MOVIES

OSCARS REVIEW AND REACTIONS 2011

Drew Larabee talks about the winners and losers at the biggest Hollywood party of the year

Some of the winners from last night's Oscar ceremony

So that’s it for another year, Hollywood’s annual love-in to decide the best feature length drama released in the final quarter of the film year took place on last night at California’s Kodak Theatre.

It was an evening that ultimately ended the way the critics had been anticipating – with the monarchial The King’s Speech winning best picture. Even if we ignore that this season’s ceremony was bookended by a terribly saccharine rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” sung by New York-based fifth graders.

The event that was meant to be hitting the young demographic with fresh-faced hosts James Franco (who lost out in the contest for best actor) and Anne Hathaway ended in a way sure to please grandma and the “Apple Pie” vector of the audience but did little to vindicate the show’s alleged contemporary skew. The kids were fine but couldn’t they have sung something more contemporary or original?

In terms of the actual gongs; despite most of the awards going the way of the pre-match favourites, there were a few surprises and – believe or not – some half decent speeches. Let’s look back at the jewel in the film calendar’s crown.

THE SURPRISES

Despite an early prize for hubby Tim Burton’s movie Alice in Wonderland (a rather humdrum and over-egged film) Helena Bonham Carter  – or Helen A. Bonham-Carter as former best supporting actress Monique called the Brit when the original normations were announced – did not emulate the African-American’s triumph for Precious last year.

She was trumped to the prize for actress in a supporting role by The Fighter’s Melissa Leo whose Massachussetts-based matriach in the boxing drama stole scenes with her cutting and clipped dialogue. Her character Alice Ward, based on the real mother of combattants Micky and Dicky, often brought comic relief to an otherwise straight-laced picture – including one memorable scene where she unleashes an entire kitchen’s worth supply of utensils on her husband whilst bitching at her choric clan of hick daughters.

Leo’s speech was a joy – as was her prize giver; veteran Kirk Douglas. Douglas – whose performance in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is arguably the greatest ever not to get an Academy Award nomination – had charmed the crowd by commenting on how host Franco looked better out of a cave, and bemoaning the fact that girls as attractive as Anne Hathaway had not been around when he was in his prme.

His purposeful delay to increase the tension after opening the envelope but refusing to tell us who the winner was and instead chastise Hugh Jackman for laughing in the audience was fantastic and Leo’s utter shock written all over her face, her hockey-mom esque gibber about recognising true performance and her memorable “When I watched Kate Winslet two years ago, it looked so fvcking easy, oops!” – which lead to people watching the delayed coverage to get a short beat of silence  – was probably the night’s highlight.

However the other surprise was all together less welcome. What does David Fincher have to do to win a best director Oscar? The film-maker who brought us Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club and this year The Social Network, remains without the golden statuette after being beaten by grown-up public schoolboy Tom Hooper for his perfectly decent but hardly mesmeric job on The King’s Speech. Even in Hooper’s home territory, the BAFTAs popped for Fincher.

Call 911, there's been a theft at the Oscars!

Perhaps Fincher – who perhaps was partially lost in the limelight created by screenwriter Aaron Sorkhin’s win for the Facebook-centrered film – will have another shot when he tackles gruesome Swedish thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo next year; which is being rather unnecessarily made after the BAFTA winning original appeared to have done the best it possibly could with the well-structured Stieg Larsson novel.

THE STANDARDS

As was heavily predicted, The King’s Speech won Best Picture – despite in my opinion being one of the weaker entries in the ten films nominated for the prize – confirming that Americans like films about royalty even more than the British and that playing a member of the regal family coupled with a disability is enough to open any executive’s heart.

That said, Firth does deserve a best actor Oscar but not for this; for last year’s wonderful A Single Man where he played a gay teacher contemplating suicide after grieving for his lover before finally finding reconcilliation in the form of a young man.

Firth – who joked that he might perform “dance moves” such was his excitement – warmed the crowd and seemed a thoroughly decent chap and all around Britain, tabloid editors slapped each others backs, thankful that the Brits had triumphed as though this meant we had qualified to host the Oscars next time out.

