L to r: Meryl Streep, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz
The Oscars is probably my favorite award show that takes place next door to a Claire’s. I’m serious. Have you been to the Kodak Theatre? It’s basically a big recess in a Hollywood Boulevard mall, one with a Claire’s and a Guess and an Express for Men. I remember watching Kate Winslet pick up her Oscar in 2009, the year I moved to L.A., and saying aloud, “So she basically walked past a Claire’s to win that.” It’s tragic and telling. And kind of appropriate, because the Oscars — much as I literally can’t stop thinking about them — are a mall-brand affair. The nominees are palatable, the format is bland, and the whole ceremony is devoted to mainstream flattery and appeal. But here’s the other thing: I shop at the mall. It’s at least clean.
And thankfully, this year’s telecast was far cleaner than last year’s torturous burlesque, when Anne Hathaway busked like The Little Sparrow and James Franco gargled Ovaltine or something. Billy Crystal, the world’s official Un-Eddie Murphy, led this year’s show with a not-terribly-unbearable opening montage and song (which included a Justin Bieber cameo and Billy’s ancient-ass Sammy Davis Jr. blackface impersonation — yikes?), but most importantly, he kept it short. Way to understand 2012, sir. That’s what we’re about. It’s important to note that the emcee’s airtime has decreased dramatically over the past decade, so there really wasn’t much space for Billy to ruin our lives. He was fine! Fine. That’s exactly what everyone claimed they wanted. He was the same Comic Relief-y smiling slab of avuncular charm.
But the awards. Your gay-for-pay octagenarian of the year, Christopher Plummer, shuffled off with the Best Supporting Actor statue to no one’s surprise. Cute, bemused speech wherein he thanked all the right people. No big deal. Except TAKE THAT Jonah Hill. He’s my least favorite thespian right now, and trust me, I haven’t forgotten about Victoria Jackson or John Wilkes Booth. I didn’t pay much attention during the pre-show red carpet (where Sacha Baron Cohen bombed Ryan Seacrest with ashes in some uninspired bit promoting his new flick), but I did notice that Jonah Hill is about the most aggressively self-serious actor on the planet right now. Reeking of condescension and irritation. Miffed by reporters. Purposely perturbed by the rancid Tinseltown sausage factory in which he voluntarily participates. If Nick Nolte can fake cogency, you can fake likability, Jonah. Moving on: Octavia Spencer! Also a winner, but for a film that definitely deserves no more than a 2 1/2 star rating in the Maltin book. She wept onstage like a rightful shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress, very Jennifer Hudson.
Hugo dominated the technical categories, and if you love Hugo, you are almost certainly 1) a self-consciously highbrow movie fan, 2) a film critic, or 3) I literally don’t know what else. The movie is just so manchildren-friendly and inconsequential, and only theoretically aimed at real children. Not very memorable, and if we’re comparing kid actors of 2012, the unfairly maligned Thomas Horn of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close acts circles around Hugo‘s pale scamps Chloe Moretz and Asa Butterfield. Speaking of pale scamps: Woody Allen collected his first Oscar since ’86 for Midnight in Paris‘s script, and I’m slightly sorry that Kristen Wiig didn’t become the first SNL cast member ever to collect a trophy. Where was Gilda Radner‘s Oscar for Gilda Live? Laraine Newman‘s for Problem Child 2? I’ll never understand these things. Roseanne Rosannadanna is easily as worthy as Miss Jean Brodie. Allen didn’t show up to win the award, of course, but that meant we got to stare at presenter Angelina Jolie‘s impossible legginess and antimatter arms some more. Wild.
The Artist, which is not as good as The Tree of Life, Shame, Young Adult, Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, Coriolanus (my favorite!), Win Win, Midnight in Paris, Margin Call, or even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, began an expected sweep with the Best Costume Design and Best Original Score statues. That’s inoffensive enough, but of course the big categories rolled in: The dapper Michel Hazanavicius walked away with Best Director and the devastatingly handsome Jean Dujardin snatched up Best Actor. To be honest, I yearned for an upset here; while Moneyball isn’t my favorite movie, Brad Pitt‘s performance is both magnetic and unassuming. I really dug it. It’s a plenty more interesting challenge than Dujardin’s role in The Artist, which was only ever chipper or dour. Not a thing else. Finally, of course, The Artist took home Best Picture. I toploaded you with a list of superior films so it wouldn’t seem so obnoxious down here. I’ve been thinking about this moment. For you.
If that seems like everything, you’re so wrong and you don’t belong at this site. Tantalizingly close to the end of the night, a deadpan Colin Firth presented Best Actress, and he didn’t even shriek when announcing Meryl Streep‘s name instead of Viola Davis‘. Oh, the seismic gay shriek that rolled through Hollywood. Through Los Angeles County. It rattled the shutters in Malibu and shook up the chess matches at the Magic Johnson Starbucks in Inglewood. Meryl’s speech was cheeky and gracious (and always a little too mannered, but that’s Meryl’s thing at award shows now), but let’s talk about why we should’ve guessed she’d win.
1) Having two Oscar-winners from The Help is extreme.
2) It pained the Academy to snub Meryl for the thirteenth time in a row.
3) The Oscars ultimately pander to statisticians, the people who know that Meryl Streep will match Katharine Hepburn‘s record of four Oscars before she retires. But does a win for The Iron Lady, a mediocre movie that I’ve been calling Margaret Doubtfire, dent Meryl’s chances at a fourth win? If Meryl is Ingrid Bergman, is this her Murder on the Orient Express? I had Meryl’s third and fourth Oscars all planned out — the third for August Osage County, the fourth for playing the elder Queen Victoria in a 2024 Sofia Coppola jam — and now I’m not sure if her winning destiny is squelched or reassured. The one thing I do is that Viola Davis will win a damn Oscar one day. And I still think there’s hope for Glenn Close. No more austerity though, Glenn. No more crossdressing old-timey roles that Tim Gunn is better suited to play. You leave the somber stuff to Michelle Williams, who is definitely allergic to smiles.
And that was the Oscars. The Artist ultimately sends an important message to Hollywood: Shut up. That struck me as the perfect coda. Join us now for a gallery of glamor where it’s perfectly OK to sing the Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet” at all volumes.