Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Morning After: Tea, Sympathy, and Less Sympathy

Years from now—when you talk about this—and you will—be kind. Right outta the mouth of Deborah Kerr, six-time Oscar bridesmaid. Were she speaking today, and specifically this morning, or perhaps already by the middle of last night, Kerr might have said, Years from now—if you talk about this—and you might—make fair distinctions.

I'm keeping mum about my thoughts on the telecast, since I'm hoping to be able to join Nathaniel and the gang for a wrap-up podcast, travel plans permitting. "Discombobulated" is the fairest adjective I've heard in relation to the show, which was occasionally better and frequently worse than that.

As for the prize-giving, it occurred to me this morning to attempt a long-view prognostication and assess how these actual winners will be collectively remembered in terms of individual merit, respective standing against their nomination fields, and dramatic impact at the moment of opening the envelope—a moment which only got more dramatic, given how many presenters plainly had difficulty extracting the card with the winner's name. I realized as I starting working this out that I might have been subconsciously steered to this sort of morning-after post by those fun commentaries that Joe Reid and The Critical Condition have been writing about the hindsight longevity of Oscar's nominations and anointees in 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005.

Of course, the whole point of their exercise is that our feelings change as years pass and artistic stocks rise and fall. But I'm feeling pretty Oda Mae this morning, so I'm going to try to channel the future anyway. Collectively, what will be the mood in the house when we gaze backward onto this roster of champs—again, mindful of quality, nominated competition, expansion or retrenchment of "AMPAS taste," and value-added for sheer suspense? (Funny how much this wound up looking like my own personal taste, projected onto everyone in the world, from now till forever. I wonder if anyone's considered how blogging can make you narcissistic? Anyone?)

Original Score: From virtually the moment The Social Network opened (somewhat belatedly inspiring me to these thoughts and these sequel thoughts), Oscar watchers awaited the Music Branch's disqualification of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's insinuating, unconventional music. Jonny Greenwood's unnerving, instant-classic There Will Be Blood tracks were only the most recent emblem of how difficult it is for a) untested film composers with b) rock-world pedigrees who c) insist on strange melodies, arrangements, and instrumentation, often favoring d) ambient electronic elements to be included in the voting, much less to secure a nod or a win. As hard as it is out here for a pimp, it's even harder for Trent Reznor to win an Oscar. Or, you'd have thought so. Yet here we are. The exciting oddity of the Hurt Locker mention last year, which could have come down to sheer enthusiasm for the film in a weak field of nominees, comes to full and bristling flower with this thrilling win in a fully competitive five-way race. That Reznor and Ross beat Alexandre Desplat, a universally admired and thus-far winless composer who furnished the melodies to the year's currently beloved Best Picture champion makes their good fortune all the more tremendous, and astonishing.

Film Editing: Less boundary-pushing but no less intricate than the artistry of the composers, and with an admittedly greater competitive edge coming into the night, Kirk Baxter's and Angus Wall's editing on Social Network might be the key ingredient in keeping such a talky and multi-stranded drama barreling ahead, with all that complex but cleanly handled toggling among unfolding actions and future, multiple depositions. An aspect of the film well worth studying; a loss for Baxter and Wall would have been even more mystifying to later Oscar nuts than Fincher's upset is likely to be.

Documentary Feature: Partly because Charles Ferguson made the only attempt at a political statement the entire evening (and bravo to him, and to the statement), and partly because the pair of them managed to cover that base and be context-appropriate and palpably grateful all in less than a minute, and because Inside Job will survive as a compressed, teachable digest of how the financial collapse came to pass. Any of its fellow nominees would have been plausible winners, so last spring's prohibitive early favorite managed to feel like a hard-charging racer to the finish line. Very gratifying, even if Gift Shop would have been better TV and the Restrepo guys comparably sobering.

Supporting Actor: One of two embarrassingly rich acting categories, both of which managed to reward a very familiar face with established mall-crowd credentials and formidable arthouse bragging rights. Bale has confessed to the loudness of his performance, which may seem a little overcooked as years pass, but I doubt it. After Ledger in '08 and Waltz in '09 (and many would add Bardem in '07), we're looking at quite a glory run in this frequently doldrumy derby.

Adapted Screenplay: The legacy of Aaron Sorkin's script and its Oscar triumph ought to fall even more closely in line with Network's than he realizes, which will probably delight him. That is, its detractors will become even more vociferous, finding ever more persuasive evidence of compromise and jerry-rigging, but its champions won't get weary, either. I expect we're due for many years of benchmarking praise ("Film X has the best, most literate script since The Social Network"). However boldly Granik and Rosellini preserved Daniel Woodrell's "Ozark" conceits and the Coen brothers did right by Charles Portis, a loss in this category would have been pretty asinine. Please note that I am not a 100% Social Network devotee, even though the article thus far would imply otherwise.

