Monday, February 27, 2012

The 84th Academy Awards -- 2012

Midnight in Hollywood

by Thomas Delapa

And now, the envelope please for the best morning-after Oscar lead: Silent Night ... Silence Was Golden ... Let’s Hear it for The Artist. ... For Hugo, it was a basic Paint It Black.

Zut alors! The Artist, a loving Franco-American tribute to silent cinema, spoke the loudest at the 84th Academy Awards, winning gold in five categories, including Best Director and Best Picture. There were few surprises in Hollywood’s genial, but generally lackluster annual tribute to itself. The biggest winner might have been the worldwide audience, which at least didn’t have to endure a return performance from last year’s tinny Gen-X teaming of James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

Meryl Streep may have pulled off a small upset for her victory as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, besting Viola Davis in The Help, and Streep might have even won over the crowd for her disarming acceptance speech. “Streep fatigue”? After a record 17 nominations and three wins, you bet. Hollywood’s reigning grande dame (at the age of 62), Streep has steeped into the Starbucks of the movies—omnipresent, rich and creamy, and not without a bitter aftertaste.

Nostalgia, not Grease, was the word the long night, starting with Billy Crystal’s ninth role as host. Crystal was drafted when Eddie Murphy bowed out in allegiance to foot-in-mouth producer Brett Ratner, whose salacious and homophobic remarks last November got him the boot. In the 3-hour-plus event, Hollywood preferred to look back, not forward, focusing on its glittery past rather than its uncertain future in the age of thinning audiences and the multi-media challenges to its dominance—not unlike its slow fade in the made-for-TV 1950s.

With box-office attendance down significantly in 2011, the studios continue to bet on overstuffed technology and novelty, not talent, especially 3-D. Even New (now Old) Hollywood film purists Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg joined the 3-D parade in 2011, though not with big hits. While the $150 million-plus Hugo did grab the lion’s share of technical Oscars, it barely meowed in the major categories, which won’t much help its so far one-dimensional ticket sales.

In Hollywood’s own backyard at the sponsor-less (nee Kodak) theater, The Artist was masterful, leaving most American nominees French-fried and tongue-tied. Best Director Michel Hazanavicius thanked the late, great Billy Wilder three times, while gushing Best Actor Jean Dujardin said he loved our country and gave a shout-out to Douglas Fairbanks, one of his models for his role as silent star George Valentin. Among the hunky also-rans, George Clooney had to be content with statuesque supermodel Stacy Kiebler on his arm, while Brad Pitt seemed satisfied to be clutching Angelina Jolie, whose slit gown (and vampy podium pose) tied her with a full-breasted Jennifer Lopez for best (un)dressed star.

While Billy Crystal did yeoman’s work in a substitute lead role, ringing in with a few zingers ("Nothing can take the sting out of world economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with gold statues"), his schtick seemed a déjà vu rewind, sort of like the Oscars as whole. The Artist became the first silent movie since 1927-28 (and Wings) to win for Best Picture. The fact that a low-budget, nearly wordless, black-and-white movie stomped its well-heeled competition speaks volumes about how much loud, mainstream Hollywood has lost its way, if not its voice.


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