If you follow the many awards given out by different guilds and critic groups before the Oscars, the actual awards ceremony can be quite predictable once it finally comes along.
Coming into the show, the French silent black-and-white ode to silent filmmaking, “The Artist,” was one of the heavy favorites and by the end of the night expectations were delivered. It won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. The other big winner of the night was Martin Scorsese’s 3D film “Hugo,” which also won five Oscars, including Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction.
Both of those movies seem to have one thing in common shared by the whole awards ceremony: nostalgia. “The Artist” is made completely in the style of the originalHollywood silent movie, while “Hugo” heavily features the use of sets, costumes and special effects as one of its main characters.
During the show there were montages of stars talking about their earliest movie-going experiences and their fondest memories. The emcee, Billy Crystal, hosted the show six times in the 90’s, and just his presence suggested an air of nostalgia.
As expected, Crystal largely played it safe. Unlike Ricky Gervais, Crystal is a guy no one can hate, but at the same time he was never expected to bring anything exciting or unique. He’s a guy who makes you laugh, but doesn’t quite say anything worth thinking or talking about afterward.
All in all, the awards were mostly predictable and the jokes were pretty safe. The only big upset of the evening was Meryl Streep winning Best Actress for her role as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” over favorite Viola Davis, whose great performance in “The Help” elevated an otherwise mediocre film. But I’m not sure that Streep winning something could ever really be considered a surprise — she is a trophy magnet.
A couple of other snubs came courtesy of “Hugo.” It won Best Cinematography over “The Tree of Life"— one of the most beautifully photographed and uniquely shot movies in recent memory. It also won Best Visual Effects over “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a movie that featured some of the most photorealistic monkeys to date. But because “Hugo” is such a wonderful movie, it’s quite easy to forgive those.
On the other hand, maybe the most deserving award of the night was the Best Foreign Language Oscar going to the Iranian film “A Separation,” easily one of the best movies of the year and brilliant human drama. It was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, losing out to Woody Allen’s screenplay for “Midnight in Paris,” another forgivable offense only because “Midnight in Paris” was simply magical.
The Oscars are not the only way a movie’s legacy is cemented, but it’s one way. From now on “The Artist” will always be known as a Best Picture winner, but it’s important to realize that Best Picture by definition means it is the movie that many people agreed upon as one of the best of the year. Consensus is always necessary. More polarizing or niche movies, like “The Tree of Life,” “Hugo,” “A Separation,” or “Midnight in Paris,” still have a chance to cement that legacy as well. The makers of those films only need to remind themselves that the neither “Star Wars,” nor “Citizen Kane,” or even “The Wizard of Oz” won Best Picture.