Supporting Actress: To my taste, Leo's "accidental" F-bomb was more nakedly tactical and dubiously tasteful than her Consider... ads. Just check how quickly she goes from mugged embarrassment to gauging the crowd's reaction, as high up as the rafters. People will forget the ad controversy; the disjointed, increasingly awkward speech, which started out nicely with some game engaging of Kirk Douglas, will follow her a lot longer. The excesses of her persona "as herself" are likely to draw even more skeptical eyes to the excesses of her performance as Alice Ward, which plenty of people already find too showboaty. But this is the kind of not-quite-famous, billed-below-the-title, cult-following actor whom it's gratifying to see at the winner's podium, and I'm sure she's not done surprising us with what else she can do. I'm glad she's eschewing a stylist (in fact, I thought she looked unconventional and marv, which is a great combo), and I believe every account that she's a charming, earnest person. One evening with Emily Post wouldn't kill her, though. Or maybe just a week shadowing Annette Bening. (After Mo'Nique and Leo, what PR porcupine will emerge in next year's race? Has Megan Fox got a disability drama in the hopper?)

Animated Feature: The win for the lousy song will drag this trophy down more than overall adoration for the movie will benefit Randy Newman. Victories for the spectacular co-nominees, How to Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist, would have looked discerning, refreshingly against the grain, yet fully justifiable. And a sense of Pixar fatigue is growing palpable, especially when the directors always act "surprised" to have won, and the full passel of major creative masterminds (Lasseter, Stanton, Bird, Docter, Unkrich) has his own statuette to dress up. Lots of reasons why Pixar will need a real hum-dinger of a universal love object to stay as high-flying adored in the 10s as they were through the 00s. All of that said, Toy Story 3 is probably not as sublime as we devotees have wagered nor as flawed as its more nonplussed critics try to maintain. A drama-free moment of the telecast, but hard to begrudge too much, even for a lot of the people who'd have voted otherwise.

Actor: Similarly, I think dyspepsia about the even bigger prizes for The King's Speech will spread to Firth through a principle of contagion, more than the other way around. Which I'm more or less okay with, since several principles of contagion sure served him well this season: good will stirred up last year, good will seeping across 20 entire years before that, and heightened perceptions of complexity in his George VI because people simply love the film. But no one seems capable of holding anything against Firth, even more than against The King's Speech. I expect some Foxx/Mirren-style incredulity to start swirling around him, which he admirably tried to get out ahead of in his first line at the daïs ("I have a feeling my career has just peaked"). To read the internet these days, you'd never know how Streep or Dench or Cruz or DiCaprio or Eastwood lost in years when everyone alive remembers that they never had a chance. Eisenberg, Franco, and Bardem can hope for that kind of retrospective adulation, but Firth's performance, if not quite equal to present euphoria, is better than an eventual pushback will admit. Maybe he'll be a Forest Whitaker, a certain, landslide victor whom, already, almost nobody brings up, but when someone does, everyone remains glowingly complimentary of actor and execution alike.

Sound Mixing: BRRRRAHHHMMMMMM!!!!!!! has stayed in the cultural vocabulary slightly even more than the folding-city image, and it's much more recurrent within the actual film. Also, an easier punchline to reproduce in two seconds or less, as our merry band of podcasters has repeatedly rediscovered. I think people will remember how Inception sounded even more than how it looked, and since voting on Best Sound goes bizarrely astray more often than it does in Visual Effects (It's a musical, so it must have great sound! It's winning Best Picture, so it must have great sound!), AMPAS deserves a half-point of extra credit here. Though anyone who loved the mixing of Salt or Social Network or True Grit—who is now looking at the Nolan vehicle's victory and sniping It's loud, so it must have great sound!—is not completely failing to make a point.

Visual Effects: Over and against those who cited Firth or Portman, I'd name this prize as neck-and-neck with the Screenplay prizes as the night's most fore-ordained. Who wouldn't have voted for it, especially against the weak sauce of Alice's incoherent visual proportions, Hereafter's half-wonky tsunami, and, according to the telecast, a CGI python in Harry Potter and the same old suit of armor in Iron Man 2. Not the best coming-out party for a five-wide field, especially given that the telecast featured so many recyclings of the least convincing F/X spectacle in the movie, when the Parisian café explodes. This won't look nearly so au courant in five or ten years as T2 and Jurassic Park still do at nearly 20. But it's also an indisputable choice.

Actress: I know, I know: I'm unmoved by this performance, so I'm deciding everyone else will eventually agree with me. But, seriously: how long before Portman hits a similar wall to Paltrow's, where the blithe gliding-over of her limitations swerves suddenly and mercilessly into a refusal to acknowledge any of her gifts? Pink dress=baby bump. If the Firth backlash seems likely, the Portman one could get truly scary, mediated only by the fact that she seems like she'd be just as happy taking her trophy, her friends, and her family with her and doing something else. Does she wish she'd stuck with dancing full time? I'm not sure, but the question reminds me: almost every year generates one acting victor who is remembered as winning on a PR narrative more than on his or her actual performance. Leo did her best to lose on a PR narrative, and Firth and Bale handled their public appearances like maestri without looking like they were working at it. By contrast, whereas every single stat about hours in dance prep, pounds sacrificed, and years lingering in pre-production probably helped Portman win, they could quickly turn into sandbags on the reputation of her victory, especially against a field that's not only aesthetically strong but rhetorically imposing: Bening's fourth foiling, Lawrence's out-of-nowhere arrival, Kidman's comeback, and Williams's subdued integrity, limelight shunning, and genuine indie-friendliness, the same qualities for which Portman, beguiling and impressive as I find her, seems like a more debatable emblem.

