Sunday, February 26, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 Academy Awards (because why the hell not?)

Alright, here we go.

Once upon a time, back before I had kids, I was an enormous movie buff. Okay, I still am, but I hardly go see anything in the theater anymore, having usually to wait until the major releases comes out on video. It's just the way it is. You grow up, you accumulate other responsibilities, and you can't go see, like, a hundred new releases a year anymore.

Such is life.

As for the major award nominees from 2011, the ones vying for the hardware this evening, I've seen a lot of them but certainly not all. Like The Artist, for example. Haven't see that yet. But while my cimematic tastes run more towards Criterion and Kino than towards Hollywood, I still pay close attention to the mainstream, including, I'm almost embarrased to admit, the awards-season horse race.

And so tonight, while I alternate between incredulity and outright anger in response to the Academy's usual inanity, I'll post some comments here. Even if I haven't seen all the nominees, I know what's going on, and I think I have a good grasp of where the Oscars are going this year. I'll also include my own reflections on my top movie experiences of last year (much as last year, when my top experiences had nothing to do with the Oscars, or with Hollywood at all: Guitry, Kurosawa, Lang, Wenders, Ford).


Before we get started, though, here are my predictions for tonight:

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Directing: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendents
Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne et al., The Descendents
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation (Iran)
Best Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Best Documentary Short: Saving Face
Best Short Film: Raju
Best Animated Feature Film: Rango
Best Animated Short: La Luna
Best Original Score, Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Best Original Song: "Man or Muppet," The Muppets
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life
Best Editing: Hugo
Best Visual Effects: Hugo
Best Art Direction: Dante Ferretti, Hugo
Best Costume Design: Mark Bridges, The Artist
Best Makeup: The Iron Lady
Best Sound Mixing: Hugo
Best Sound Editing: Hugo

I've read a number of previews/predictions from various Oscar prognosticators. The best, I think, or at least the one who makes the most sense to me, is Mark Harris from Grantland (sports! movies!). And so my list is very similar to his.

At the same time, I think it's actually a fairly predictable year for the Oscars. More later, when I return from dinner...

8:03 pm - First, let me acknowledge that I have no idea about some of the categories. Best Short Film? No idea. Best Documentary Short? Even less of one. I'm just going with buzz, or my understanding of the buzz, and with what people are saying about these categories.

8:08 pm - Second, I really do think the major categories are easy to predict this year. In what was generally a mediocre year for big-time movies, The Artist, which no one seems to think it all that great (and which will, I think, go down as one of the least impressive Best Picture winners ever), should beat The Descendents. Of course, Hollywood loves George Clooney, and Alexander Payne has proven himself to be a fine filmmaker (Election, Sideways, About Schmidt); and The Help has some fine performances driving it (even if it's not exactly a great movie); and The Tree of Life was the most visually stunning and philosophically mature of the bunch; and Moneyball has Brad Pitt (and somehow made a questionable and largely unsuccessful strategy exciting); and Hugo was directed by Scorsese, widely regarded as the best American director of our time (I don't agree, but whatever); but The Artist is silent and black-and-white and a throwback to a more glorious (so we are told) cinematic time.

Meryl Streep is undoubtedly the greatest American actress of our time, and she continues to amaze, but The Iron Lady was a bit of a dud and it'll be Davis from the more heart-warming Help.

There's every possibility that The Artist will sweep its nominations tonight, which would mean a win for Jean Dujardin, but I'm going with Clooney. Everyone loves Clooney. Everyone wants to sleep with Clooney. And everyone knows he'd give a really good acceptance speech.

Plummer and Spencer are locks. And Plummer deservingly so for a wonderful performance in an overlooked movie.

I actually wouldn't mind seeing Terrence Malick win Best Directing for The Tree of Life. I have fairly mixed feelings about that movie, not least given its forced pretentiousness, but I watched it again last night and there's no doubt it's an impressive accomplishment. And I'd love to see Woody Allen get some late-career attention for a movie that is so much better than most of his recent offerings, Midnight in Paris, but it's hardly all that great. Scorsese for Hugo? Maybe. Payne for The Descendents? No, he'll continue to make good movies but get recognition for writing instead of directing. So, yes, Hazanavicius. Whatever.

Rango's also a lock. Cars 2 was the only Pixar movie in contention last year, and it's so bad, or at least so utterly disappointing, it couldn't even get a nomination in a weak category. And, actually, Rango's really good.

Moneyball could beat The Descendents for Best Adapted Screenplay, but there's more buzz for the former. And Woody should win for Midnight in Paris, though Margin Call deserves it. It was my favourite movie of 2011, and its screenplay is outstanding. But, who knows, maybe the Academy gives it to The Artist. It could pull this one off as well, even with its silence.

