The Thrills of the Oscars

Watching the 2012 Oscar Awards made you feel:

1) Thrilled

2) Bored

3) Old

4) Nostalgic

5) Made you miss Billy Bush

6) Didn’t watch it

If you picked 6), I can’t say I blame you.

As for me:

1) Thrilled (sometimes)

2) Bored (often)

3) Old (uncomfortably so)

4) Nostalgic (comfortably so)

5) Made you miss Billy Bush (surprisingly so)

Some highlights of the evening include Angelina Jolie’s gam thigh-high striking pose of grand dame movie star, Meryl Streep, who broke her almost three-decade losing streak and made her husband cry, and George Glooney, who didn’t win, but kissed Billy Crystal on the lips. We also got to see a portion of the sink scene from “Bridesmaids,” thank you so much. And, rumor has it that one flew out of the cuckoo’s nest, otherwise known as the dress that Jennifer Lopez almost wore.

The biggest thrill was not Jennifer Lopez—missed that because Robin Roberts was busy talking to Prince Albert of Monaco on ABC’s red carpet show. It happened right in the middle of things when Cirque du Soleil’s “Iris” performers put on a startling, gorgeous homage to movies, with flying Cary Grants and heart-stopping flights without nets, like a convention of lithe stuntmen and women.

Let’s not forget Christopher Plummer’s acceptance speech. After being reminded once too often that he was the oldest Oscar winner ever, at age 82, first by a gabby English red carpet reporter, then by Billy Crystal, he took the Oscar and looked at it sweetly and asked, “I’m only two years older than you, where have you been all my life?”

Thrilling, too, was the odd fact that every time they ran a clip of the charming dancing fools from “The Artist,” (the semi-French, semi-silent film which won the Best Picture Award as predicted), it energized the place in ways that no amount of banter by presenters trying and failing to be funny—that was for you, Emma Stone, and you Robert Downey Jr., or even the ladies from “Bridesmaids”, although God knows they tried manfully or womanfully—could match.

Humorous was the skit number featuring a 1930s depression audience watching a test screening of “The Wizard of Oz” and their reactions. Thank God that wasn’t real.

Crystal—after many a winter’s absence—returned to his old hosting role with aplomb—the clips, being kissed by Clooney’s “The Descendant’s” character, running into Justin Bieber, the odd on target quip. And yet, it wasn’t the same. It was predictable and a little wan, like that little bad boy’s smile after a joke that didn’t quite land as sharply as it should have.

For the most part, however, I was bored by the predictability of the big awards—maybe a long awards season seems to settle the choosing of the winners to the point of an absence of any sort of surprises. Ergo, if you’d been paying attention you knew the French guy was going to beat Clooney for best actor, and that “The Artist” was going to win Best Picture, and best director, and best dog, if there had been a category.

The only semi-surprise was Streep’s win for best actress as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”, a film that did not match either “Harry Potter” or the latest “Transformers” receipts. A popular semi-favorite in that category, Viola Davis of “The Help” did not win, but Octavia Spencer from the same movie did win best supporting actress. She immediately turned into emotional, wordless, joyful mush, providing a refreshing authentic moment.

The two films that could be considered the big winners were “The Artist” which was a French film with few, if any, words, some barks and the sound of tap dancing and phones, that paid kinetic, original tribute to the golden age of Hollywood as it was beginning to learn to speak, and “Hugo”, Martin Scorcese’s homage to Paris and the founder of narrative film. Our political right wing—ever suspicious of all things French—will find further proof that something’s rotten in Hollywood by that pervasive French and Parisian flavor to the proceedings. On the other hand, the French to a man and dog said, “I love this country.” Go figure.

“The Artist” and “Hugo” were about old Hollywood. They are films about the movies when they were both movies and cinema, oozing nostalgia. So for that matter, an alarmingly thin Jolie, who in a splendid gown, her hair down like a gorgeous witch, struck a pose that made her seem like she was auditioning for some far-in-the-future remake of “Sunset Boulevard.”

All of which made me feel both pleasantly nostalgic—the older you get, the more there is to remember—and old—the older you get, the more there is to remember.

When Plummer mentioned his daughter Amanda, I remembered Tammy Grimes, whom I had an occasion to interview twice over the years, was her mother, and when the French producer of “The Artist” paid tribute to the late director Claude Berri as his inspiration, I remembered seeing both “Jeanne de Florette” and “Manon of the Springs,” two remarkable films Berri directed in the 1990s, at the Key Theater, which of course is no longer there.

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