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Musea is pleased to continue its annual tradition to repost the Oscar Wrap Up of Melanie Pruit.  Enjoy.
Okay, so last year, I sat in the tutoring lab at school and tried to compose my Oscar wrap during the down time before my class. Unfortunately, there were three emergency drills that day (for lack of a better term), and it was cold and wet and nasty outside, so with all the starts and stops, I didn’t think I would ever get through it. This year, I played it smart and wrote while I watched. Enjoy!
    Hmmmm...what fun night at the Oscars, and I don’t mean because of co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco—because that’s definitely not it. What I mean is that for weeks and months, I’ve been telling anybody and everybody that my two favorite movies of 2010 are/were The King’s Speech and Inception; lo and behold, those are the very two movies that won the most Oscars last night. YAY! Of course, The King’s Speech won Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Director (Tom Hooper), and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler). Meanwhile, Inception won Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
    Well, of course, I’m thrilled that The King’s Speech won Best Picture, but I think I might actually be more impressed that Tom Hooper won Best Director, and here’s why: over the past few weeks, the brewing consensus was that Best Picture/Best Director would be split, that is, that The King’s Speech would take home Best Picture while The Social Network’s David Fincher would take home Best Director.  Why? I could never figure it out. I mean, yeah, there was some talk that the Academy might award Fincher to make up for his loss (with Benjamin Button two years ago), plus the fact that Fincher is more of a known quantity in Hollywood...but is that reason enough to bestow the industry’s highest honor? I don’t think so. I mean, look closer: Hooper’s movie garnered the most nominations, 12 to The Social Network’s 8. Plus, and this is important, Hooper guided three performers (Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter) to Oscar nominations; Fincher, not so much. Finally, despite all the buzz about the Facebook phenomenon, and the modern, edgy, relevance about The Social Network, the box office grosses reveal an interesting fact, which is that The Social Network, which has been out since early October, has yet to crack the fabled 100 million dollar mark at the box office while The King’s Speech, only in release since the end of November, has well passed the same box office milestone.  Am I saying that grosses alone determine quality, or Oscar worthiness? Not at all. I’m just saying that when taking into account the total number of nominations, as well as the grosses, The King’s Speech just appears to be the more noteworthy achievement, and none of that could have happened without the right person sitting in the director’s chair, so, yes, Hooper, who’d already been honored by his peers in the Directors Guild, is well deserving of the highest accolades, and I loved Hooper’s story about how his mom guided him to the project after she saw a workshop rehearsal of the never produced play. Listen to your mommy is the moral of the story. (That noted, I still think Christopher Nolan was robbed of a nomination for Inception, but I digress.)
    Whew! At last I can exhale.....yes, Colin Firth has won Best Actor for The King’s Speech! Yay! Of course, many Oscar prognosticators named this Firth’s year several weeks, if not months, ago, but, for some reason, I never trusted that because it just seemed too easy. Oh sure, it’s a great performance, but I sometimes wondered if it was too subtle for its own good. I mean, this is, after all, the same Academy that awarded an Oscar to Jeff Bridges for a hammy performance last year in Crazy Heart and then had the bad taste to nominate him again this year for an even hammier performance in True Grit—and I liked True Grit, make no mistake. I know some people might disagree that Firth’s performance is too subtle, and I take exception to them as well. I was particularly incensed by Good Morning America’s Chris Connelly (former editor of Premiere), who tackily remarked that Connelly was a sure thing largely because the role itself was foolproof, with special emphasis on the speech impediment. I think focusing on that particular aspect of the role demeans what is really a tricky feat of acting. After two viewings, I’m still in awe that Firth is able to do as much as does with the role, allowing the audience to see inside the soul of a man who’s been raised to keep everyone at a safe distance. Beautiful. Congratulations, Mr. Firth.
    Speaking of Best Actor winners, what happened to Adrien Brody? Less than 10 years ago he won a well-deserved Oscar for The Pianist...and now...he’s doing fancy imported beer commercials. I don’t get it. I’m not going to say that for everything he’s done since The Pianist because I very much enjoyed The Brothers Bloom (and right about now, you’re thinking, The Brothers What? Exactly), and I liked Hollywoodland, but more for the performance of Ben Affleck as Superman actor George Reeves...I barely remember Brody being in the film. 
