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Silence is Golden at the 84th Annual Academy Awards

February 27, 2012

By John C.

Jean Dujardin and Natalie Portman

How much can you really say about a telecast that was hosted by Billy Crystal for the ninth time and saw the triumph of a wonderful black and white silent film?  Silence was golden and entertainment prevailed at the 84th Annual Academy Awards, with a fun and relaxed feel injected into much of the night.

Aside from a few surprises in some of the smaller categories and what I would consider a major upset for Best Actress, the Oscars went as smoothly as everyone had predicted.  Although it seemed like some critics were going to find fault with the telecast no matter what, Billy Crystal pulled off a fun opening number and got in plenty of nicely delivered lines throughout the night.

“Christopher Plummer, ladies and gentlemen, may be walking up on stage tonight,” said Billy Crystal before adding “because apparently he wanders off.”  As he said of Best Picture nominee The Help in a way that was too funny to be politically incorrect, “when I came out of the house, I wanted to hug the first black woman that I saw, and in Beverly Hills that’s a forty-minute drive.”

The first awards of the night were for Best Cinematography and Art Direction, which both went to the spectacularly produced Hugo.  The film also won for Best Sound Editing and Mixing, two categories that generally go hand in hand.  Adding even more drama to the night, the love letter to classic cinema took home its fifth Oscar for Best Visual Effects, beating out the predicted winner Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Apparently you can lead a hauntingly realistic ape revolution and not be awarded, but Hugo recreated an entire world and made us believe we were actually there.  With five Oscars, Martin Scorsese’s film ultimately tied with The Artist for most wins of the night.

Jean Dujardin, Michel Hazanavicious and the cast and crew behind The Artist

It took a little longer for Best Picture winner The Artist to get started, but the film won its first Oscar of the night for Best Costume Design.  As they had to choose clothes that would look good in black and white, it was a deserving win in a category that usually goes to period pieces.

The second statue for the film was Best Original Score, which went to relative newcomer Ludovic Bource who admitted to not having a formal musical education.  This was a deserving win for a movie driven by music.

But there was really no stopping The Artist when Michael Douglas opened the envelope for Best Director, and called up popular French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicious who proclaimed he was “the happiest director in the world.”  “I want to thank Uggie the dog,” he went on to say about the adorable Jack Russell Terrier.  “I think he doesn’t care, I’m not sure he understands what I say.  He’s not that good, but thank you.”

Throughout the season, we could always count on the ladies of The Help to accept with style and grace.  When Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress for the fim, she delivered an honest, touching and heartfelt acceptance speech.  Later in the night, Best Supporting Actor went to Christopher Plummer for Beginners, which was the closest thing we had to a lock.  At 82, the classy Canadian became the oldest person to ever win an Oscar and delivered a wonderfully funny and gracious acceptance speech.  “You’re only two years older than me, darling,” he said to the gold statue.  “Where have you been all my life?”

Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy were in the audience to introduce a visually imaginative performance by Cirque du Soleil, which literally had the acrobats flying over the audience in front of a theatre screen.  But that wasn’t the only reason why it was a big night for Jim Henson’s beloved characters.

Bret McKenzie won for the awesome “Man or Muppet” in a two tune race for Best Original Song, and The Muppets star Jason Segel looked so genuinely happy to be at the Oscars.  That’s how everyone should feel when they’re in attendance at the Academy Awards.  “I was genuinely star-struck when I met Kermit the Frog,” McKenzie said as he went up to accept his trophy.  “But when you get to know him, he’s just a regular frog.  But like most stars, he’s shorter in real life.”

After a hilarious introduction by Chris Rock where he talked us through the steps of being a voice actor, the brilliant Rango took its existential journey of self discovery all the way to a Best Animated Oscar.  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore had the longest title of any nominee, but it was the deserving winner of Best Animated Short.  A wonderful little tribute to books and cinema, it was no wonder the short beat Pixar’s La Luna in a year that was all about paying tribute to classic movies.  We got several nicely done montages of stars telling us about some of their first theatre experiences, and even a hilarious mock focus group for The Wizard of Oz starring Christopher Guest’s stock company.

The first disappointment of the night came in Best Makeup, where The Iron Lady beat out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to take home the gold.  The first big surprise came in film editing, where the awesome work behind The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was awarded and beat out four Best Picture nominees.  But Best Foriegn Language Film was as predictable as ever.  Iran’s A Seperation ultimately won, but I was rooting for the quietly powerful Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar to pull off an upset and take home the gold.  Best Documentary went to the high school football doc Undefeated, and it was a nice change of pace to see a genuine crowdpleaser awarded in this category.

But things got back on track in terms of predictions when it came closer to the end of the night.  The Descendants won Best Adapted Screenplay, and it was some of the greatest writing of the year.  Alexander Payne gave a big thank you to Kaui Hart Hemmings who wrote the source novel, and said that his mother made him “promise that if he ever won another Oscar, he would dedicate it to her just like Javier Bardem did with his mother.”  Woody Allen then won Best Original Screenplay for the wonderful Midnight in Paris, his first Oscar since Hannah and her Sisters in 1987.  As expected, presenter Angelina Jolie (who wore a black dress that exposed much of her right leg) and the Academy had to accept the Oscar on his behalf.

Meryl Streep

I love how the past year’s winners are always such a big part of the show, and near the end of the night, Natalie Portman presented Best Actor to Jean Dujardin for his excellent silent performance in The Artist.  During his charming acceptance speech, he reminded us that “in 1929 it was Douglas Fairbanks who hosted the first Oscar ceremony.  It cost five dollars and lasted fifteen minutes.  Times have changed,” he said.

Next up was Colin Firth to present Best Actress, which turned out to be one of the biggest upsets of the evening when Meryl Streep took home her third Oscar for The Iron Lady.  Not to doubt her undeniable talent, but Viola Davis should have won for her profoundly moving performance in The Help.  Although Streep addressed this issue in her acceptance speech, saying “when they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘oh no, come on… her again?’  You know.  But, whatever!”

Like Best Actor and Director, some of the categories were just so strong that it was nearly impossible to pick a clear favourite.  At the end of the night, it almost didn’t seem fair that some of these very deserving nominees had to be pitted against each other.  The simple truth is that anyone could have deserved to win in some of these categories.  And then came the category everyone was waiting for, when Tom Cruise emerged to announce the nine films in the running for Best Picture.  The gold was presented to The Artist, the first and only time a silent film has won since Wings in 1927.  Since The Artist premiered at Cannes last May, the wonderful film has been gaining momentum and it was a deserving winner of the top prize at an Oscars ceremony that paid tribute to classic Hollywood entertainment.

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