By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Note to Readers: This column was written and posted before Sunday night’s Oscars. Eleanor only missed one prediction — Meryl Streep did win best actress. Maria
What can I say about the Academy Awards that hasn’t already been said?
Perhaps this: I have been watching the televised Oscar show as part of my job description for well over 30 years. I’ve noticed these differences.
– The Red Carpet has basically become more important than who wins what. One hears “Who are you wearing” more often than “And the winner is…”
– No one has yet figured out how to make the show entertaining. Billy Crystal’s hosting gigs have come closest (and he’s back this year). But from Jon Stewart to David Letterman to Whoopi Goldberg, they’ve all gone down in flames. The nadir was last year’s pairing of James Falco, too-cool-for-the-room (he thought) and a game but flummoxed Anne Hathaway.
– The Young People, God bless’em, are increasingly less interested in the Oscars or the telecast. I assigned a college class I was teaching to “review” the Oscar Show. I thought it was a Gimme, an Easy A. Or at least a painless assignment. They groaned as if I’d told them they had to watch every movie Pauly Shore ever made and deliver a 20-page analysis of his comic technique.
– About every 5 years, it’s “Women’s Year!” Gag me with a Tiffany baby spoon.
– Jack Nicholson doesn’t show up much anymore.
This year’s show already starts off as an underdog of sorts.
Or, better still, a hand-me-down. Brett Ratner was supposed to produce the show and Eddie Murphy, Ratner’s “Tower Heist” star, was set to be host. Y’all remember the last time Murphy was at the Academy Award, right’? After he lost best supporting actor for “Chicago,” he left. Sheer class. The only other nominated star, I remember leaving the Oscars early is Will Smith. But then, he had some cheesy excuse about his son being in the hospital.
So, on to my predictions as to who will win what (and who should’ve won what). I do this in service of all the Friday office Oscar pools I keep hearing about. And I always remind readers, the only time I got all 6 major categories right was my first year as film critic for a Major Metropolitan Monopoly Newspaper. I guess working there only made me WORSE….oh, just joking…
Here goes, beginning with
Will Win: “The Artist.”
This is a charming (and, on a second viewing, more sophisticated than it seems) silent movie, in black-and-white, that celebrates silent movies, in black-and-white. Part “Singin’ in the Rain,” part “A Star is Born,” Michel Hazanavicius’ picture looks back on the glory days, before television or computers or cell phone. When people dressed up a bit to see a movie and the theatres themselves were like fantasy palaces with stars on the ceiling.
Should Win: “Hugo.”
Has a film ever been cursed with a more wretched name? Or a more wretched marketing campaign? Everyone I ran into — even sophisticated movie-goers and moviemakers — referred to it as “Martin Scorsese’s Kiddie Picture.” Right. Like “Titanic” is the equivalent of a Little Rubber Duckie.
“Hugo” is an unabashed tribute to the movies that, even more than “The Artist,” raises a clenched fist in honor of the movie pioneers. It’s Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and May Pickford, Most of all, it’s George Melies whose magical early works (including “A Trip to the Moon”) anticipate everyone from James Cameron and George Lucas to Stephen Spielberg and the Coen brothers. Please see this movie. It’s at Phipps in 3D (the only time I’ve ever endorsed 3-D) . And after the Oscars, it’ll be gone. So put it at the top of your Netflix list as of February 28.
Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Well, why not? Not only is his film a treat, but there’s an attention to tone and detail that is astonishing. There’s not a sloppy moment in the entire movie and everyone in the cast seems to be working in synch with each other. There’s a kind of seamlessness.
Should Win: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo.”
It has everything “The Artist” has and more. That’s the crucial difference. There’s an energy that only someone who made “Mean Streets” and “GoodFellas” and “The Departed” can impart to a movie that loves movies. Scorsese has been out there beating the drum for film preservation and restoration since, I don’t know; I think I first saw him at the New York Film Festival showing a restored “Becky Sharpe” sometime in the mid-80s. His sheer passion for movies, for the movies he grew up on as well as the movies that went before, is heart-stopping. Yes, the leads are kids and yes, there’s not an R-Rated moment. But while I would love it if sophisticated parents took their sophisticated children to see it, this is not, I repeat, Scorsese’s attempt to pander to the family audience. This is one from the heart.