    And, of course, Natalie Portman won Best Actress for Black Swan, and, yes, her speech was lovely. I can’t begrudge Portman her Oscar, because, let’s face it, it’s a spectacular performance, hardly an embarrassment. No, it wouldn’t have been my first choice, but that doesn’t mean that Portman hasn’t done important work with the film, and by that what I mean is that Portman has tapped into something powerful with The Black Swan. Simply, moviegoers have responded passionately to The Black Swan; it is very much a movie of the moment, and seeing how it affects people is kind of exciting. I don’t know whether the movie would be as successful with another actress in the role, but I don’t guess that matters because Portman is front and center, so good for her. Being a part of a pop cultural phenomenon is a rare thing indeed, so congratulations, Nat. 
        Actually, I think it’s extremely encouraging to learn that both Black Swan and The King’s Speech have each made in excess of 100 mill at the box office—during a not-so-great time economically. (The Oscars will probably help them earn several million more.) They were both produced for approximately 15 mill, which is almost nothing in today’s competitive film market—and I guess the thing that is most gratifying is knowing that both of these films would have never been made by one of the major studios because they’re too risky: Black Swan is dark, out there, and over the top; The King’s Speech probably reads “too old” to the Hollywood mentality, yet both movies have given something unique to filmgoers—and that is, besides a good time at the movies, something to talk about as well. Again, I find this quite encouraging. Hollywood suit-types, are you listening?
    Hmmm....meanwhile, well, I feel a little badly for Annette Bening. She’s given so many wonderful performances (The American President, Running with Scissors, Bugsy, and Love Affair among them—and none of them Oscar nominated), and I’m glad that at over 50 years old, she can still find interesting roles, such as the one in The Kids are All Right. At the same time, losing to actresses in their early thirties, or younger, is just a wee bit....awkward.  For just a moment last night, I thought she might win. Her work in The Kids are All Right is strong, and the movie made some impact with the general public, but it was an uphill battle against Portman’s splashier success.
     The Fighter’s Melissa Leo wins an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and drops the F-Bomb. Then she called the Academy the Academy of Sciences, rather than Arts and Sciences. I’m not impressed. Backing up a bit: for reasons not entirely clear to me, Leo launched her own promotional campaign even though the folks at Paramount had already been doing an ace job of generating interest in her performance, per her Golden Globe and SAG awards. It’s not uncommon for actors and actresses (and presumably writers, directors, song writers, etc.) to finance their own Oscar campaigns, especially when the given projects are under-funded, poorly distributed, treated indifferently by the studio or some other disconnect. For example, in 1987 Sally Kirkland masterminded a splashy p.r. blitz with numerous “For Your Consideration” ads spread all over the trade journals in order to direct Academy members to her well reviewed, if little seen, performance in the micro-budgeted Anna. Kirkland’s efforts proved successful as she earned an Oscar nomination and even secured more work for herself (for awhile anyway) in the process. Leo was hardly in such a position, so her campaign came across as pure vanity.  Furthermore, keep in mind that last year’s Best Supporting Actress, Mo’Nique in Precious, most adamantly did not campaign for the award, believing she should win, or not, strictly on the basis of the performance.  Leo wouldn’t be my first choice for Best Supporting Actress for reasons various and sundry. I mean the performance is sometimes so big that she almost seems to be in her own movie. Not exactly what I would call “supporting,” but she certainly plays the role with conviction. Of course, it doesn’t do any good to speculate, but my guess is that if Academy members had another week to make their decision the award would have gone to either Leo’s co-star Amy Adams (who’s bound to win an Oscar sooner or later), or True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld.
    On another note, what an interesting night for Helena Bonham Carter: yes, she lost in her category, Best Supporting Actress, but at the same time, she had the privilege of watching two movies in which she co-starred win a total of six Oscars. That would be a quartet for The King’s Speech, natch, and two more for Alice in Wonderland: Best Art Direction and Best Costume (Colleen Atwood). Since Alice was directed by HBC’s s.o., Tim Burton, I’m sure she’s good to go.  Btw, I don’t hate her fashion sense as much as everybody else seems to.
    Actually, backing up a bit, it’s funny to me that Atwood, who has won Oscars for Chicago (2002) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), would be so stiff and unprepared at the podium during her acceptance speech. Was she really reading off a note-card. Really?
    Okay, whatever reservations I might have about Christian Bale being positioned as a supporting player, I can’t fault the many fine qualities of Bale’s performance in The Fighter. He simply nails the character as the footage at the end of the movie—with the real Dickie—clearly shows. (I don’t know about the shout-out to the real Dickie’s website...yes, that was the real Dickie in the audience, btw). 
    Meanwhile, congratulations to supporting actor nominee John Hawkes. Over the weekend, he and The Winter’s Bone co-star Dale Dickey (as the grizzliest matriarch in the Ozarks) won Best Support Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, at the Independent Spirit Awards. 
