Oscar Winners: The Joy of Silence

Gee. I wonder if a talking film will ever again get the nod for best picture? Probably not, especially since just about everyone in entertainment and publishing exhibits a herd instinct. So with The Artist sweeping the Oscars, expect more of the same. Hey. Try publishing a book without a vampire as the main character. Just sayin’.

In fact, last night’s ABC telecast might have been a preview of what we can expect on the big screens in theaters around the world. I couldn’t hear a damn thing. What’s up with that? Couldn’t the Academy spring for a working microphone?

If it wasn’t for Twitter, would anyone have known what was going on?

OK. Easy to criticize when encased in the comfort of my easy chair and wallowing in the serenity of several double Jamesons. So I defer to the NYT to opine (“Even the Jokes Have Wrinkles“):

Back with the old.

And that’s not just because “The Artist,” a largely silent film set in 1920s Hollywood, won so many awards, including best picture, actor and director at the Academy Awards ceremony.

“The Descendants” was the only one of the nine films nominated for best picture set in the present. “The Help” took place in the Jim Crow South. Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” was set in 1950 Texas — with an occasional flip back to the Dinosaur Age.

The whole night looked like an AARP pep rally, starting with an introduction by Morgan Freeman, who was followed by Billy Crystal, returning to host his ninth Oscar ceremony. And age was his theme of the night. He did his usual comic medley of movie moments, including a sketch with George Clooney in “The Descendants,” urging Mr. Crystal to host the show. He promised “the youngest, hippest writers in town” and the camera panned to a group of drooping, old white men from the film “Moneyball.”

And those may well have been the writers. When Octavia Spencer won a best supporting actress Oscar for playing a maid in “The Help,” Mr. Crystal joked that after he saw the movie, he was so moved he wanted to hug the first black woman he saw, adding, “which in Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive.” It was a line that could have been used back when Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to be honored with an Academy Award, won for playing a maid in “Gone With the Wind.”

It all looked very familiar, which is perhaps necessary when so few of the nominated films are. The Academy Awards are about competition, but it’s less about winners and losers than it is about the ceremony’s struggle to stay on top in a television landscape cluttered with award shows, notably ones that ignore tedious technical awards and combine television and movies, like the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. (People still watch a lot of television; movie attendance in 2011 was at a 16-year low.)

Previous efforts to rejuvenate the Oscars mostly flopped, including last year’s event, which paired an ill-prepared, disaffected James Franco with a hypereager Anne Hathaway and had them try to amuse youth with lame jokes about text messages, Twitter and iPhone apps.

Sunday’s event tried to return to tradition, but it didn’t do itself any favors by starting with some of the least interesting awards. The first acting award wasn’t announced until 45 minutes into the show. Even the montage of clips from classics, from “Star Wars” to “When Harry Met Sally,” was mostly a reminder of the many movies we liked better than this year’s nominees. A taped skit, imagining a focus group’s reaction to “The Wizard of Oz,” was more imaginative. So was a Cirque du Soleil homage to classic cinema.

C’mon. Did you really expect Stacy Keibler to come out of the audience and throw Angelina Jolie into a figure-four leglock? Well, maybe next year.

And did Jennifer Lopez steal the show with an intentional (or not) Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction? Thank God I can still see, even if I can’t hear. Maybe that’s why I did enjoy The Artist.

Well, maybe not. Here’s from USA Today:

Jennifer Lopez’s stylist, Mariel Haenn, wants us to know there was no problem with her client’s dress.

“The Oscar dress was custom made for Jennifer by designer Zuhair Murad. The dress fit perfectly to her every inch,” says Haenn in a statement to Lifeline Live. “There were cups built in and there’s no chance that there were any – how do you say? – ‘slips.’ While the dress did give the illusion of sheer-ness, the joke’s on everyone who wishes they saw something!”

Well, I enjoyed the joke. Even if it was a silent one.

By the way, I was going to opine this morning about the debacle unfolding in Afghanistan, which is certainly no laughing matter. But better to stick with the Oscars, since it appears that the joke in Afghanistan is once again on us for getting sucked into that rathole.




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