Despite a bumpy opening, wherein most of Crystal’s traditional song medley was (mercifully?) drowned out by muddy audio, the show recovered with a series of fastball jokes that helped goose the energy. Some of the gags were pretty corny, if not downright out of touch (Mother of Pearl, kids are watching movies on phones?!), but they came quick enough that even the clunkers were mostly forgotten. The nine-time host was at his best when he indulged in his talent for winking snark, noting the absurdity of “millionaires presenting each other with golden statues” in the current economy, or acknowledging the emergence of a giant songbook prop with a bored “Eh.” He also scored big with a gravel-throated impression of gruff Warrior supporting actor nominee Nick Nolte.
Trophies were handed out with refreshing regularity, and speeches kept fairly short and snappy (not many shout-outs to accountants and lawyers, thankfully). As expected the silent movie homage The Artist won best picture, director for Michel Hazanavicius and leading actor for the suave Jean Dujardin (“I love your country,” the star exclaimed at the start of a charming speech that closed with an ecstatic impromptu soft-shoe routine), while popular faves Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer scored in the best supporting categories for their turns in The Help and Beginners. At 84, the ever-classy Plummer officially became the oldest recipient to bring home an acting Oscar.
There were a few minor surprises, though. Meryl Streep’s prevailing over The Help frontrunner Viola Davis for best actress was a slightly controversial choice, given The Iron Lady’s frosty critical and commercial reception. The much-lauded actress herself even seemed to recognize that fact. Joking that half of America was no doubt irritated by her bringing home her third statue, she immediately launched into a self-effacing, warm and irresistibly humble acceptance speech (“Thank you for this inexplicable career”) that went a long way towards pacifying even the most ardent detractors. In the technical categories, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s win for best editing left even the victors in a state of shock (“Let’s just get out of here…!”), and Hugo’s triumph for achievement in visual effects upset expected champion Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Many thought Apes was a lock since praised mo-cap performer Andy Serkis was snubbed in the supporting actor category.
All in all, it was a pleasantly old-fashioned affair that honoured cinema, and the legacy of the awards, with enough nostalgia, glamour and good humour to keep viewers engaged for the three-plus hour run-time. Sure, it was often tempting to poke holes in the committee’s stodgy nomination choices, but you know what? Hopefully they’ll get it right next year. Or maybe the year after that.
The complete winners list:
Best Picture: The Artist
Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
Animated Feature: Rango
Foreign Language: A Separation, Iran
Film Editing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Art Direction: Hugo
Costume Design: The Artist
Make Up: The Iron Lady
Sound Editing: Hugo
Sound Mixing: Hugo
Visual Effects: Hugo
Music, original score: The Artist
Music, original song: "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets
Short, animated: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Short, documentary: Saving Face
Short, live action: The Shore