    Okay, David Seidler is over 70 years old, and, yes, as he announced, he might very well be the oldest winner in the Best Original Screenplay category. Good for him. The story goes that he stuttered as a child, but at some point he actually heard a recording of the king’s speech in question (or at least a speech by the king), which apparently inspired him so much that he eventually made contact with the Queen Mother who asked him not to make the movie until she passed away because she couldn’t bear to relive the ordeal. Congratulations, David.  What a powerful message for everyone who’s ever nursed a dream. Beautiful.
    On the other hand, the way that the two winning screenplay writers—Seidler and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)--were played off was disrespectful.    
    YAY! Inception wins for Best Cinematography. I know a lot of people were rooting for Roger Deakins in True Grit, but Inception's Wally Pfister probably had the harder task--and I'm glad he gave a shout-out to snubbed director Chris Nolan. Along with that, as previously noted, are the film’s three other awards: Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects, the latter especially well deserved. Of course, Inception won for Best Special Effects. The beauty of this victory is that many of the effects, certainly not all of them, were done “in-camera” (meaning that they were photographed “live” in real time with specially engineered sets and devices) as opposed to being digitally added during post-production. I’m so tired of seeing so many computer generated effects shots. After awhile, they all start looking the same, and by that I also mean they start looking cartoonish and fake. In that regard, Inception is the clear champ. That noted, I think this movie has more cinematic verve than just its effects. Of course, the two sound awards often go to the same film. I think that’s because the voters tend to be confused about what’s what exactly in the area of sound. Best Sound is about the overall final mix, and Best Sound Editing is realty more about best sound effects. Hmmmm....how do you objectively determine the difference while you’re watching the film? Go figure.
    Meanwhile, I don’t know what “poor” Roger Deakins needs to do in order to win an Oscar, but I do know a thing or two else: it’s relatively easy to get a lovely shot in the great outdoors when everywhere the camera is pointed, a stunning vista looms. Indeed, that has long been the complaint against the cinematography award—that the award is more about what’s actually being photographed rather than the distinct quality of the images themselves. With that in mind, yeah, as much as I love Deakins, and as good looking as True Grit is, I just think Wally Pfister  had the more difficult task, but it’s not just that he had to photograph his movie under such a variety of conditions (interiors, exteriors, sets, actual locations, rainstorms, rotating rooms, snowscapes), it’s that he had to do the work in such circumstances, and that it looks as good as it does, with every level of the dream within a dream looking different from each other—bathed in warm light here, bluish gray there, etc.  Tricky stuff. Congrats, Wally!
    Hmmmm...True Grit went into this race as the second most nominated film, but it went home with exactly 0. Well, whatever, it’s still a great film. I’ve actually seen it twice. 
    I haven’t seen Toy Story 3, so I can’t complain about it winning. At the same time, the Disney-Pixar grip on the award for Best Animated Feature Film is becoming a bit monotonous. Since this award was introduced, Disney-Pixar films have won more half: Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Rataouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), and, now, Toy Story 3. Of course, Disney makes excellent movies, and they always, always, have a lot of heart and extraordinary attention to detail, but I’m not sure that they’re not the winner of the Knee-Jerk-Reaction award. 
    Speaking of animated films, I do wish there had been room for either Despicable Me or Tangled in the line-up. I’m particularly troubled by Tangled. First of all, I would have nominated the more rousing “I’ve Got a Dream” for Best Song over “I See the Light,” but I guess that’s beside the point. When Tangled was released last November (we saw it on opening weekend during the Thanksgiving break), there was a lot of concern about whether the movie would fare better than Disney’s last princess movie, the gorgeous The Princess and the Frog. Anyway, despite glowing reviews, the traditionally hand drawn P & F barely broke 100 million at the box office (and cost right about the same). With that in mind, the computer animated Tangled was especially marketed to appeal to moviegoers outside the usual princess demographic (meaning teenage boys), and while the movie has grossed a  whopping 194 million (per Box Office Mojo), it also cost an astronomical 260 million, and that doesn’t include marketing costs (probably another 100 mill would be my guess). Will Disney turn profit with this one? I just think that’s an incredibly foolish amount of money to spend on an animated film, even one as well done as Tangled. 
    Congratulations to Rick Baker, co-winner of the Best Makeup for The Wolfman. This is Baker’s seventh Oscar—out of a staggering dozen nominations. Winning over half of the Oscars for which he has been nominated is pretty spectacular. He actually won the very first competitive Oscar in this category for 1981’s An American Werewolf in London. (Prior to that, the award was limited to the rare “Special Achievement” trophy) Baker’s most recent win was for 2000’s Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Well, anyway, I’ve long admired his work, as well as his long ponytail, but, I confess, I haven’t actually seen The Wolfman. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see it when it came out early last year, but somehow it got away from me. If I’d known that Baker was on board, I probably would have made more of an effort. Now, that I know, I’m going to make a concerted effort to catch it on DVD. Baker’s co-winner, David Elsey, was previously nominated for Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. That noted, I have to confess that I’m just a little surprised that Alice in Wonderland wasn’t even nominated for Best Makeup (maybe there was too many digital effects in the mix).