Cinematography: Probably the night's biggest surprise, particularly since it suggested early kinks in overall predictability that soon subsided into the lockstep consensus we'd all suspected. Pfister has been a ceaseless and cordial also-ran on his three previous outings, and it's not his fault that victory finally came calling at the expense of someone who's now lost three times as often as he has (and for work in a much broader range of styles, compared to Pfister's hip-join to a single director). It's not even the best-looking film in the Pfister-Nolan corpus, and unlikely to appease those who still bemoan Inception's omission in Best Director. I like the win, but I forecast it as one I'll misattribute to other films until I go back to look it up, in the manner of Memoirs of a Geisha and Pan's Labyrinth... both of which scored in years when Pfister's work would have made for a preferable choice.

Sound Effects Editing: You can feel Oscartrackers' weariness at the way a single film tends to sweep Sound Mixing, Sound Effects, and Visual Effects in a fell swoop, which should be just as irritating as that habit which finally broke this year of treating the nomination fields in all three categories as more or less identical. Inception, I think, had the least fair claim on this prize of its four, and it's the lowest-profile of four low-profile races. As a way to finally Oscar Skip Lievsay (for True Grit), or to anoint the conspicuous squeaking and zooming of Unstoppable or Tron, or to throw an extra statuette in the Pixar coffer, Sound Effects Editing would have been a nice get. The reflexive giving of the prize to the Sound and Visual Effects champ makes the category feel redundant in a way it didn't at the nominating stage. (Liked the touch, though, of one of the three effects editors—two men and a woman—thanking "all three of our wives." Sapphic sisters in the sound booth! Get it, Lora Hirschberg!)

Original Screenplay: A perfect instance of a well-wrought line in a charming speech ("My father always said I'd be a late bloomer...") coating a questionable win with a Teflon coat of sentimental appeal. I still believe The King's Speech will track the way Rain Man has, not because stuttering is at all like autism, but because what it's got in its corner is feeling, not craft, and deft manipulation, not sturdy conviction. Not that I see a lot of sturdy conviction in many of this year's nominated movies, even ones that I like a lot. The 4/12 haul suggests somewhat thinner appreciation already than many had forecast, and when the momentary buoy starts sinking, Seidler's script will feel the chill and the wet pretty fast. But, because it's easier to tolerate mediocre winners the further down the prestige ladder you go, and because the basic arc of a story that has affected people so much can at least be credited to Seidler's initial inspiration (however opportunistic or dishonest his framing), he won't bear the brunt of the critique. Plus, I thought Leigh's writing was unusually hit-or-miss in Another Year, Inception's constant exposition rather hard to take, and the Fighter and Kids scripts alarmingly perfunctory in passages, no matter how strong in others, or how well saved by acting, editing, and direction. So, it's harder to find better alternatives here than in Picture or Director.

Art Direction: Tim Burton's movies, when nominated, have never lost in this category, which is exactly the sort of narrative that turns from an august tradition to an irritating axiom as soon as it alights on a really perplexing winner. I'm not going to lie: I thought some of the geometries, palettes, and architectures of Alice were sort of fun, though many of them, especially in the Wonderland exteriors, were as aggressively gaudy as I'd heard. And I didn't see it in 3-D, so I didn't have that extra bit of desperate pandering to deal with. So, I don't hate this win so, so, so much (maybe only "much" or "so much," if we must speak of "muchness"), and I can see why people who liked it liked it. But this can't go on forever, and the sea of naysayers is pretty much a minor ocean already. Also, since I can't resist picking a fight, are we all clocking that winning Art Director Robert Stromberg also won last year for Avatar? And can I still get no one on my side in believing that Avatar's Pandora is only a hair less garish than Alice's Wonderland?

Costume Design: I feel a bit bad for Atwood, because I think the costume designing in Alice pips the art direction for median quality, though both are subject to some very low lows—particularly around Alice herself, when it comes to the threads. That shapeless rust, black, and white diagonal-ruffle affair would get you booted off Runway in no time at all, especially with Georgina Chapman or Anne Slowey on guest-judge duty. Still, part of the sting of Alice's frequent awfulness comes, for me, in how fully it fails to live up to the scary-kooky promise of the basic character designs on the teaser posters, which involve some really fun costuming of the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts. But, setting aside the unexpected I Am Love mention and the unfairly compulsory-feeling inclusion of Mary Zophres, at long last nominated for True Grit, Costume Design offered a less inspiring field than the Art Direction race. Worse, Atwood's reading-from-a-printout speech, featuring virtually no eye contact with the camera until the very end, is exactly what people who hate Oscar speeches hate about them, timed at that precise midpoint in a long telecast when anything you're bored or put off by suddenly comes across as the worst thing ever. Maybe people won't remember this, but they do still recall Sandy Powell being indivisibly bolshy and bitchy when stumping a year ago for the never-celebrated designers of non-period films, who have, by her own memory, three fewer Oscars than she has. So the right or wrong gesture in a tech-award speech can have surprising traction, and in Atwood's case, it could easily mean Never Again.

