At last, we can all relax. Meryl Streep has her third Oscar, the one that has been eluding her for nearly three decades. As Oscar’s most nominated player (with 17 nods), Streep is also the Academy’s biggest loser, including her just-ended run of twelve consecutive losses, ranging from Silkwood (1983) to Julie and Julia (2009). Suspense about an inevitable third win for Streep began heating up with The Devil Wears Prada (2006), the film that jump-started a second heyday in Streep’s career, which had dipped somewhat in the years following The Bridges of Madison County (1995). If I could rearrange Oscar history, I would have given her a third Oscar for her Julia Child in Julie and Julia, over the far less deserving Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. If things had worked out that way, then Viola Davis would have won last night.
The thing about Meryl’s twelve straight losses is that, in every single case, she lost to a first-time winner: Shirley MacLaine, Geraldine Page, Cher, Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hilary Swank, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, and Ms. Bullock. (Viola Davis would have been number thirteen.) Meryl always looked pleased when she lost to these women, whether she was applauding a long-overdue actress (MacLaine, Page, Sarandon, and Mirren) or, in most of the other cases, a promising youngster with a bright future. Her “losing” expression always seemed to say, “I’ve had my time, and I love seeing another talented lady have her moment.” We would have seen this look again last night if Ms. Davis had taken the prize.
Viola Davis was a victim of bad timing because someone was eventually going to lose to Streep. However, things will be much easier for the next four ladies up against Meryl because we can assume that she won’t be getting a fourth Oscar in the near future. She will probably have to nab another batch of nominations to make Oscar feel that a fourth award should be coming her way. Of course, this is a very distinct possibility.
Streep’s win was the only surprise of the night. However, when Hugo won the cinematography award, and The Artist did not win for film editing, I held out some fleeting hope that Hugo might be named Best Picture. When Scorsese lost, though, it was all over. As for the show itself, Billy Crystal was comfy, the running time was shorter than usual, and there wasn’t really much to complain about. Yes, there was one pointless montage and one pointless production number (a death-defying piece of kitsch from Cirque du Soleil). On the plus side: Chris Rock was funny, Christopher Plummer was classy, and we didn’t have to hear the nominated songs! One nagging thought: does Christian Bale really talk like that, or is he putting us on?