Hey, it's that thing that won all the things!
Hey, it's that thing that won all the things!
The end of any Oscar season also marks the end of all of that season’s narratives, and when those wrap-ups are unexpected, you retrace your steps and try to figure out which signals you missed. In this case, there’s not a lot of retracing to do, since even the surprises of Oscar night didn’t feel especially surprising. (For those of you who kept score, I went a mediocre 14-for-24 in my predictions — but of the 10 awards I got wrong, eight went to movies I said would be the runners-up in two-way races.) The biggest of the official “upsets” was in Best Actress, where the complicated narrative of Viola Davis and the history of African American Oscar contenders and the opportunities they do and do not receive proved to be no match for the simpler story of Meryl Streep, which was that a 29-year wait for another Oscar was more than long enough.
And, inevitably, here's Sacha Baron Cohen's in-character response to his Oscar "ban" (if we're willing to define the word "ban" to mean "being politely asked not to show up on the red carpet in despot drag to proposition Angelina Jolie in an Wadiyan accent while swatting her with a riding crop"). God bless him for giving us something, no matter how absurd, to talk about besides how many backflips Jean Dujardin will have Uggie execute upon winning their fifth Oscar. Here's hoping he ignores the no-fun rule and causes a scene so outrageous and uncomfortable that he attempts to ride off the red carpet on Jonah Hill's back as security gives chase.
[UPDATE: The Academy has given in and will allow in-costume shenanigans. How weird that they decided extra publicity might be a good thing! But they played this totally wrong. They obviously should have staged a red carpet "crash" and surfed the buzz-waves of speculation about whether or not they were in on the stunt for days. Oh, well, back to talking about Uggie stunts on Monday.]
We’re almost there! Three days until the winners are revealed, after which in no time flat the 2011-12 Oscar season will become an ancient, bitter memory and we can nurse our collective grudges and figure out how everything could have gone so wrong. Or, better still, scratch our heads in delighted surprise. Here’s hoping.
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Oscars, as I hope we’ve established by now, are not simply a beauty contest. But when it comes to the half-dozen categories that reward visuals, that can be hard to remember. Here’s this year’s rundown:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Midnight in Paris
It’s been almost six months since I wrote my first column on the 2012 Oscar race, and we’re finally at predictions week. The ballots are in (or will be by tomorrow); the votes are soon to be tabulated; the hopes and dreams of 80 percent of the nominees are currently being ground into a fine powder. And it’s time to put your money where my mouth is. All this week, I’ll be announcing my guesses and doing my best to simulate an actual Oscar telecast, meaning that I will be starting with the stuff you don’t care about, taking immensely long pauses, and making you wait forever for the whole ugly business to end. Join me, won’t you? Imagine that Billy Crystal has already done his shout-outs to Brad and George in the front row, made a Harvey Weinstein reference (cut to reaction shot of Harvey looking amused/anticipatory/terrifying), and made one really funny joke I can’t think of that will end, “ or, as they’re known in Hollywood, The Help!” Hooting! Approving applause!
Voice-over! “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome to the stage two of our brightest stars, Cynthia Nixon and Sean Hayes!” No, wait, that’s the Tonys. “Please welcome to the stage
” Hmmm. Who’s big enough for an Oscar presentation but new enough so that you can stick them with the awards nobody else wants to give? Oh, my God, it’s
CHANNING TATUM AND EMMA STONE!
As the Academy continues to discuss an accelerated awards calendar for future Oscars (coming in 2013: Goodbye, paper ballots; hello, electronic voting and endless conspiracy theories about hacking!), there’s one thing I hope the Board of Governors will bear in mind: They need to allow one week for generalized postnomination rage. This wasn’t necessary before the Internet, which tends to reinforce in everyone the need to express, via blog, tweet, or status update, the conviction that anyone who doesn’t share their taste must by definition be dumb or corrupt. This year’s anger seems to have taken two forms:
If I were feeling less generous and more cynical on this holiest of all Oscar-calendar mornings, I might say that to decipher this year’s Academy Awards contest, we need only look for inspiration to the GOP presidential race. The Artist is Mitt Romney — desperate to please, doesn’t stand for anything in particular, not especially popular with the general public, will eventually keep most of its money offshore, and, though dinged up and trash-talked, will probably cross the finish line first by default. The Descendants is Newt Gingrich (emotionally unsteady, hard on wives, doing better than expected, but probably can’t go all the way). Hugo is Rick Santorum (a little slow, doesn’t really like anything that changed in the culture in the last 80 years). And The Tree of Life is Jon Huntsman (believes in evolution, probably a little too classy for this field).
