an odd sort of way, one of the most significant moments in the show may have been Woody Allen’s not showing up to pick up his award for best original screenplay. He hadn’t even sent anybody to accept on his behalf. Angelina Jolie, the presenter, simply stated in a perfunctory way that the Academy would accept the award for him. It was as though he’d sent a message along the lines: you guys think this is all such big stuff but it really ain’t, you know; I got more important things going on right now. You wondered whether a guy like Woody Allen, who probably knows as much about movies as anybody, was saying that the whole Academy Awards thing is so yesterday.

A snub like that, if that’s what it was, made a striking contrast with his surprise appearance some years ago when he joked about his trouble getting through security at the door. (I think it was the first show after the 9/11 attacks.) Any such spontaneity or surprise was totally absent this year. The opening montage with Billy Crystal inserted into some of the nominated movies? Seen that sort of thing before. It was interesting, though, to have the spotlight briefly on a man who was said to have been one of the "seat fillers" for several years. Or was he? From Billy Crystal’s follow-up comment, it was hard to tell. Maybe the man was a bit player hired for the part. Would that explain the dorky baby-blue jacket?

The scripted "skits", if they can be called that, were uniformly terrible. It would be hard to say which were the worst but a few contenders stand out in my mind. One would be Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis rising from the orchestra pit, clad in white uniforms and solemnly clanging cymbals. This looked like the kind of shtick that directors of variety shows for community theatres used to assign to goofballs who thought they were funny but weren’t. When Gwyneth Paltrow was supposed to be objecting to Robert Downey Jr’s making a documentary about himself, it looked like an exercise to see if both of them could keep a straight face through such ghastly material. Much the same effect when Ben Stiller was supposed to be appalled at Emma Stone’s egotistical display.

The sketch featuring a focus group on The Wizard of Oz presented a special problem. The well-known comedy troupe consisting of Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest and Fred Willard (with the addition of Bob Balaban) has never looked so bad. And yet, the premise of the sketch must have seemed like a good idea: get some viewers of the yet-to-be-released movie to attack all the things that have become so beloved about it as a classic, thereby showing the futility of such focus sessions. Once you got that idea, though, there was nowhere for the skit to go. The point just kept getting more and more obvious. Also, a note to script writers: no matter how clever the concept of your skit and the talent of your performers, it might not make for very lively comedy to have people sitting in rows, facing the camera and spouting their lines.

To jump from the worst to the best aspect of the show – the brief film clips of various actors giving us their personal take on the movies were effective and worthwhile. Almost everything that each of them said, in their casual, impromptu way, was heartfelt and interesting. One of the best acceptance speeches would be the one where the two editors, stumbling over each other and not sure what to say, decided to "edit ourselves" and got off the stage. Certainly Octavia Spencer was one of the most emotional in her acceptance of the Oscar for best actress in a supporting role; you couldn’t help but be moved by her flustered, teary attempt to say something coherent. Christopher Plummer did his fellow Canadians proud with his elegant acceptance speech. He had one of the best lines of the night – one that had special resonance, given that he got his Oscar for playing a gay man – when he noted that the statuette was only two years older than he (84 years to 82 years) and asked: "Where have you been all my life?"

There’s no doubt, though, that it was Meryl Streep who hit the high point of the night in her acceptance of the Oscar for best actress in a leading role – clearly a popular choice with her peers. To begin with, she looked shocked and stunned when her win was announced, almost to the point of going pale. That could have been acting, I don’t know, Ms. Streep’s certainly capable of it, but it looked genuine to me. Then she made a beautiful gesture by starting off with thanks to her husband. She did this, she explained, so that the spousal thanks wouldn’t be cut off, as it often is, by the music at the end of a winner’s speech. It was noble of her then to thank the makeup artist who has worked with her on all her films (and whose work was so crucial to her success in her winning performance this year as Margaret Thatcher). Finally, she summed things up with almost more benevolence and magnanimity than anybody could have hoped for. Although it’s great to win awards (this being her third Oscar), she said, the best thing about her "inexplicably wonderful career" has been having so many friends, new and old. As she beamed fondly at them from the stage, you really did feel that there were some good people doing good things in the movie biz.

The Awards

As you know, we don’t attribute much importance to the actual awarding of the Oscars. The wins don’t mean anything to us for the simple reason that they don’t jibe with our opinions. (That’s also why we don’t bother to make predictions of the awards.) In general, though, we don’t have any problem with any of the choices this year, except that we felt The Artist was vastly over-rated in every respect. In an effort to be broad-minded, however, we’re willing to accept that the electors chose it because they genuinely liked it best and not because they wanted to congratulate themselves on their sophistication in choosing something different and unusual.

For reviews of many of the nominated movies and performances, you can check the Dilettante’s Diary pages listed below:

Monsieur Lazhar Feb 26/12

A Separation Feb 11/12

The Iron Lady Jan 23/12

The Artist Jan 15/12

The Ides of March Jan 15/12

The Descendants Dec 20/11

My Week With Marilyn Dec 12/11

Midnight In Paris Oct 22/11

Beginners June 25/11

The Tree of Life June 20/11

Bridesmaids June 2/11

Jane Eyre April 11/11

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com