The 83rd Academy Awards have come and gone. Yeah, the show itself was a mess. It seems like everybody agrees that Anne Hathaway and James Franco did a poor job hosting. They seemed mismatched the entire way through. Hathaway reeked of trying too hard, but that seemed exceptionally vivid with her next to a somnambulant James Franco. (I don’t think he fully opened his eyes once during the entire show.) Even putting aside that they were a poor fit for this kind of gig, the material itself was pretty bad. It was just a bland, plodding show. There weren’t even any particularly memorable speeches or moments. Yeah, Kirk Douglas filibustered, and Melissa Leo used a naughty word, and that was pretty much it. The only upside: The ceremony was (comparatively) quick.
More importantly, what of the winners? The frontrunners once again triumphed, with nary a shock in sight. “The King’s Speech” rode popular acclaim to the Best Picture trophy, while Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo took home their foretold Oscars. “Toy Story 3″ was the Best Animated Feature while Aaron Sorkin is an Oscar winner.
The closest thing to a surprise was Tom Hooper’s victory as Best Director, which a lot of people (who aren’t me) had already predicted. History will judge whether Hooper deserved the Oscar over David Fincher, but it looks to me like a throwback to earlier decades, when a guy (it’s always a guy) making either his first big movie or one of his first three films rides a crescendo of hype over more established filmmakers to take the Best Director trophy. Prior beneficiaries: Sam Mendes, Anthony Minghella, James L. Brooks, Michael Cimino, Robert Benton. Those rookie or neophyte directors won by beating, among others: Michael Mann, Joel and Ethan Coen, Milos Forman, Ingmar Bergman, Francis Ford Coppola and Hal Ashby. (This doesn’t even include actor-directors like Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson, who beat Spielberg, Scorsese and David Lynch, so, yeah.) Some of it may have been the obvious appeal of “The King’s Speech,” but at least some small part must have recognized that Fincher has been here before and will be again, plus he’s got a “reputation,” so let’s recognize the new guy who is more of a blank slate.
More notable in the aftermath is what didn’t (or barely) win. “Inception” and “The King’s Speech” took home the most Oscars (four apiece), while “The Social Network” followed that with three trophies. “Alice in Wonderland” took home two Oscars, meaning it has two more than “True Grit,” “Winter’s Bone,” “127 Hours,” “The Kids Are All Right” and “Blue Valentine.” Those films all went home empty-handed, which was particularly brutal for “True Grit.” The movie had 10 nods (the second-highest nomination haul), and while it wasn’t favored in any one category, that’s still a pretty harsh shutout. “Toy Story 3″ took home two awards (animated feature and for Randy Newman, singing about what he sees), as did “The Fighter” (both supporting trophies), and “Black Swan” took him just one award (for Natalie Portman).
This year’s leading nominee, “The King’s Speech,” had 12 nominations and won four of those Oscars. Last year’s leading contenders (“The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar”) each came in with nine nods, and they won six and three Oscars, respectively. The year before, the leading nominee was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which won three Oscars after getting 13 nominations. The point is that getting a lot of nominations, as always, doesn’t mean that much. But “True Grit” having 10 nominations and losing in every single category is historically noteworthy. Only “The Turning Point” and “The Color Purple” had more nominations (both had 11) and zero wins. The people behind the film can take solace in that they are in good company, in terms of other films that lost 10 Oscars: “Chinatown,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Becket” and “Benjamin Button” are on that list. (Of course, every one of those films took home at least one Oscar.)
The hosts, roundly pilloried and nakedly poor choices, aren’t likely to suffer any long-term setbacks. People think David Letterman’s show was the worst ever, and he’s still considered the best around at his actual job. Chris Rock’s show was my favorite in recent years, followed by Jon Stewart’s work, though popular sentiment didn’t seem to agree; regardless, it hasn’t made them any less funny. Anne Hathaway will still be in the next “Batman,” and James Franco will continue his Möbius strip of a career, delving into art, literature, film, television, theater, soap operas, skywriting, whatever. Right now, Franco is known mostly for being “James Franco,” but that hasn’t stopped Gus Van Sant and Danny Boyle and Sam Raimi from wanting to work with him. People think he did his career immeasurable harm, which is pretty dumb. That “Rise of the Apes” thing won’t work out, but this is only a blip on his overall portfolio.
And what of the winners and losers? My haphazard guesses: I think “Black Swan” and “Inception” will be the most indelible of this year’s Oscar films, cited in the years and decades to come by historians and filmmakers alike. “The King’s Speech” will be looked at as a “Forrest Gump”-esque popular choice, and “The Social Network” might resonate as time goes on and the creation of Facebook settles further into the past. “Winter’s Bone” and “127 Hours” seem likely to be remembered as good vehicles for exemplary performances by young stars who grew into great talents (“The Kids Are All Right” might have similar legacy, should the two younger stars live up to the potential they’ve shown), while “Toy Story 3″ could just be another chapter in the “Pixar could do no wrong, even though they released ‘Cars 2′” story. “True Grit” might spark another bout of Westerns, or it might not.
Once again, the Oscars celebrated some (not all, not nearly all) of the year’s best in cinema. In the end, “The Wolfman” has one more Oscar than Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock combined. So it’s the same as it ever was.