Picture: A lot of adherents are unlikely ever to waver, and I'm sure The King's Speech will survive as more than a few people's favorite film. But the background chorus of "Don't you think we'll regret this?" has been even more audible during the run-up to Oscar than it was in the years of Dances with Wolves, Forrest Gump, and A Beautiful Mind. That kind of naysaying never diminishes and only increases as years go by. And if the telecast is obitted, as seems likely, as a gruesomely failed attempt to make the Oscars seem "young and hip," the anointing of a stagy, essentially stodgy royalty drama as Best Picture provides an irresistible nail in that coffin. Spielberg might have had the night's best line in reassuring the other nine nominees that they were joining the ranks of The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, and Raging Bull. (It's funny how he forgot Chocolat and The Barretts of Wimpole Street.) But the juxtaposition of that barely-veiled apologia with the Tacky McTacky gesture of scoring the entire nominee montage to Bertie's speech only made the little "Vote from your heart!" movie seem like a crusty, instantly antiquated Goliath. (And let's please note that if the movie didn't already desaturate all political import from The Speech, lulling its audience into not listening to what Bertie is actually reading, it would be impossible even for the most stupid telecast producer to marshal that clip for the purposes of bland awards-show background pablum. The movie got there first.)

Director: I only got as far back as 25 years in asking myself, has any director ever copped this prize despite exhibiting less of a native knack for "getting" the cinema as an art form? I think Costner's best sequences trounce Hooper's, and Howard's populism and Minghella's swoony pictorialism connect to key valences of the medium. Mel Gibson's sadism at least feels alive on the screen if rabid and overdone. Sam Mendes, whose post-American Beauty struggles on screen have been sad to witness, at least had a lot of ideas in his Oscar-winning vehicle. Risks were taken. Who could say that of Hooper's work on The King's Speech? He's good with actors. So was Scott Cooper last year. He makes you feel. So did everyone whose movie got a Picture nomination, much less a Documentary or an Animated Feature nomination. So does the script by itself, and so does the historical incident that inspired the script. I simply don't get this win, and with divisive but fervently championed artists like Fincher, Aronofsky, Russell, and the Coens in the losing circle, it'll be even harder to validate. Hooper sure didn't help matters with the awkward "triangle of man-love" comment at the mic, apologizing immediately if rather wanly to a justifiably miffed-looking Helena Bonham Carter. Placing myself in Hollywood in 2016, I have a much easier time imagining actors at lunch saying, "Oh, I love The King's Speech!" than I do imagining them saying, "I really want to work with the guy who directed The King's Speech!" The guy who directed John Adams, maybe. On TV, absolutely. But the burden of proof is on, Hooper. I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong.

Song: The Music Branch giveth and taketh away. Everything I said above about incipient Pixar fatigue, distilled. Everything I said about underdog narratives turning into pre-stacked entitlements, distilled. Even Randy Newman doesn't look like he thought he deserved to win on either occasion that he has. Granted, the category didn't give the voters any strong options this year. But the croaky, rushed performance only made the song seem worse—and worse in a careless, tossed-off way, which is finally more off-putting than the failed but earnest kitsch of the Tangled bit, the alien object of "If I Rise," or the genuine attempt at selling a song that Gwyneth put out there. Those performers all thought they were really doing something, or trying to do something, however much we might have disagreed. Not so with Newman, though you can't really blame him as much as the Music Branch, and AMPAS in general, for persisting with a category that has no clear mandate whatsoever. Obama's "As Time Goes By" shout-out makes the case perfectly that the songs that win our hearts at the movies aren't necessarily songs written for those movies. This is the sort of outcome that not only prompts fantasies of recalling a trophy but of rescinding a category.

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Blogger Fritz said...

I haven't seen any of the nominees yet and I try to have an open mind when I see them first but it's hard to forget all the complains about the winners this year. I have a feeling I might really enjoy The King's Speech but maybe still judge it low compared to oscar Oscar-winners...Who knows?

1:03 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Joe Reid said...

So much to chew on here! I'm dismayed to say you're probably right about the Portman backlash -- I've encountered it at pretty much every Oscar-discussing venue I've been on lately. It's starting to feel like the only people who ever loved her in the first place were message board crazies and award voters. And me, of course. The special snowflake of honesty and pure evaluation.

