The main problem with the Oscars is that they’ve become drearily predictable. They are now simply the last stop on the assembly line of award shows, the final stamp of approval, the confirmation of a consensus that builds for two winter months. Individual preferences and tastes seem barely to figure anymore. Oscar voters seem to wait and watch as Globes, SAG awards, BAFTAs, and the DGA are handed out. They then bow to peer pressure by predominantly agreeing with the choices of the aforementioned groups. When was the last time Oscar gave us a really big surprise? That would have to be when Crash was named Best Picture of 2005. However, this choice didn’t exactly speak to the voters’ renegade taste or their insider integrity. No, this was a hopeless attempt at disguising their homophobia, bypassing Brokeback Mountain and actually trying to convince themselves that Crash was good enough to be called Best Picture. If the Academy really wants viewers to get excited about Oscar night again, then they are going to need a membership that doesn’t vote like sheep, that isn’t a bunch of followers.
BEST PICTURE: The Artist is the unstoppable awards darling. In previous posts on this blog, I have written about my feelings for The Artist and Hugo. (In short: liked The Artist, loved Hugo.) I would hope to see Hugo win Best Picture but that’s not going to happen. People like to vote for winners, so right now voters are checking The Artist on their ballots because they already know it has been deemed the winner. Hugo may nab the Best Director prize for Martin Scorsese, but even there I’m not holding my breath. If Hugo were not in the race, I’d choose Moneyball, The Descendants, or Midnight in Paris over The Artist. Charming and beautiful as it undeniably is, The Artist is simply too slight for me to consider it as the year’s best film.
BEST ACTOR: Jean Dujardin was indeed charming and skillful as The Artist’s silent-movie star. But Best Actor? If they gave Oscars for being charming and skillful, wouldn’t Cary Grant have had about eight of them? It seems a waste to me to give Dujardin the Oscar in a year when George Clooney and Brad Pitt, two of our best screen actors and most charismatic movie stars, gave performances that proved they are at the top of their games. A win for either Clooney or Pitt would please me, but I’m expecting Dujardin to ride the wave of Artist mania.
BEST ACTRESS: I’m rooting for Viola Davis. She brought genuine depth to The Help, a piece of material (as a book and as a film) not exactly overflowing with nuance and shading. The fullness of Davis’ portrayal will possibly have you looking at old movies in a new way, wondering about the personal lives of those African-American maids played by Hattie McDaniel or Louise Beavers, making you think about these women beyond the invisibility with which they were treated in those days. The problem with Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady is how much time the film spends with the aged Margaret Thatcher in repetitive scenes of her wandering around her home in a state of dementia. And yet, how ironic that Streep is best in these scenes, at her most spontaneous and riveting. But with so little time left for the “main” story, Streep’s performance as the vital Thatcher is hardly able to go much beyond impersonation. Instead of exploring her life in its prime, the film keeps going back to the old Thatcher rummaging through her closet and remembering The King and I. (If Oscar had given Meryl a much-deserved third Oscar for her Julia Child, then those who care about such things could finally relax.) Michelle Williams is a gifted actress, and she gives a damn good try at being Marilyn Monroe. But she never convinced me. True, it’s a virtually insurmountable objective, to capture the essence of one of the 20th century’s most magnetic and adored stars. But how was Robert Downey Jr. able to convince me that he was Charlie Chaplin through every moment of Chaplin (1992)? It was nothing less than a possession, magical and indefinable, something the talented Williams just wasn’t able to achieve.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: I’ll be very pleased when Christopher Plummer takes home an Oscar for Beginners, a lovely little movie with a genuine quirky charm. And Plummer is wonderful in it, playing a man who “comes out” at 75. Marvelous as the performance is, his win will make up for his not even being nominated for his sensational turn as Mike Wallace in The Insider (1999). And what a hoot to see Captain Von Trapp get an Oscar 46 years after The Sound of Music was named Best Picture.
I wish Charlize Theron had been nominated for her terrific work in Young Adult, and Viggo Mortensen for his sly, quietly commanding Freud in A Dangerous Method. And, whatever you thought of J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio was mightily impressive in the title role. If the early award-givers had gotten behind these stars in January, then Charlize, Viggo, and Leo would have found themselves as Oscar front-runners in their categories. Why? Because Oscar needs an awful lot of help when deciding what he thinks is the year’s best. If we got rid of all those other awards, how would Oscar know what he liked?