Will Win: Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”)
It’s strange year for actors. A lot of Sure Bets — Ryan Gosling for one — didn’t make the cut. The result is a sort of Brokeback Category. On the one hand, heavyweights like “Ocean’s” buddies, Brad Pitt (“Moneyball”) and George Clooney (“The Descendants”) going mano a mano.
Clooney’s got 2 Oscars, but neither are for the Big Kahuna, Best Actor. Pitt has no Oscars. So a tie (it happened in 1968…look it up) or a split vote? I’m going with split vote, which, if “The Artist’s” momentum holds, means Dujardin. I don’t think dark horses Gary Oldman or Demian Bichir in the little-seen “A Better Life” pose a problem, Dujardin’s movie was little seen enough.
Should Win: Gary Oldman (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”)
I am extremely taken with Dujardin.” Watch carefully how he differentiates between his character’s behavior in real life and in the movies within the movie. What this all means is, I’m fine with a Dujardin win. But Oldman has an extraordinary track record that, in an odd year like this, could sneak through. As a career award as much as anything else. Yes, he’s terrific in a totally sublimated way in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” But he’s also done extraordinary work in “Sid and Nancy,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Akabar,” “Dracula” and on and on. It’s almost as f he had been handed this particular circumstance so he could benefit from a split. Essentially, I’m in his court, but would be happy if Pitt, Clooney or Dujardin went home a winner.
Will Win: Viola Davis (“The Help”)
Lord, I love this woman’s work. And Lord, I’d love to see her win. But for “The Help?” A rotten bit of, well… magic realism comes to mind, given its grip on reality. I am not knocking Davis herself, who plays a very good maid. Nor am I especially knocking Katherine Stockett who wrote the book. But roaring your approval for an African-American’s portrayal of a servant in 2012? Doesn’t sit well with me. I mean, are we already back to Hattie McDaniel Time? And, does anyone remember that the person on whom Davis’s character is based, sued to get a part of the considerable profits from the book and the movie? Well, she did. And she lost.
Winning an Oscar is a big deal and a difficult deal. I imagine Davis and her companion in starched aprons, Octavia Spencer, don’t feel like quibbling about how they won. They’d just like to win. I can’t blame ‘em. I’d feel the same way, too. I’m just so sorry it’s for this lame-ass, moronic, squishy, pull-your-punches picture.
Should win: Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”)
This is the best performance given by anyone, including Uggie the dog in “The Artist,” this year. Streep’s incarnation of Margaret Thatcher is precisely what “transformative” means. Some have argued it’s not political enough. Others have insisted they won’t go see anything that makes Maggie T. look even the least bit human.
The movie strikes a delicate balance somewhere in-between. And by the movie, I mean Streep (with a healthy assist from Jim Broadbent). This is a story of personal bereavement more than it is political power plays. Of what is given up and what is gained when a woman chooses to enter a public arena. Some of it applies to men as well, but what I love so much here, is the movie dares to be about female trouble. How being a grocer’s daughter is just the beginning of her hurdles. How being a woman can be a beginning, middle and end.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will Win: Octavia Spencer (“The Help”)
See Viola Davis above, with the somewhat important difference that there isn’t anyone else in the category who deserves to beat her.
Should Win: Spencer
And, again, see Davis above.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will Win: Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”)
He’s been doing excellent work for decades and even he’s stopped trashing himself as Capt. Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.” In “Beginners,” a vibrant but underseen picture, Plummer plays a recent widower who, after a long, reasonably happy marriage, comes out and has an even happier time as a “beginner” at age 75 in the gay world. Ewan McGregor plays Plummer’s son dealing with both his born-again dad and a beginner’s romance of his own.
Should Win: Plummer
The only possible competition is Kenneth Branagh, quite lively as Laurence Olivier in “My Week with Marilyn.” If Jonah Hill gets it for “Moneyball,” well, the fix was in.