As for the others? Well, Pixar may win for La Luna in a category it has a hard time cracking, believe it or not. I haven't seen any of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees, but A Separation has been critically hailed as a great film. The Best Original Song category is weak, with just two nominees, but "Man or Muppet" is good. And I like Jason Segel. Best Original Score? The silent movie, of course. Best Cinematography? Again, The Artist could win, but let's go with Tree of Life. It's a beautiful film. Makeup? Streep as Thatcher. The two sound categories? Hugo. But what do I know?

What do any of us know? The Academy is old and insular. And for many of these awards only a handful of members actually see the nominees and vote.

So, again, whatever. It's just an awards show with a lot of ego-aggrandizing back-slapping. Aren't we great, Hollywood asks itself. And of course the answer is a resounding YES.

Why do I care about this madness again?

8:38 pm - Fine intro. Very amusing. And it's actually nice to see Billy Crystal back. He's good at this sort of thing. Letterman and Stewart are more interesting, and funnier, but Hollywood wants one of its own to poke a bit of fun but otherwise to glorify it.

A question, though: How much plastic surgery and makeup does it take to make Crystal look 40? Seriously, he looks like he's aged just a couple of years from When Harry Met Sally...

8:40 pm - I'm bored already.

8:42 pm - First award... Best Cinematography. We'll learn here if it's going to be an Artist night. Ah, Hugo. Well, I was wrong. But maybe I was too hopeful that Tree of Life would get some deserving recognition.

8:44 pm - My wife just said that Michelle Williams looks beautiful. Indeed. 

8:45 pm - Best Art Direction: Hugo. Yes! One for two.

Richard and his wife will be adding some of their own observations along the way...

RKB: We're here, Bowl of chili. Glass of wine. I'll send comments if I can think of anything clever. The millionaires giving each other gold statues comment was at least an attempt to show that this whole thing is a little absurd. 

8:53 pm - I can't stand Cameron Diaz. And I wish J-Lo would go back to making movies. She's a good actress (e.g., Out of Sight, The Cell) and a terrible everything else, even if she looks great. 

8:54 pm - Best Costume Design: The Artist, right? Right. Two for three! Having fun yet?

8:56 pm - Best Makeup: The Iron Lady, right? Right. Three for four! So predictable.

8:58 pm - My wife just asked how it's possible to compare makeup in The Iron Lady to makeup in Harry Potter. "They're so different. It's silly." Yes. Yes it is. Let's all take a pause and remember how ridiculously silly the Oscars are. Often, there's neither rhyme nor reason to anything at all. In this case, the members of the Academy who do makeup select the nominees and then everyone gets to vote. What criteria do they use in their selections at both stages? Who the hell knows?

9:03 pm - Richard's wife Marilyn just noted that Brad Pitt is "so cute." That's sort of like saying Adolf Hitler was "so evil."

9:05 pm - Sandra Bullock, one of the most ridiculous Oscar winners ever. 

9:06 pm - Don't even get me started on the whole Best Foreign Language Film stupidity. These are all films nominated by their home countries, not films that have actually been shown in American theaters. Why can't this category just be treated like Best Picture. Take all the foreign-language films that were in theaters in NY and LA over the course of the year, nominate five of them, then pick a winner. Duh.

9:08 pm - Anyway, it's A Separation. Another win for me! Hoo-wah, to quote another ridiculous winner, Al Pacino for the awful Scent of a Woman. Four for five. Maybe I should quit now.

9:12 pm - One of the bigger categories, Best Supporting Actress. There's no way it won't be Spencer. And it isn't. If you're counting, that's five for six for me. Awesome. I was pulling for Melissa McCarthy to win for her hilarious performance in Bridesmaids, but of course the Academy hates comedy.

9:13 pm - My wife tells me Spencer wears three sets of Spanx. I'm not sure I know what that means. I'm not sure I want to know. But, oh, let the tears flow! Hey, I have lot of family in Alabama, too. We're like twins... Sorry, don't mean to be so flippant about all this. I'm sure I'm not exhibiting the proper sense of gravitas. This is all so very serious, after all.

RKB: Billy Crystal is going to be such a safe MC, which I guess was the point. Too bad. It's at least been interesting in the past to see how inappropriate various hosts could be.

9:19 pm - Fun with The Wizard of Oz. Should I be syncing this with Dark Side? (Ah, yes, the Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind crew. Love them.)

9:22 pm - Tina Fey is funny. Bradley Cooper isn't. Best Editing... Damn, got it wrong. Dragon Tattoo got it.

9:25 pm - Best Sound Editing: Hugo. Got it. Six for eight.

9:27 pm - Best Sound Mixing: Hugo. Got it. Seven for nine.

9:34 pm - I love the Muppets. Too bad they have to sell out by doing the Oscars. 