A somewhat pregnant Natalie Portman won best actress of a Black Swan – wrongly called by some as a misoginistic picture – and was very humble in her acceptance speech. Her performance as troubled ballerina Nina trying to balance both sides of the Swan in a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was superb and it was good to actually see Portman after she was unable to travel out for the BAFTAs. That said – bar Nicole Kidman’s very static effort in the inexorable Rabbit Hole – the other nominees would all have been as deserving.

Cockney Christian Bale – whose beard almost seemed to be impersonating Joaquin Phoenix from mediocre mockumentary I’m Still Here – was the Academy’s pick of crop in a rather weak selection of best supporting actors – bar John Hawkes’s menacing Teardrop in the fabulous Winter’s Bone. The Batman star can always be guaranteed to chew the scenery off – and chew your ear off if you set the lights wrong – and proved that more is more as he ousted fellow Fighter-star Mark Wahlberg to a nomination.

Elsewhere Toy Story 3 came through in the rather barren Best Animated Feature category with just two other nominees ; captivating The Illusionist based on Jacques Tati’s unpublished screenplay and anachronistic How to Train Your Dragon which contained a trible of Vikings – with Scottish accents – battling the fire-breathing creatures and whose offspring appear to speak with American voices. But Pixar’s final installment of the trilogy won as expected and probably should have done and grabbed another award when Randy Newman won for the film’s song “We Belong Together”.

THE SURPLUS

"You've got three minutes. Give it your best shot!" - Inside Job won best documentary

Elsewhere peddler of nonsense Oprah Winfrey presented the exposing Inside Job with the prize for best documentary feature. The Charles Ferguson made film – narrated by Matt Damon – brilliant punctures the obsufucation of the global recession, demonstrating via talking heads and accessible diagrams how the boards and key figures in banks, rating firms and regulators manipulated and exploited the system to line their pockets at the expense of everyone else’s.

It sounds like either a communist’s wet dream or a reimagined An Inconvenient Truth but it is actually a marvellous piece of film-making that is only interested in facts rather than Michael Moore’s typically billowing and sensationalist fodder.

Perennial Oscar misnomer category Best Foreign Language film went to Denmark’s In a Better World. It should be noted that the ludicrious selection process for this award means each country submits only one film for consideration meaning that if, for example, the French submitted a subpar film to the Academy, they would have to ignore all other French movies for that year even if they were significantly better.

I haven’t seen In a Better World so will reserve judgement. This has always been a hit and miss prize – last year winner Depatures was an overly sentimental and rather predicable Japanese film but past winners have included All About My Mother, Z and Day for Night proving that they do get it right sometimes too.

The two nominations running against In a Better World that I had seen – Dogtooth and Biutful – while both good, were not the best foreign language films of last year by a long shot. A quick glance at Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives, Living on Love Alone and Chico & Rita are a case in point.

Amusingly with the Wolfman’s victory for best make-up, the horror it has now won more Oscars than Blade Runner, Taxi Driver and King Kong put together; although perhaps we should be positive that the Academy recognised the chronically overlooked genre.

"Eww, that's gross" - Cate Blancett, before she gave Wolfman the award

Thankfully the Academy dropped the overlong segments from the past few years of different Hollywood stars discussing why their “pick” should win an acting prize and the lack of montages trying to capture a certain aspect to cinema over the past year made for a slicker and less baggy show.

Hathaway and Franco worked well as hosts – avoiding the Gervais approach; as good as that was – but not being too luvvy-duvvy either and did we really need to wheel Billy Crystal out of botox for a rather unnecessary segment on former host Bob Dole who is still alive but was treated as though he had been dead for a while.

Other memorable moments included Justin Timberlake claiming he was Banksy, bushy-haired Luke Matheny saying “I should have had a haircut” when his film God of Love won best Live Action Short and the always emotional In Memoriam which said farewell to such stars as Tony Curtis, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Edwards, John Barry and – close to my heart – Leslie Nielsen.

Former NYU student Luke Matheny spots a barber in the crowd

All-in-all, it was a highly enjoyable watch despite the mish-mash of awards and endemic problems with the Oscars itself. What will the next twelve months bring? Stay tuned to Sick Chirpse to find out.

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