It was a night of laughs, upsets, and shocks at the Oscars. And that was just the opening bit by returning host Billy Crystal.
If the 84th annual Academy Awards proved anything Sunday night, it's that its members can be counted on to veer from their projected course.
Actress Viola Davis (The Help) was a lock for Best Actress. But it was Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) who took the stage to accept her third Oscar in her record 17 nominations. Streep was more than deserving, but her win was no less surprising.
I also thought cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was a shoo-in for his inspired work in The Tree of Life, which was one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Most critics agreed. Yet it was Robert Richardson, himself one of the best cinematographers in film today, who won for Hugo.
And in the night's other big slight, the football in a small town documentary Undefeated beat the crusade to get three innocent teens-turned men freed from prison doumentary Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory for Best Documentary. Undefeated is a feel-good movie. Paradise Lost 3 literally changed lives. So entertainment trumps social justice.
Otherwise, I was pleased with the Academy choices:
Jean Dujardin Best Actor and Michel Hazanavicius Best Director for The Artist. Christopher Plummer Best Supporting Actor for Beginners, making him, at 82, the oldest Oscar winner. Octavia Spencer Best Supporting Actress for The Help. Rango for Best Animated Feature. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants, and Woody Allen Best Original Screenplay for Midnight in Paris.
Given the minor controversy surrounding The Artist's use of music from other films, the film's composer Ludovic Bource's win for his original jazzy score in the movie was as much a statement by the Academy as it was about Bource's work.
In total, The Artist tied with Hugo to win five awards each. At one point early in the show, it seemed not impossible that Hugo might go on some crazy Oscar run and win the big categories film and director, but it didn't. The Academy may like to throw some surprises, but they're not crazy.
The other big conversation about the Sunday's Oscars is sure to be the return of Crystal after eight years away. I thought the nine-time host was best when ad-libbing quips before presentations, but the staged gags -- including the predictable video and musical tribute to the nine best movie nominees -- was OK, and not particularly inspired. Crystal made me wish Eddie Murphy hadn't backed out of the hosting gig; I remain curious about what the one-time stand-up would have done if he hosted instead. And speaking of hosts ... Chris Rock, himself a former Oscar host who was much funnier than people remember, presented the Best Animated categories. He delivered some smart, topical jokes about the types of voiceover roles offered to white actors and black actors that only someone like Rock does. But no one at the Oscars wants to feel uncomfortable, which is why the outspoken Rock will never host again.
I didn't miss the song performances, though I would have loved to have seen "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets performed live. And I liked the special Cirque du Soleil tribute to movies. I especially liked it because it didn't drag on.
Overall, was it a great Oscars show? No, but there were some memorable wins. The acceptance speeches by Streep, Spencer, Plummer, and Dujardin will be highlights of the telecast for years -- especially Streep's.
As for my predictions ... I knew it was going to be a rough night with the first presentation. I picked Lubezki and The Tree of Life for cinematography and it was mostly downhill from there.
I also whiffed on documentary, best actor and actress, editing, and visual effects.
So much for Hollywood being predictable.
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