Make no mistake: Awards season is a cutthroat time, when even the most normally civilized and magnanimous of Hollywood's citizens transform into rapacious hyenas fighting for the best position from which to gnaw on Oscar's gilded carcass. Do you remember how charming those adorable French people from the silent movie seemed at the Golden Globes, even inviting their canine costar onstage to share in the glory reflected from a second-tier statuette?
I’d like to thank the Academy for throwing an extra mystery at those of us who treat predicting the Oscars as something between a hobby and a blood sport: This year, we have to figure out not only which movies will be nominated, but how many. After concluding that the appropriate number of Best Picture contenders was five for 65 consecutive years, and then 10 for two consecutive years, what the Academy’s board of governors has now settled on is “from five to ten.” How can we narrow that down? Well, the Academy did offer one clue by revealing that when it experimentally retabulated the ballots from 2001 through 2008, the results yielded, in different years, five, six, seven, eight, and nine nominees — but never ten.
It’s over. No more surges or collapses, no more micro-measurements of momentum, no more fingers to the wind. Voting for the Oscar nominations has closed, and the results will be announced bright and early on Tuesday, January 24, so every day this week I’ll be rolling out my predictions. Take these to the bank! Actually, please don’t. It’s not easy trying to crystal-ball the collective, aggregated taste of Pedro Almodóvar and Ernest Borgnine and Peter Dinklage and Olivia de Havilland and the guy who shot The Wedding Planner and the costume designer of Vanilla Sky. Throw in more than 5,000 other voters and you have, at best, barely educated guesswork. With that in mind ...
You know that Oscar season has probably gone on long enough when it calls to mind the war in Iraq, but, in surveying the terrain this week, I was reminded of perhaps the only useful thing that Donald Rumsfeld ever said: his distinction between “known unknowns — that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know” and “unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.”
The most sentimental and manipulative movie of 2011 stars a great, stoic beast that is something of an enigma to those around him. Lacking words, he seems to have an almost human sense of what people need and expect from him — although they often underestimate his strength and endurance. Some audience members may be irritated by the self-consciously mythic way he’s presented, or by his uncanny, not particularly believable ability to survive despite the carnage that surrounds him. And it’s easy to feel jerked around by a score that seems to oversell his heroism at every turn, or by a visual style that overtly evokes movies from decades earlier. But by the climax, your heart may swell when you realize that he’s come through, the hard times are over, and he’s going to be okay. Don’t you hate sappy clichés like that? I do too. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed Ryan Gosling in Drive.
The next month of the Oscar campaign — from today until January 13, when nomination balloting closes — is in some ways the most interesting phase of the process. There are no more tea leaves to read, no more wild cards, no more embargoes on the expression of opinion, no more “precursor” awards that could seriously reshape the race. As Hollywood shuts down for a vacation, thousands of Academy voters will watch the contenders — or, more importantly, decide which contenders they feel like watching. And the tectonic shifts that result can be so gradual that you won’t know anything has changed until you realize a couple of weeks from now that a particular movie has somehow lost momentum or pushed forward in the pack.
What a frenetically busy weekend it was in the handing out of shinies and sparklies and mantel-trinkets to chronically underappreciated movie people, who at other times of the year often have to survive for weeks without winning anything. Critics’ groups in Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco announced their honorees, as did online critics in New York; conclaves in Detroit and Houston revealed their lists; and the American Film Institute named its 10 best movies. That’s a lot of noise! All of these simultaneously live-tweeted prizelets are microtwitches in the Oscar race, and it’s true that come ballot time, no Oscar voter is going to find himself frozen in indecision, his pen hovering above his ballot as he frets, “But dare I go against Detroit?” However, it’s still possible to pull some larger trendlines from this surge of hyperbolic over-celebration of film achievement. And if it’s not, let’s pretend it is.