It's also pretty clear that you're right about the King's Speech legacy. Rain Man seems about right, even though personally I'm hoping it settles into a more Million Dollar Baby groove, where it's remembered somewhere along the pretty-good-to-pretty-bad spectrum, but where we also start to question what we saw The Aviator/The Social Network that made us get so angry about it all.

1:45 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Robert Hamer said...

The #1 lesson that Oscar pundits should learn from Melissa Leo's win (since they didn't seem to learn it from "Emailgate" last year) is that a contender's faux pas do not mean a damn thing in the long run. Voters will pick who they want to pick, regardless of the "classiness" of one's campaign. Having said that, I am now fully with Katie's suspicions that she's a little nutty.

Looking back, it is kind of amazing how quickly the media narrative set into designating The Social Network into the "Shoulda Won" club. Which I don't mind that much, as I am definitely a fan of that film and would have loved to see David Fincher pull off a victory, but I'm starting to dread possible veiled apologies to him throughout the year à la The Dark Knight in 2009. If the Academy is going to pick a mediocre film as their Best Picture, they should have the courage to stand by their poor taste.

2:25 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

I sincerely hope you're wrong about The King's Speech/Rain Man parallel if only because I absolutely detest the latter. I still puzzle at precisely what Rain Man has going for it (not even feeling in my discernment.)

But then, I'm a reticent fan of The King's Speech. Even though it was my favourite in neither categories, I was worried about a win in either of the top two categories not because I find it exasperatingly undeserving of the prize, but because I worry whether Hooper could ever come back from his "undeserved" win. (He's 3rd of the 5 for me, so I don't really mind the win on its own). He himself seemed sort of guilty going up there, as if he felt badly that he won...which sucks.

There will always be decisions we don't all agree with, but it's unfortunate that the blame is heaped on the (faultless) winner and not the (potentially faulty) voter.

(as Robert says above, you sort of wish voters would vote for something mediocre and back in. I'm not afraid of saying The King's Speech is in my top 7 of the year.)

2:37 PM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous Mike M. said...

The only category I had a major investment in was Best Supporting Actress, where I was hoping for the criminally underappreciated Helena Bonham Carter to pull off an upset. Oscar has been chilly to her in the past, so being in the BP winner and contending in a vague field was probably her best shot at victory...I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the performance if you get a chance.

Other than that, AMPAS made many unfortunate choices, but so is their legacy. I do confess to loving Black Swan and being inspired by Portman's performance, however, which I thought to be the perfect marriage of actor and role.

3:37 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger The Pretentious Know it All said...

I'm suddenly flashing back to what Paltrow said about feeling the room turn against her as she was on stage accepting her Oscar. I definitely felt it at the party I attended. It was almost like the barely perceptible sound of everyone suddenly and collectively being over Natalie Portman and it's a real shame. While I wouldn't have given it to her (in an uncharacteristically strong year, I think Portman was actually my least favorite), I think Natalie Portman's winning performance is preferable to just about every best actress winner going all the way back to Charlize Theron...give or take Marion Cotillard, who I've softened considerably on.

Regarding The King's Speech wins in picture and director, all I could do was imagine Mo'Nique's Mary in Precious sipping an orange soda and eating nuts while lecturing the Academy. "What that campaign? Find your voice? Well they must not know who they talking to because yo' a** can't find sh**. Keep on listening to that Harvey Weinstein. That's what's gonna get you fu**ed up."

4:34 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great commentary as usual, Nick! However, you'll be surprised at the considerable backlash that has grown against "The Social Network" winning for best score (backlash that I tend to agree with). Honestly, I barely remember the music that much, and in purely musical terms, there's not that much there. Yes, it fits the film, but so did How To Train Your Dragon, so did 127 Hours, and yes, Inception as well, I guess (BRRRAMM!!!). Social Network is different, but does being different necessarily equate to being good? I hate ranting, and I want you to understand I love reading your reviews, but I just want to point out that reaction to the music of The Social Network is incredibly split (most EVERYONE I talked to or read on forums believe that the win is a travesty). And especially since you list that win as a standing ovation, it's interesting to note. Still, I pretty much agree with everything else to a T, and I think that Fincher's loss is heartbreaking.

5:40 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Robert Hamer said...

I'm not sure which forums you've been visiting, Robert, but I find the claim of "considerable" internet backlash against the Trent Reznor winning an Oscar for a rock/synth score very hard to believe. I would think the internet would be the guaranteed spot for joyous celebration of that particular win.

6:13 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Tim said...

This is probably the most fun article I've read all day - congrats and thanks for something a bit more thoughtful than just another rehash.

I agree completely with TSN for Best Score as the win of the night - it's just about the only thing that I don't feel vaguely bland towards - and I feel obliged to second Robert H's last comment: the one thing that every single person I've talked with has agreed on is that it was a great, lovable win.

The fact I like to trot out: initially, Fincher wanted to use early-'00s college rock for the film's score, in the fashion of a John Hughes picture. I can't imagine that beautiful, mood-setting walk across campus under the opening credits working at all if that were the case. And that, more than anything, is what makes me love Reznor and Ross.

