The Oscars! After the mushrooming number of award shows that now precede this annual bash, one wonders whether they still provide any excitement or relevance. Well, I remain a sucker for the annual show although as returned host Billy Crystal quipped: In this time of economic downturn, is there anything more comforting than watching a bunch of millionaires present each other with little gold statues? Good point, Billy, and one of the better pieces of shtick in your routine, which despite its occasional excess was an improvement on certain other efforts of recent years. (Hang your head in shame, James Franco).
As usual I have not yet seen many of the contesting movies and performances, although I have indeed seen the three that most mattered on the night: "The Artist", "Hugo", and "Midnight in Paris". I have however seen enough clips and read enough reviews of most of the remaining features to be secure in my own opinions on the films in general. Let me say up front that I agree 100% with the awards doled out. Kate Muir, the recently appointed Times main film critic (who is a fine writer but regrettably a little ignorant when it comes to film history) probably thought she was echoing the zeitgeist when she reported that it is no wonder that movies celebrating cinema history won the main awards, since the majority of the Academy voters are white males over 60. True as this may be in principle, the films that won big were the ones that deserved to win and her argument is little more than a slightly worn cliche.
I am delighted that Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" took home its five Oscars, since it is undoubtedly one of the most charming films I have seen in ages. I wouldn't necessarily predict a looming stateside career for either the director or its star Jean Dujardin, but it is fine with me that their brilliant work has received the recognition it deserves. I would have been happy to see Berenice Bejo take home the best supporting actress award but I can understand the prevailing political correctness in recognizing the black actress Octavia Spencer for what I understand was a riveting performance; I am only glad that this same attitude did not prevent Meryl Streep from receiving her richly deserved third Oscar. Similarly, honouring the 82-year old Christopher Plummer for best supporting actor was a long overdue acknowledgement of his talent (and he gave, I thought, the most heartfelt and appropriate thank-you speech).
As for the five 'technical' awards won by "Hugo", these were all spot-on as I found the movie one of the most thrilling visual experiences of recent years. In another year Scorsese and his right-hand editor Thelma Schoonmaker might have reaped even more honours were "The Artist" not providing such stiff competition. Schoonmaker lost out to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" which indeed was awash with some of the flashiest editing of the film year. Good old Woody Allen won the award for best original screenplay (probably deservedly beating the largely silent "The Artist") and it was indeed a clever and amusing conceit. Again Ms. Muir gets the wrong end of the stick by writing that anyone who has actually lived in Paris -- as she has -- would dismiss his film as a touristy hotchpotch; bah!!!
I was pleased to see the more-for-adults-than-kids "Rango" take the best animation Oscar, although personal prejudices prevented my warming to its super-scaly creatures. I have yet to catch up with the short animations or the short and full-length documentaries, so I have nothing to add here.
As for the rest of the show Cirque Soleil provided an energetic mid-evening entertainment, making a change from listening to the nominated best songs -- more of a problem this year since only two were nominated. What does this say about the general state of things? I thought that much of the double-presenter introductions should have dropped their comic (and very unfunny) bits of business like Robert Downey Jr. pretending that he was shooting a documentary, Jay-Lo and Cameron D. showing off their backsides, Emma Stone striving to 'make a mark' in her first presenting gig, and Will Ferrell and Zach G. dressed as bandsmen, banging and dropping huge cymbals as they announced the music awards. What's wrong with just getting on with it?
Finally in response to the Twitter hoo-hah now going on about Angelina Jolie's leg, let me just finish by saying that there is nothing wrong with an unbronzed shapely white leg, but the rest of her body looked hideously unhealthy as if she was one of the starving orphans she befriends.