Herewith some reflections on this year’s Academy Awards from a longtime film critic currently not reviewing movies. Of course I watched the Oscars as I always do; they provide the kind of entertainment that yesteryear’s really pretentious B-movies used to. But this time round they were mostly just plain boring; still, a few kudos and a number of Bronx cheers don’t seem uncalled-for.
Things began with the very sad appearance of Kirk Douglas as presenter of the Best Supporting Actress award to Melissa Leo of The Fighter. Douglas, saddled with the aftereffects of a stroke, severely speech-impaired and looking like Methuselah on a bad hair day, should probably not be exhibited in public. But far worse was the carrying on of Ms. Leo in a dress bedizened with tiny mirrors, no doubt to attract the attention of fellow narcissists. She had already indulged in an elaborate pre-Oscar self-promotion campaign, which alone should have disqualified her. We would have been spared her lengthy dithering replete with Pinteresque pauses, breathlessly self-serving gush, a laundry list of invoked names, and a general air of participating in a ceremony dedicated entirely to herself. An obscenity inherited from her movie role was not quite obliterated; left intact, it would have revealed her as the vulgarian she seems to be.
The co-hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, were meant to add young viewer appeal, but a prerecorded introductory routine for them already seemed hopelessly contrived. Otherwise they managed to be fairly innocuous, except when Franco appeared in drag as Marilyn Monroe. He did however, look bored or uncomfortable most of the time, whereas Ms. Hathaway effervesced like the queen of the Junior Prom. She did thus contribute some welcome sparkle, though I am bothered by those jet black designer eyebrows, saucer eyes, and large mouth red enough to enrage a bull, rather like a creature born not so much of woman as of Pixar. She had more costume changes than a runway model, but she did sing a bit rather engagingly.
The best Supporting Actor award to Christian Bale, likewise from The Fighter, was yet another reward for overacting. It should, in my view, have gone to Geoffrey Rush, as splendid in his supporting role as Colin Firth was in the lead of The King’s Speech, deservedly winning the Best Actor Oscar.
I have yet to catch Natalie Portman in Black Swan, but am prepared to agree with her Best Actress award. She has been a wonderful performer since her first film role at age eleven, and even her convincing ballet dancing in this movie (I have seen excerpts) strikes me as worthy of recognition.
The Song Oscar had three dismally tuneless numbers competing, and even the fourth and winner—Randy Newman’s “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3—was only minimally better. On the other hand, Newman’s speech was witty and modest, assuredly one of the evening’s best. He noted that if his category had had five contenders like the others, that fifth might well have beaten his.
The other distinguished speech came from the white-haired David Seidler, who won Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech. Tersely and unostentatiously, he spoke on behalf of older scenarists and stammerers. Charming, too, was Sandra Bullock’s presenter’s banter with celebrities in the audience, better managed than a similar undertaking by Jeff Bridges.
The only King’s Speech winner who, though well deserving of the Direction award, came off unimpressively was Tom Hooper with a mostly flatfooted tribute to his mother. Nor was I impressed with a brief guest appearance by Billy Crystal, a former host, even though it elicited a standing ovation. These days, standing ovations have become as commonplace as hellos, and more often than not undeserved.
Testifying to the Academy members’ benightedness was their completely ignoring the French candidate for the Foreign Language award, Of Gods and Men, by Xavier Beauvais. A story about gallant martyred French monks in North Africa, beautifully written, directed and acted, it did not get so much as the slightest nod.
Another folly was the innovation of having ten films compete for Best Picture. This meant racing through ten items without indication of any special merit, and, to make matters worse, doing this with King George VI’s climactic speech on the accompanying sound track. This must have seemed mystifying to anyone not knowing what it was, and a dead giveaway to others of what the winner would be.
Three further questions arise. Why does the talented Helena Bonham Carter have hair to make a Gorgon envious? Why must the vastly overrated Scarlet Johansson’s hair look as if she came from running a windswept mile without having brought a comb? And why hasn’t the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who numbers among his many achievements making the Coen brothers look much better than they are--despite nine nominations and numerous Society of American Cinematographers’ and Britain’s BAFTA awards—won a single Oscar?
Finally, as always, there were the absurd dresses, but I’d rather not even get started on those. This year, several of them looked metallic, notably Annette Benning’s, which appeared to be artfully cobbled together out of pieces of surplus armor from the year’s historical epics.