6:27 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger NoNo said...

I don't think The Social Network comparison to Citizen Kane will be acknowledge even five years from know. When has a consensus declared a robbery WEEKS before the ceremony? It seems like a lot of hyperbole and sour grapes to me.

I always thought Natalie Portman was going to be the first of her age group to win an Oscar. It seems like although she would go in and out of style she was always the it girl and the bar that the rest was set for in spite of her shortcomings.

I think Anne Hathaway will have a lot of good will coming to her. You can clearly see she was terrified but you can see she put her all into it. Like Lena said "It's the way you carry the load" and she carried James Franco well.

Next year Mo'nique and Melissa Leo should present together. They're like the antithesis of one another.

I thought Tom Hooper, Christian Bale and the NYU Grad Student gave the most endearing speeches of the night.

6:48 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Joe Reid said...

It's interesting, I do enjoy that Social Network score in a vacuum, but like most aspects of that movie, it didn't work within the context of the film, for me. Now hearing about this jettisoned idea for a more college rock soundtrack -- it's obviously not the most singularly original idea, but it would've gone a long way towards leavening the interminable heaviness, not to mention have been a crucial first step towards making the college environs seem like an actual college that exists in the world.

6:49 PM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Great read, thank you for writing this and I hope to listen to more of your thoughts in the FilmExperience podcast.

I was moved by Portman and I loved Black Swan. There are moments in that performance where she is so real ("he picked me mommy" great choice for her oscar clip). I think she won for her best work which will make the backlash sting a bit more. I do agree that it's coming but I think it will be more a product of her Black Swan follow up than the performance. She also never over-the-top gushed upon winning throughout the season the way Halle Berry did (granted, she did have a reason to do so)or was ever as happy as Cottilard and Winslet. She's been accused of giving bad speeches and seeming cold and I think that will hurt her as well.

6:51 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I just wrote a huge response to all of you that Twitter gobbled. So, I'll have to say more briefly -

@RobertHamer: The Dark Knight apologies were about being nice to huge, industry-floating blockbusters, not just about withholding prizes. If AMPAS felt similarly protective of TSN/Fincher, I think he'd have won last night. But it'll be interesting to track TSN's popular legacy.

@A:EE: Look, I don't blame the guy at all - let's be clear how much I would freak out if I came anywhere near one of these things - but I think Hooper rivaled Leo as one of the night's least embarrassed winners. Did you see how he reacted to his name, and how he raced up there? Again, I don't blame him (though I obviously am mystified by the impulse to vote for him), but I definitely didn't sense anything except glee and relief.

7:59 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Mike M: I do think this was an unusually apt opportunity for HBC. But she drummed up a lot of personal affection this season, and if she can give another perf at the level of the stuff Oscar has previously ignored (Margaret's Museum, Fight Club, etc.) she might be in a much better place to parlay that into another chance.

@Pretentious: I don't think Portman will have all the same factors feeding into a backlash that worked against Paltrow (perceived in-crowd advantage, relative newness to the scene, the crying-princess thing, attachment to a BP winner lots of people resented in tandem with her own win), but she'll have enough. The sooner she feels rested up from all these Thors and Your Highnesses and gets back to some real work will probably be great, but a break is clearly due her even if she weren't having a child, and it's probably extremely well-timed. (The Mary Jones stuff is amazing!)

8:19 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Robert: I hadn't personally heard or read those criticisms, but I stay in a pretty small bubble and I'm sure you're right that they're out there. I think it's pretty crucial to the movie that the music not be very emotionally rangy or melodically intricate, given the world of affective flatness that The Social Network aims to dissect. So some of its perceived "flaws" seem, to me, like recommendations in context. But I'd be eager to hear more debates about its merits, especially from people better-versed in music than I am. (I'm certainly glad the movie didn't have a Y2K-era rock score.)

@NoNo: I think "robbery" cries often start way out ahead of the ceremony, once everyone sees them coming, don't you? See, for example, the Pulp Fiction, Fargo, and LA Confidential crowds. But you're right, we don't know yet how fervently people will remain attached to TSN as time passes. I bet having lost, it will retain more supporters than if it had won, putting the ball more firmly in the court of its detractors.

@Patrick: I do feel really bad for that part of the growing Portman narrative: the "cold and aloof" bit. People say they like her because she's refreshingly intelligent and has always had a good head on her shoulders, but then she uses that head to say how wearying it can be to answer questions about what you're wearing and about your "baby bump" for months on end, in loud rooms full of strangers, pregnant in high photo-op heels, and a lot of people go, "God, why can't she be more fun?" I frankly wouldn't wish the press lines or the backstage media grill on anyone, so I just can't be miffed about anyone admitting to some ambivalence on that score, or keeping what distance they can.

Thanks, everyone, including people I didn't respond to directly, for leaving a comment and sharing your thoughts!