RKB: Why is everyone thanking Marty? Is he connected to every film? Now, I know these technical awards are important, but they are a bit of a bore for the rest of us civilians. 

9:38 pm - Cirque du Soleil. Yeah, wow. But now so retro. Let's move on... 

RKB: Okay, circuses in general are not my cup of tea, but Cirque de Soliel is amazing. Go Canada!

9:40 pm - Robert Downey Jr. hasn't won an Oscar. I'd rank that high on the list of Oscar wrongs, or at least on the list of best actors yet to win. (He should have won for Chaplin.)

RKB: These overly cute things like what just happened with Robert Downey Jr. never work. Who thinks they do?

9:42 pm - Best Documentary Feature. Explain to me why Cave of Forgotten Dreams wasn't nominated? Well, got that one wrong. Undefeated won. Time to remind you again that with some of these categories I have zero clue.

9:44 pm - Chris Rock. Ugh. I even find him annoying in Madagascar. So not funny. Oh, race humor. Didn't see that coming.

9:46 pm - Best Animated Feature Film. Again, a lock. And it helps for Rango that two of them haven't even come out yet in North America. Or maybe one of them has. But no one's seen them. And so... it's Rango. I'm back on track. Eight for 11, I think.

9:49 pm - Wait... Titanic's coming out again. In 3D? Now would be a good time to mention that I think it's an awful, awful, awful movie. And James Cameron is an awful, awful, awful person for doing this. Now way it should have won anything, let alone Best Picture. Then again, that year 1997 (with the awards handed out in '98) was awful for movies. Consider the other Best Picture nominees: As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential. Of those five, the only one to which I'd give thumbs up is The Full Monty, and even that one was grossly overrated. Best movie that year, to me: Ulee's Gold with Peter Fonda. I also liked Amistad and The Apostle a lot. Boogie Nights was also big that year. It's okay. I don't like it as much as many. Certainly no Magnolia.

9:52 pm - Best Visual Effects... Ben Stiller must be one of the most annoying people in Hollywood. Anyone disagree? But Emma Stone, very funny. Anyway, it'll be Hugo, right? Right. Nine for 12.

9:58 pm - And now comes the time in the show when we all applaud Christopher Plummer for Best Supporting Actor. When the Academy decided in whatever wisdom it possesses not to nominate Albert Brooks in Drive, it basically handed this one to Plummer on a platinum platter. And he really does deserve it. Great performance in a really, really good movie. Though I must say, I also liked Jonah Hill a lot in Moneyball. The only real challenge here is from Max von Sydow, the great Swedish actor who appeared in so many iconic Bergman films way back when. But, no, it's Plummer. A Canadian, no less!

RKB: Okay, we're going to say it. Christopher Plummer has such presence. He is so Canadian. How dignified.

10:09 pm - The president of the Academy. Now would be a good time to go get another drink.

10:11 pm - Okay, I'm back.

10:12 pm - You know what? Billy Crystal's really good at this.

10:13 pm - Penelope Cruz. Hot, hot, hot. Owen Wilson. Not so much. Best Original Score: It's time for The Artist to get going and pick up some speed as we head towards the big awards later on. And how can you not pick the music in a silent film? That's all there is. And... The Artist. Ten for 13. Seems I'm pretty good at this. Now watch me bomb the rest of the night.

10:17 pm - Best Original Song. It's the Muppets one, of course. Of course. Come on, Farrell and Galifianakis... Yes! 11 for 14.

10:25 pm - Okay, here we go. Things are getting serious now (even if it is the faux serious Angelina handing out the award). Best Adapted Screenplay: Yup, The Descendents. Did I get that right? Yup. No surprise at all. And now Best Original Screenplay. Again, I'm going with Woody for Midnight in Paris, which really does have a good screenplay, but wouldn't Bridesmaids be such a great choice? Or, for me, even better, Margin Call -- brilliant, brilliant movie with a brilliant, brilliant screenplay. But it's been largely forgotten. And so it's... Woody Allen, who of course is not there tonight. Somewhere he and Alvy Singer are complaining about all these damn awards shows. (Oh, by the way, I'm now 13 for 16. Am I doing really well or is this just so predictable?)

10:36 pm - The technical awards. So unsexy. But at least they get a bit of prime-time attention. Always nice to see. Wait... that's it? Alas.

10:38 pm - The bridesmaids. Much sexier... but who wrote this drivel? So unfunny. Best Short Film. Raju? Nope. The Shore. There's a reason Mark Harris included as one of the "who the hell knows" categories.

10:41 pm - Best Documentary Short. I'll probably get this one wrong, too. I can't even remember what I picked. Ah, yes, Saving Face, about doctors in Pakistan treating the women who are the victims of acid attacks. Hey, I got it right! (Thanks, Mark Harris.) And, really, something we all need to know a lot more about. Hollywood hardly cares about this category, or about these films, but they're often far more relevant than the mainstream features.

