Well, another year and another tepid Oscar ceremony marked by few surprises, lackluster Best Picture nominees, low-watt star presenters and their dreary scripted antics, and little in the way of actual entertainment value. Still, it went by pretty fast (comparatively) and didn’t get bogged down along the way. I was able to pay bills and do other business while it was on.
However, there were a few bright spots for me. For one, there was Rooney Mara, Best Actress nominee for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Granted, I knew she didn’t stand a chance of winning but I was pleased she was nominated and thought she looked pretty awesome sitting there, adorned with some old-school glamour and a touch of the exotic.
I only had three horses in this race: DRAGON TATTOO, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON and BRIDESMAIDS. I was pretty certain neither would win anything, so you can imagine my surprise (the only one of the evening, I daresay) when DRAGON TATTOO beat out four Best Picture nominees for Best Editing. That was nice.
Next, I was happy when Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin, who played silent star George Valentin in THE ARTIST, made a point of thanking Douglas Fairbanks, the swashbuckling star upon whom Valentin was clearly modeled.
In the course of his acceptance speech, Dujardin also thanked Fairbanks’ granddaughter, a reference that begged for some clarification. Happily, Leonard Maltin provides the backstory for this on his blog: Explaining Dujardin’s Greeting
Later, when THE ARTIST won Best Director, the director, Michel Hazanavicius, thanked Billy Wilder—three times! That was quite appropriate, given the thematic similarities between THE ARTIST and Wilder’s 1950 classic, SUNSET BOULEVARD. (For that matter, he might have thanked Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen for SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and William Wellman and George Cukor for their versions of A STAR IS BORN, all films to which THE ARTIST owes a debt.)
Finally, the thing that made me happiest occurred during a filmed montage early on featuring various contemporary movie stars reminiscing about seminal childhood moviegoing experiences. Brad Pitt described a film he called “The Gargantuas,” about “giant Gargantuas,” one good and one bad, who fight each other. I didn’t record that segment so I don’t have the exact quote, but another website I found (What Was Brad Pitt Talking About?) quotes Pitt this way: “I remember the Brown Gargantua was the good one, and had to battle the evil green Gargantua, and in the end had to sacrifice himself to stop him.” He was, of course, referring to Ishiro Honda’s classic kaiju film, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1968), which came out in the U.S. in 1970, when Pitt was six.
How often is there a reference to a Japanese cult favorite at the Oscar ceremony?
The American star of GARGANTUAS was none other than Russ Tamblyn, one of the stars of the 1961 Best Picture winner, WEST SIDE STORY.
I was also glad Christopher Plummer won this year and that two other older actors, Max Von Sydow and Nick Nolte were nominated as well. Plummer was also in DRAGON TATTOO and I would have been pleased if he’d been nominated for that. The first thing I ever saw Plummer in was FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964), seen in a neighborhood theater on a double bill with Cary Grant’s next-to-last movie, FATHER GOOSE (1964).
I’ve always liked seeing old-timers at the Oscar ceremony, whether it was William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck co-presenting one year or Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster the next; whether it was Olivia de Havilland one year or Ruby Keeler the next. Or the Nicholas Brothers doing a little dance one year or comedy pioneer Hal Roach at 100 standing up in the audience the next. They don’t bring out a lot of elder statesmen much anymore unless they’ve been nominated. This year we’ve got five stars who were all born the same year (1937) and will soon turn 75: Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Jane Fonda. Would it hurt to have invited some–or all–of them? James Garner has a new book out; why not him? Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner are around. Sidney Poitier was glimpsed in the audience at the Governor’s Award event. And why not Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Albert Finney, Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson, Shirley MacLaine, Debbie Reynolds, Rita Moreno…I could go on. Heck, I’d be happy if the next generation after these guys showed up: Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld, Connie Stevens, Stella Stevens, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, James Darren, Raquel Welch, Barbara Eden, Jill St. John…all from the days when, y’know, movies were actually fun? Or even Russ Tamblyn—to tie in with Brad Pitt’s anecdote and bring it full circle. But no one’s really interested in making that kind of Oscar show anymore.
Now that I think of it, I would have settled for Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams presenting as Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. That would certainly have been a step up from Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis and their routine with the cymbals or Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. and their schtick with Downey’s “documentary.” (The clips they showed of Branagh doing a very credible Olivier in MY WEEKEND WITH MARILYN now make me want to see it. )