A Look at the Academy Awards

By Daniel Janaro
SC Staff Writer

The 84th Academy Awards ceremony on February 26th went over like a well rehearsed script. Film critic Roger Ebert called it a very “French Oscars,” as awards for Best Actor and Director went to two Frenchmen, and the two most nominated films, The Artist, and Hugo–the former produced by a French company and the latter filmed in Paris—took home the most awards of the night.

I say the ceremony felt well rehearsed because the films, actors, and directors picked by critics to win the nominations in their respective categories all took home golden statuettes. Even the categories that offered some chance for another nominee to win an award didn’t feel like an upset, the winners genuinely better than the other films or actors in their category.

Well, over the years the Academy Awards has followed the trends of its “sister” award ceremonies held earlier in the year, like the Golden Globe Awards in January. Never one to upset, the Academy once again lived up to expectations as movies and actors predicted to win the top awards of the night eventually prevailed.

Like I said, this practice has been closely followed by the Academy since the ceremonies inception. Go back to 1931 when Cimarron won the top honor, which has gone on to be widely criticized and labeled the worst winner in Academy history (followed closely by Chicago winning in 2002). Or go back 35 years ago when Rocky beat out Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President’s Men for the award. In a time when the country needed an uplifting message—and God knows the Academy is a sympathizer for a feel good movie—Rocky took preference over the other three movies that are far better and more deserving for pure craftsmanship.

Another upset came in 1980 when Ordinary People beat out Raging Bull. Raging Bull is considered one of the finest films produced and was picked as the best movie of that decade by the American Film Institute. But the Academy felt obligated to give the award to director Robert Redford, I think, for his close relationship with the Academy. And let’s not forget Citizen Kane losing to How Green was My Valley in 1941—yeah, that Citizen Kane.
I said in The Stroud Courier’s last edition, the Oscars ceremony is the Academy declaring its love affair with the movies. While I still believe this to be an accurate observation, I also believe the last few ceremonies have been an occasion for the voters of the Academy to gush over certain actors, directors, producers, and films, discarding the notion of truly choosing the best performance or the best picture of the year. The voters get caught up in the moment and only look at what is popular right now, neglecting to look at the overview of films and performances released throughout the entirety of the year.

When The Artist premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May of last year, it screened with generally positive reviews but was overshadowed by the more ambitious and more talked about The Tree of Life, which went on to win the prestigious Palme d’Or, Cannes’ version of Best Picture. But, somewhere along the lines, the Academy Awards fast approaching, The Artist was praised everywhere you turned.

So on a Sunday night two weeks ago, when the seal to a ballot representing Best Picture of the year was ripped open, it was no surprise to hear two words that have become familiar to moviegoers ears’ over the past few months: “And the winner is – The Artist.”
Let me clarify that in no way do I think The Artist is undeserving to win Best Picture. On the contrary, The Artist is one of the true delights of this season—funny, heartwarming, and uplifting. Plus, it’s black and white and silent.

Okay, I think those last two aspects are sort of a gimmick, and the Academy loves a gimmick, but I will get back to Best Picture later.

Best Director honor went to Michel Hazanavicius, director of The Artist, already predicted at the onset of the ceremony, of course. The Supporting Actor honor went to Christopher Plummer for his role in Beginners, and the Supporting Actress honor went to Octavia Spencer for her role in The Help. Critics predicted both supporting roles, and both actors deserved to win.

Best Actor was predicted to go to George Clooney for his marvelous work in The Descendants, but in what resulted in an upset of some sort I guess, the award went to Jean Dujardin for The Artist. It seems if George Clooney is nominated for Best Actor then don’t count on him to win, as he is always passed over for some reason or another. I guess all it takes to win Best Actor is playing a part that doesn’t require any memorization of lines? Alright, enough Artist bashing, but Dujardin did have a difficult task in trying to garner enough emotion and personality out of a speechless character, which he did a wonderful job doing.

The Best Actress honor went to the indelible Meryl Streep, one of the greatest actresses of our time. Streep’s uncanny ability to replicate accents and dialects is in full force as she portrays British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Streep was considered an upset over the heavily favored Viola Davis for her role in The Help. The strength of The Help comes in the form of its cast, and Davis’ role is particularly captivating in that it has enough power to carry the entire film. Streep’s performance, on the other hand, is no different or superior to any other film she’s been nominated for, and she’s been nominated plenty –a record 17 nominations with this being her third win—but, her performance was criticized by Thatcher’s children. However, when it comes to the Academy they love to show their favoritism.

My favorite award, Best Cinematography, should have been delivered to Emmanuel Lubezki for his extraordinary work on The Tree of Life. When watching the film, it doesn’t feel like you are looking at pictures on a screen. The images feel so real, so natural, that the viewer can reach his or her hand out and touch each grain of sand or splash in each river’s water. But, instead, the award went to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, a film that’s memorable scenes are composed mainly of computer graphic enhancements. I love Scorsese and all, but Hugo is not a Scorsese film.

And again this year, the Academy gave the Best Picture award to The Artist, beating out The Tree of Life—a film of greater maturity, ambition, and artistry (yes, more artistry than The Artist). Critics praised The Tree of Life earlier in the year, but the film left many audiences puzzled and was showered with both boos and cheers at Cannes, where it came out on top.

As this film year has winded down and another is ready to kick off, be weary of films that garner early recognition, as it seems that some other film released later on will generate buzz and pick up Best Picture honors.

Director Woody Allen, notoriously critical of the Academy, (while his movie Annie Hall was winning Best Picture in 1977, he chose to go onstage at Carnegie Hall and play clarinet in his band) said that awards are favoritism among the voters and “If a film wins, the voters are saying it’s their favorite movie, but the implication is it’s the best movie, and you just can’t make that judgment.”

Amen, Woody. Maybe, hopefully, the Academy will get it right this year.