Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Oscars make a statement

For my obligatory Oscar wrap-up, I want to TRY and keep it short and sweet. I've said so much coming into the race, I feel I'd just be pushing it to say a lot AFTER.

The Hurt Locker stole the show. It was a shining historical moment for Bigelow and her wonderful team, but let's think about what this means: it's the Academy embracing independent film, traditional gutsy filmmaking, strong work in an established genre that reworks a formula, and gives serious treatise to a serious contemporary concern.

But they didn't reward Avatar. This year was marketed as a clash between revolution and tradition, David and Goliath, the King of the Universe and the Queen Director. They didn't really go for Avatar. They gave it three; the only surprise was cinematography. They gave Hurt Locker six; surprises including both sound awards and screenplay. To me, that's a huge industry embrace for filmmakers willing to take rests. Sure, the industry cares about box office and revolutionary technology, but where they want to REWARD filmmakers' visions is in carefully crafted, often independent productions.

It wasn't a very diverse ceremony; Avatar, Hurt Locker and Precious accounted for 11 of the 21 categories, with no other film winning more than one. So they split it up; despite 6 for THL, the Academy shared the love with plenty of other work. It was a predictable ceremony, and I only lost my Oscar pool because I went against convention. Silly me.

As for the ceremony, I don't think Shankman should be invited back. The horror montage failed, as they said horror hadn't been invited to Oscars since 1973, and then showed Silence of the Lambs IN the montage (a film that won Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). Le sigh. Not having the lifetime achievement recipients give a speech was misguided; that dance number looked weird (good dancers, good music, but TERRIBLE combination). And as per the last few years, they really under-utilized the hosts. Baldwin and Martin were great together - the Paranormal Activity bit and the Snuggie thing were HI-larious, but they had far too little witty banter.

Having past friends honor the Lead nominees was a good alteration to last year's awkward innovation. The tech presentations were all tasteful; the pace was great. But it didn't feel like an Oscars telecast. There wasn't enough glamour; the presenters weren't very interesting (save for Ben Stiller, who was fabulous). Overall, it was kind of blah. Very mediocre.

I still think the expansion to 10 was a great idea. I think the Academy itself made a lot of great decisions (forgetting Sandra Bullock, forgetting Sandra Bullock, forgetting Sandra Bullock), but importantly - they said something about the industry. They encouraged independent filmmakers to keep daring, to keep trying, to keep using the form in exciting ways that don't necessarily cost $237 million.

So despite the ultimate predictability (I hyped it up as much as the next person), the boring and brisk ceremony - I'd say hindsight made this an important Oscars. With a palette of nominees ranging from The Blind Side to A Serious Man, the Academy awarded popular entertainment and highbrow critics' darlings. What a year to watch the Oscars, and what a year to watch the industry grapple with its own future.

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