The Oscars are kind of silly, aren’t they? It’s one big popularity contest devised by the popular. They are filmmakers congratulating themselves for making films.
Okay, I’m not actually that cynical about this subject, but I want to make it clear that I can understand the cynicism. It’s mostly fair. But the fact remains that the Oscars matter, and they will probably continue to matter for a long time. Any association with an Oscar, whether a win or just a nomination, will benefit a filmmaker’s career. And we all know that actors get more and better work after Oscar recognition. This is just the way the industry works.
So, despite myself, I cared. I wasn’t going to watch any of it last night, but then I did. In fact, I never have, but I decided at one point that I might as well, as deeply entrenched as I am in everything film. I started to watch in time to see the Best Male Actor, Female Actor, Directing, and Picture categories. My thoughts follow.
In general, the parts of the event that I saw were warm, classy, and mostly entertaining. There were no Sean Penn moments or even overtly stupid nominations. The whole thing felt like what you sort of hope the Oscars will feel like. Maybe a little too dramatic for what it is, but it’s fun to get caught up in the moment. I was also very gratified by the overall lack of political axe-grinding.
Jeff Bridges took Best Actor for Crazy Heart, and while his speech treaded dangerously on the line between grateful and awkwardly ecstatic, the win was well-deserved and long overdue. He’s got a very large body of work behind him, and he’s an exceptional actor. It was good to see him finally take the little gold man home.
Sandra Bullock took Best Actress for The Blind Side, and her acceptance speech was wonderful. It was sincere, graceful, funny, and down-to-earth. She successfully pulled quite a few other people up to share the honor, including the other nominees. And she’s another excellent artist who is certainly deserving of the award.
This year, there were two films that were in a rather heated contest for Best Picture, and you probably already know which ones. They both had nine nominations, but couldn’t be more different in terms of style and content — though, significantly, they were both a type of military film. Avatar put on full display its director’s personal hatred for the military. The Hurt Locker‘s director has profound respect for those who serve, a fact which lent Kathryn Bigelow’s film its greatest strength. (It might also be interesting to point out that she and James Cameron spent a few years as husband-and-wife two decades ago.) And Locker swept the house this year, taking home six of its nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Editing, and Best Original Screenplay. Avatar limped away with three: Best Cinematography, Art Direction, and Visual Effects (of course, and fairly).
Of particular note is that Bigelow is the first woman to take home the award for Best Directing. You may hear rumors that I jumped out of my seat and fist-pumped for both the Best Director and Best Picture announcements. For the record, these rumors are true. It was a good night with the Academy.
Jordan Petersen is a film correspondent for Rhombus.
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