8:29 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

NoNo -- exactly with Hathaway. although i worry she'll be treated unkindly. i don't tend to read reviews of the show because they seem to me to be cut-and-paste bitchathons from previous years. Every year everyone hates the show and it's so tired. Even people i normally love to read i can't stomach all the negativity. i have so rarely read a positive review of an Oscar ceremony so i don't read them.

but NICK this article was great. because it wasn't a "THE OSCAR SUCK" but a provocative rangey way of looking at the wins.

although i should probably point out that i don't think enough people worry about the distinctions in sound mixing and sound editing for them to NOT be grouped together in any way they "age"... though i agree wiht your assessment

i became super ill a few hours ago (at least it waited until after Oscar) so excuse typos or incoherenices

8:50 PM, February 28, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

As a frequent visitor of (the musical opinions of the creator of that website are often in direct opposition with yours, Nick, which I find interesting), I find a lot of notable criticism on the score from people in the online discussion area (Christian Clemmenson's review of the music is hilarious, but too biased). As a performer in a youth group orchestra and a lover of film scores I find listening to The Social Network irritating. But within the context of the movie, I admit that it is a great fit and often crucial to the momentum of a few scenes. Which is why I'm often split: What should be defined as the best music? One that fits the movie the best? Or one that is the best written as a standalone experience? Personally, I would like a combination of both, but that doesn't always happen. And as someone who loves Mychael Nyman, who ADORES everything by Jon Brion, who is often annoyed by how intrusive John Williams can be (though overall I deify his music), I think minimalist or experimental music can work wonders. But too often the Academy awards scores not based on merit alone but carried solely by the merits of the film it supports; how else can one explain that victory for Babel? Yes, the Social Network works, and it works great within the movie, but I had a feeling Trent Reznor won partly because of name recognition and because of a sympathy vote for Social Network. Music should be for the movie, always always always, but will people remember The Social Network in fifty years or so? Only time will tell.

I feel like a cantankerous stuck-up music critic right now, so I'll just say that I'm still waiting for Roger Deakins to get his oscar.

10:54 PM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous /3rtfu11 said...

Portman’s inevitable victory is less disheartening than Swank’s 2nd.

Nick I can’t believe you didn’t mention Portman’s extended cameo in Cold Mountain in her profile. Outside of Jude Law she gave the best performance in the movie, at least to me.

I’m so looking forward to your Helena Bonham Carter write-up. I’m glad now she didn’t win last night because she’s an Icon instead of Slum Queen. Leo with her potty mouth deserves said title and both of her nominated performances are for playing common folk.

11:22 PM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous bluemoon02 said...

I feel like Melissa Leo is getting alot of undeserved flake and you are right Nick, she's a PR porcupine. But I like her alot as an actress and as a person, the fact that she does any work offered inclduing student films earns me tremendous respect.
Nick, people has been saying that Amy Adams was better in The fighter than Melissa Leo? What's your take on that?
For me I felt Melissa Leo's perf was like meat and potatoes with gravy and I thought she was very watchable, as of Amy.
I wonder why she was more subdued when she got nominated for Frozen River though

11:28 PM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous Percy said...

Amazing insights as usual! There's so much I want to comment on, but I'll focus on Best Actress, a common obsession between us and many others on this wonderful site.

I, too, thought Natalie Portman's performance was competent but too stylized to be compelling. I've come to expect this of Aronofsky's characters, but I have to admit I'm disappointed after The Wrestler seemed to prove me wrong with not one but several interesting, textured characters. As for Black Swan, there were a few things that turned me off. The scene in which Nina rolls her eyes like the Freecell king as she's being introduced as the new star; the scenes in which her fear of her director is so exaggerated that what should be a layered relationship turns out to be a watered-down heroine-villain encounter (i.e. poor man's Silence of the Lambs); and all the scenes in which she devolves into a horror movie victim--all of these scenes strike me as dubious directing choices by Aronofsky that also hurt Nina's credibility as a character. It's as if Aronofsky, in micromanaging and overdirecting everything like he always does, forgot to leave room for a real character. For a movie that pretends so much to be a vehicle for a tour de force lead performance, Black Swan seems to take advantage of Portman without giving much back except a chance to showcase the fruits of her rigorous dance training. The unequal relationship between the director and the star is certainly one point Black Swan has made abundantly clear on multiple levels, and Portman can hardly begrudge her director considering how handsomely she's been rewarded externally.

I do feel bad about her inevitable backlash because of how much she's grown on me this season with her understated, intelligent speeches (this kind of modest demureness might have worked better than what she did in the movie) and refusal to be the next Paltrow or Witherspoon. Still, I can't help wishing critics would come to their senses sooner about her performance, if only to save me from the legions of her loud fans.

I really can't wait to read your Best Actress performance reviews and ranking. Personally I would rank Williams at the top and Portman at the bottom (though in such a strong year the "runt of the litter" is nothing to be ashamed of), with the other three in a tight race for 2nd-4th. Right now I'm feeling Kidman-Bening-Lawrence; while I agree with you about the strengths of Lawrence's grounded portrayal, I'm not as generous about some of the plot-driven scenes that pigeonhole her into the stock stoic heroine rather than the unusual, multilayered character that makes her performance so interesting. It reminds me a lot of Precious's own (small) weakness, but both Lawrence and Sidibe handle it pretty well.

