The night of the Oscars I was at a concert and consequently unable to view them, but I was told by everyone that the presenters did a pretty poor job. This was reflected by the 10 percent dip in viewership from last year.
Frankly, it doesnâ€™t surprise me. When I found out that James Franco was hosting I thought it was an odd choice. Apparently, others agreed. Nevertheless, a 10 percent dip for such an august entertainment event begs the question: were there other contributing factors? In other words, how much of the blame lies at the feet of past selections and the movies themselves?
Though there are many awards given out on Oscar night, only a half dozen or so are interesting. Consequently, I feel alright saying that only a small group of movies were must-sees for weighing in on the winners. I did not see The Kids Are Alright, Toy Story 3, or 127 Hours; none of these were serious contenders for that many awards. I did see every other highly talked-about film, though, and I will sum the awards up thusly: generally fair and deserved, but on the grand scheme True Grit got screwed over.
One important thing to bear in mind is that when it comes to the Oscars, there are no runner-up prizes (unless you count being nominated), so being second best at everything is worse than being first in one category and last in all the others, odd as that may seem. Consequently, when trying to make a film Oscar-bait, itâ€™s better to be spectacular in one regard than good in every way. This was the problem with True Grit; it wasnâ€™t flawed in any way, but there weren't any individual performances or facets of the flick that stood above the contenders. So while I think that the loss in each category was justified, looking at it collectively makes me feel sorry that it didnâ€™t win anything.
Like I said earlier though, other than my feelings about True Grit, I mostly think things went well. Letâ€™s break it down award-by-award:
Best Picture: As Oscar night approached, it became increasingly clear that unless there was a large upset, either The Social Network or The Kingâ€™s Speech would be taking home the prize. Of course, it turned out to be the latter. Having seen both movies, I can say that this award was given out justly. The Kingâ€™s Speech was much more enjoyable to watch and also involved a considerably more demanding performance from the leading man. Some people speculated that Black Swan would pull an upset, but Iâ€™m really glad it didnâ€™t. At the risk of sounding unsophisticated, I know that the movie was brilliant and stunning, but it was also pretentious and disgusting. It was a well done movie, but not an enjoyable one. Considering the criticism the Academy has been given over the past few years that theyâ€™re straying too far from what mainstream people like, choosing Black Swan would have been a disastrous decision.
Best Actor: Again, I think the decision to reward Colin Firth was valid for two reasons: 1. just looking at the performances themselves, his depiction of George VI was the most impressive acting I saw in any 2010 film and 2. heâ€™s earned some recognition for lifetime achievement. For years Iâ€™ve thought his relative obscurity was unfair, particularly after the job he did in Dorian Gray. This recognition was long overdue. But to those of still upset that Jesse Eisenberg didnâ€™t win, take solace in the fact that the Academy often shows favoritism to older actors over young ones as it is less likely theyâ€™ll get another shot at the title.
Best Actress: Honestly, the only nominee I saw was Black Swan, but this category was never seriously in dispute. Despite my revulsion to the film, Iâ€™ll admit Portman probably earned this.
Best Director: I guess I donâ€™t really understand what a director does as well as I thought, because personally I couldnâ€™t imagine giving this to anyone but Christopher Nolan for Inception. As I understand it, the director takes the script and then tells everyone (actors, set design, costume design, audio and lighting, etc) what to do to make the movie come together as he sees it. Therefore, I think Nolanâ€™s achievement was the most impressive, but if he couldnâ€™t win, Iâ€™m glad it went to Tom Hooper for The Kingâ€™s Speech.
Best Supporting Actor: No one who saw The Fighter can say Christian Bale didnâ€™t deserve this. The physical changes he had to put himself through as well as his mastery of a foreign accent coupled with his grasp on the mannerisms of a crack addict show that he had a harder job set out for him than anyone else in this category. That said, had Geoffrey Rush won for The Kingâ€™s Speech it wouldnâ€™t have been undeserved.
Best Supporting Actress: While Hailee Steinfeldâ€™s performance in True Grit was impressive given her age, Melissa Leo did earn her Oscar for her role in The Fighter. Both Amy Adams (The Fighter) and Helena Bonham Carter (The Kingâ€™s Speech) did a good job in their respective roles, but neither of their tasks were as difficult as Leoâ€™s. Also, given that sheâ€™s only 14, Steinfeld may have several more chances to win.
That really covers the big ones. Yeah, Toy Story 3 won Best Animated Film, but that was never really up for debate. As for the rest of the awards, only hard-core cinema junkies pay attention. I will say, though, Inception deserved each and every award for the effects categories. In an era of bad movies using the 3D craze to bolster box office revenue, this proved that a truly well-done film doesnâ€™t need cheap tricks.
Almost everyone Iâ€™ve spoken to seems as content with the outcome as I am, if not more so. It would appear as though the Academy really got things right for once. So where does that leave things? Will rewarding the right films be enough to rejuvenate public interest in the Oscars? Will it perhaps take a well-made blockbuster like The Departed or Gladiator winning again? Or is getting more exciting hosts the trick? Based on this year, Iâ€™m inclined to say the latter.
But whatever it is, Hollywood had better figure it out soon because they simply canâ€™t continue down such a rapid decline for much longer.
Ross Kingston is a staff columnist for the DSJ. His views do not necessarily represent those of the entire staff.