10:44 pm - Best Animated Short. Surprisingly, Pixar never wins this category. I think that'll change. I've heard good things about La Luna. But... no. It's The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Sounds like a really good film, too... how can I find it?

10:46 pm - After those three unpredictable categories, I'm now 14 for 19. Not too shabby.

10:50 pm - Best Achievement in Directing (not Best Director, as Harris notes): I suppose I'd go with Malick here, though I really didn't like Tree of Life all that much, but it'll be Hazanavicius. And it is. 15 for 20. A few years from now, a lot of Oscar observers will be saying, "Wait, what did we do in 2012? We went with The Artist? Really?" Yes, really.

10:55 pm - And here's Meryl Streep, who really is ridiculously good. But maybe even too good. I think she's taken for granted, particularly in Hollywood. Even when she turns in a great performance, there's always, or almost always, someone else who seems like a sexier pick, someone without all the acclaim who deserves the recognition. (This year: Viola Davis.) And maybe this is because the Academy thinks she'll be back for more and that it can reward her then. But at some point she has to win again, right? Right?!

10:57 pm - Oprah and Darth Vader for what? What just happened?

10:59 pm - Allow me to take this time to post a photo of Richard's wife Marilyn Churley (who was a minister in the Ontario government in the early '90s) and some dude named Tom Cruise at Toronto's SkyDome in '93:

11:03 pm - Tribute time... Jane Russell first... Elizabeth Taylor last. Nicely done.

I'll just single out one: Sidney Lumet. Wonderful, wonderful filmmaker, whose run from '73-'76 in particular was simply spectacular: Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network (one of my Top 10 of all time).

11:10 pm - I can't say this is a fantastic show, mainly because the Academy is far too staid for its own good, and also because it wasn't a great year for movies, but I'm actually quite enjoying it. That's more surprising to me than any of the winners so far.

11:13 pm - And now it's Natalie Portman from the loathsome Black Swan (seriously, what a ridiculous movie) to present the Best Actor award. Well, I really don't know about this one. It's Clooney or Dujardin. (I haven't seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy yet, but it's about time Gary Oldman got some Oscar love, no? Maybe he'll end up winning Best Supporting Actor one day. Of all the bigger movies from 2011 I haven't seen yet, TTSS tops the list. I loved the book, as well as the BBC mini-series with Alec Guinness.) Demián Bichir was good but doesn't have a chance -- as is so often the case with smaller movies, his award is his nomination, the very fact that the Academy recognized him at all. Pitt was good, too, but... no. Wow. Dujardin. Got that wrong. I really thought Clooney would pull it off, just because, you know, he's George freakin' Clooney. But I suppose the Academy thinks Clooney will be back, and understandably so, whereas this may be Dujardin's only real shot at a win. So give the Academy some credit. The Artist is a retro movie, and a safe movie despite being silent and black-and-white, but this was something of an outside-the-box pick, going with a relative unknown over perhaps the greatest movie star (if not necessarily the greatest actor) of our time. (15 for 21, I am now.)

11:23 pm - And now it's time for Streep not to win. (Colin Firth: very amusing. I like him. Even in the vastly overrated The King's Speech.) And the winner is... Viola Davis. (I'm typing this before it's announced.) No... no? Meryl Streep? What? Suddenly this thing got a whole lot more interesting. And how odd for Streep to win for her portrayal as Margaret Thatcher, hardly the most beloved figure in Hollywood (or in my house, if I may speak personally). Yes, a lot of people are upset that Davis didn't win, and perhaps she deserved to win as much as Streep (maybe even a bit more), but Streep is a truly brilliant artist and could win for anything she does. And this is a lovely speech. (Now 15 for 22. I'm losing it.)

11:32 pm - Tom Cruise to give out the Best Picture award? How unfitting. Other than Magnolia, name one movie he's been in that's anywhere near great. Oh well. Whatever. I'm sure the Cult of Scientology paid a lot of money to get him up there tonight.

11:33 pm - So, are we in for another surprise? No, after Hazanavicius's win, it's pretty much certain that The Artist will win. (Have I complained yet that Margin Call didn't get a nomination?) And the Oscar goes to... The Artist. There you go. Done. And that makes me 16 for 23, except that I count 24 categories. Looks like I missed one somewhere. I'll have to go back later and figure out which one. Still, not too bad. And among the big ones, it was really just the two lead acting categories that I got wrong, each one of which seemed like a toss-up anyway. And who can really dislike a movie whose director just thanked Billy Wilder three times?

11:38 pm - And that's it. I was going to go into my favourite movie experiences from last year, but I ended up writing a lot more than I expected and now I'm just too tired. So maybe another time.

11:40 pm - For now, good night, everyone. Stay tuned for a return to political blogging tomorrow.

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