    Anne Hathway and James Franco have big shoes to fill: Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were awesome last year.  Their montage was not unlike some of the stuff that Billy Crystal used to do, inserting himself into clips of famous movies, such as Inception, Black Swan, and True Grit. Otherwise, they kind of seemed lost, like eager earnest young children in their first school play. I’m not going to say I didn’t laugh, but, basically, I don’t think either of them are naturally funny people, so at times they seemed to be trying just a bit too hard. Hmmm....and then Crystal himself shows up? Well, Billy, maybe it’s time for an encore. I also think the Academy should consider asking Kevin Spacey to host next year, or maybe Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr, or even Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson. They were all more entertaining than Hathway and Franco, as was Sandra Bullock who was an utter delight, cracking wise as she presented Best Actor. Hmmm.....as tradition dictates, last year’s Best Actress winner (Bullock, natch) returned to present Best Actor, and the previous Best Actor winner (Jeff Bridges) came back to present Best Actress....but where were  last year’s Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique) and Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz)? The supporting winners usually return as well, but not last night. Instead, we got....Kirk Douglas. 
    My vote for Best Dressed goes to Reese Witherspoon, class in strapless black and white with a perfect styled pony tail that was both simple and glamorous: simply glamorous and as much fun as a vintage Barbie doll! My vote for second best? Annette Bening, who was all over the place, at the Globes, looked positively radiant...like a movie star from the so-called golden age, in a black and silver gown that could have been designed by Erte--or famed costume designer Adrian. Jennifer Hudson: va-va-va-voom in classic red, form-fitting with a mermaid style skirt and marvelous sculpted updo. (Tim Gunn said it was tangerine, but at first glance it looked red on my TV set.)  Sandra Bullock is also beautifully understated in strapless red and a soft updo. I’m not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, really, but she looked pretty, like a femme Oscar with long blonde hair in her sleek metallic toned gown. Shades of purple were all the rage: Natalie Portman, and Scarlett Johansson in deep purple, and Mila Kunis in a beautifully draped lavender gown. Mariss Tomei was a “wow” in a glam black ballgown with a effortless chic shoulder length bob. Also a “wow”: Mandy Moore in a stunning royal blue ballgown. Speaking of blue wasn’t Amy Adams a stunner in a body hugging sparkly midnight blue number?? I thought Hailee Steinfeld looked pretty, and age appropriate in a pert updo and a pretty, full skirted blush colored party frock. Two more stunners: Hilary Swank and Halle Berry, also fine in pale tones. And, oh yeah, Hathway wore a stunning array of gowns...hard to call a favorite. Was there a worst dressed? Nothing leaped out in my mind. Okay, I wasn’t crazy about Cate Blanchett’s gown...the bodice was a bit too much, but it wasn’t a travesty. What do you think?
    Okay, here’s the final tally: The King’s Speech - 4; Inception – 4; The Social Network -3 (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score—including Nine Inch Nails’s Trent Reznor—and Best Editing); The Fighter – 2; Toy Story 3 – 2 (Best Animated Feature, and Best Song), Alice in Wonderland -  2 (Art Direction, Costumes), Black Swan – 1.  There were a handful of Best Picture nominees that went home empty-handed: True Grit, The Kids are All Right, The Winter’s Bone, and 127 Hours.
    I loved the band shell design of the set, which lent itself to some beautiful effects, such as a lighting effect that simulated an optical soundtrack during the presentation of the sound awards, and the holographic effect of bringing Bob Hope back to life with clips of the first Oscar telecast. Nice touch.
Whew! Is it daylight yet???
Thanks for your consideration,
ps: I thought it was a nice touch for Best Actor winner Colin Firth to also include Tom Ford, director of 2009's A Single Man, in his acceptance speech.
Finally, Roman Polanksi's English language The Ghost Writer, which was ignored by Academy voters, recently picked up a batch of French Cesar awards, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score, Alexandre Desplat (who was also Oscar nominated for The King's Speech). This latest round of honors adds to a collection that includes honors from last year's Berlin Film Festival and a stash of European Film Awards. I'm just sayin'.
"Mysticism doesn't come naturally to an ironist..."
                                            --Pauline Kael

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