Looking forward to your next piece.

11:34 PM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous bluemoon02 said...

Here's my take on the past decade of Best Actress winners ranging from Flop, Fair, Good, Great, Timeless.

2000- Julia Roberts- Good
2001- Halle Berry- Fair
2002- Nicole Kidman- Good
2003- Charlize Theron- Timeless
2004- Hilary Swank- Good
2005- Reese Witherspoon- Fair
2006- Helen Mirren- Good/Great
2007- Marion Cottilard- Timeless

2008- Kate Winslet- Fair/Good
2009- Sandra Bullock- Flop
2010- Natalie Portman- Good/Great(depending on how u see it)

11:47 PM, February 28, 2011  
Anonymous Laika said...

I wonder about your placing of Best Actor and Firth, a little. I've been a long time Firth fan, and absolutey loved his performance last year, but I've found myself getting irritated with his supporters throughout the season precisely because he can and has done far more interesting, complex and even affecting work in his time. An Oscar for this seems to oddly underestimate him, if that makes sense. I'm a little bit more on boardwith the performance now, but I've been wondering about the possible parallel with Mirren; I think her performance, which I do love, is positively underrated these days, without anything as garish as a backlash having taken place. A first-flush love of Monarchy often seems to settle into a gentle embarrassment at having been caught getting so excited about something so undemocratic. And I don't think what people perceive as 'gimmicky' portrayals of affliction tend to age well either - Hoffman in 'Rain Man' being the obvious example. So I have a feeling that the reputation of Firth's performance may well settle lower than it deserves.

@/3rtfu11 - Leo deserves the title 'Slum Queen' because she's played 'common folk' and swears?! That contention seems a bit... unfortunate.

3:33 AM, March 01, 2011  
Blogger NoNo said...

Nick, I guess when I mean "robbery" I'm referring to the fact that people were already trying to give The Social Network and The King's Speech it's historical narrative in a way I've never seen before very early on. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not ready to link Citizen Kane with The Social Network yet. Usually, we start with more modern day comparisons like Rain Man,Pulp Fiction, Fargo etc. and then go from there as time passes. The Academy and films itself are extraordinarily different now than from back then.

4:56 AM, March 01, 2011  
Blogger Janice said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:01 PM, March 01, 2011  
Blogger Alan Pendleton said...

"...a similar wall to Paltrow's, where the blithe gliding-over of her limitations swerves suddenly and mercilessly into a refusal to acknowledge any of her gifts?"

I see what you did there, and I love it!

It's been a long time since we corresponded; hope you're doing very well.

12:20 AM, March 02, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I realize I'm jumping the tracks on some more rich comments here that I'll owe a response, but please allow me to say... Alan Pendleton! Have thought so often of you! Drop me a line off the web and let me know how you are and what you're up to.

12:34 AM, March 02, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

Regarding Natalie Portman: If anyone should have won Best Actress for "Black Swan," it should have been Darren Aronofsky. Through clever editing and guidance, he made that performance work. In the long run, Portman is going to be an embarassment to her award. She needs a great director (Aronofsky, Nichols) to pull the performance out of her -- or at least know how many takes it takes to get it right. (And then, which piece of footage to use to make her look good.) Without a great director at the helm, Portman is just a valley girl with an uncontrolable giggle. She is not in the league of recent past winners like Marion Cotillard and she is not in the league of fellow nominees Nicole Kidman and Annette Bening.

Regarding the "score" for "The Social Network": I'll grant you that the work Reznor did integrated beautifully with the look of the film, and helped underscore the dialog, the action, and the scene construction. The question is: Was it music or sound effects? Having suffered through the soundtrack CD a couple of times for my radio show commentary, I have to label it "sound effects." Reznor was in the wrong category and either "King's Speech" or "How to Train Your Dragon" should have won for Best Original Music Score.

10:48 AM, March 02, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ownn, don't be bad!
Natalie Portman really deserves!
She's fantastic in Black Swan.
She gives a real life for Nina Sayers.
I think it's a historical performance like Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice"...
And I think she will give us a lot of good performances soon...

11:13 AM, March 02, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Lee Daniels should have won last year for Best Supporting Actress and not Mo'Nique? Because Mo'Nique's career was not as great as say, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the overrated Penelope Cruz? Wow. What a criticism. Portman was awarded because of her Great performance this year, not because of her career. If that's the case then we should award Meryl Streep every year. And oh, Marion Cotillard is extremely overpraised. After her performance in La Vie En Rose she has yet to deliver a performance like that (she sucked so hard in Inception)

And just because it doesn't sound like a traditional score it doesn't mean that it was "not" a score. It's like saying that techno isn't a type of music.

12:34 PM, March 06, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:42 AM, May 24, 2011  

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