The Artist Wins Top Oscar
It was the night that Oscar looked back to its future.
The Artist, a (mostly) silent movie, made in Los Angeles by French director Michel Hazanavicius - a film that pays tribute to the era before talking pictures - on Sunday became the first silent to win the Best Picture Oscar since the first Oscars in 1929. It is also the first black-and-white movie to win since Schindler's List in 1993.
In all, it won five Oscars, tying it with Hugo, a 3-D family film that also hearkens back to an earlier era of silent movies - the Dickensian story of an abandoned orphan that becomes director Martin Scorsese's plea for film.
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The Artist's French star, Jean Dujardin, won the Best Actor award for his (mostly) silent portrayal of George Valentin, a fictional silent film star whose career is ended by the advent of talkies. He has to fight back into the limelight with the help of a rising starlet, and also his faithful Jack Russell terrier, Uggie.
"I love your country," Dujardin said, nearly three hours into the Oscar broadcast. "In 1929, it wasn't Billy Crystal, but Douglas Fairbanks who hosted the first Oscar ceremony. Tickets cost $5 and it lasted 15 minutes. Times have changed."
Hazanavicius, who won the Best Director Oscar, thanked everyone, from the crew to Uggie, although he acknowledged that the dog probably didn't understand what he was saying because "he's not that good."
He also thanked the movie itself: "Its life is full of grace and it brings to us joy and happiness, and sometimes life is wonderful, and today is one of those days."
Meryl Streep was named Best Actress for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. It was her third Oscar in a record-setting 17 nominations.
"When they called my name, I had a feeling I could hear half of America going, 'Oh no'", she said. Later, thanking her actor friends, she said, "I really understand I'll never be up here again."
Canadian icon, Christopher Plummer, 82, became the oldest-ever Oscar winner when he was named Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a gay man who comes out of the closet after the death of his wife in the film, Beginners.
"You're only two years older than me, darling," he said to the 84-year-old Oscar. "Where have you been all my life?" It is Plummer's first-ever Academy Award.
It wasn't all glory for Canada, though. The Iranian film, A Separation, which looks at the tragedies that result when a couple applies for a divorce, won the Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film, defeating Canada's entry, the Quebec drama, Monsieur Lazhar. (In Darkness, another nominee, is a Polish-Canadian co-production.)
Asghar Farhadi, director of A Separation, gave an acceptance speech that hinted at the problems - "tug of war, intimidation and aggressions exchanged between politicians" - between Iran and much of the Western world.
"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment," he said.
Octavia Spencer, who stole scenes as the sassy maid in the civil-rights drama, The Help, was named Best Supporting Actress. Spencer, who had been favoured to win, gave a tearful speech, in which she thanked everyone, from her family in Alabama to the entire state of Alabama.
The absent Woody Allen won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Midnight in Paris, a comic fantasy about a man who goes back in time to the golden age of France - another story that basked in the glow of nostalgia for an earlier culture. The Descendants, the George Clooney movie about a man whose unfaithful wife is in a coma, won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Rango, about a chameleon that becomes a gunfighter in the Old West, was named best Animated Feature Film.
Undefeated, the story of an underdog football team, was named Best Feature Documentary while Saving Face, about acid attacks on women in Pakistan, was Best Documentary Short Subject.
The Iron Lady - which took Streep's Thatcher from middle to old age - won the Oscar for best makeup. In a field of just two nominees, Man or Muppet, the song from The Muppets, was named Best Original Song.
Two movies from the National Film Board, Dimanche and Wild Life, had been nominated as Best Animated Short Film. They are the 71st and 72nd movies from the NFB to be nominated, and the first double nomination in the same category in its history. However, the award went to the American film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
The Irish film The Shore was named best Live Action Short.
In the early technical awards, it looked as if Hugo, cast as the (ital)other(unital) movie about movies, was going to eclipse The Artist. Scorsese's film won Oscars for visual effects, art direction, the cinematography of Robert Richardson, and both sound editing and sound mixing, while The Artist won just two, for Mark Bridges' costume design and Ludovic Bource's score.
The Artist and Hugo are part of the reason that this year's awards, more than any in memory, have inspired anxious soul-searching among Oscar-watchers about what it all means. The consensus is that Hollywood is on the cusp of great changes - toward digital cinema, 3-D, and, increasingly, films that resemble video games - and that this year's Academy Awards are the industry's way of looking fondly back to a golden era.
The Artist, which was the front-runner for a Best Picture Oscar, was universally regarded as "charming," but dismissed by some critics as a condescending pastiche of tropes that leaves out the ferocity, the edge, and, ironically, the "art" of the real thing. Critics questioned if a movie that is merely entertaining, even joyful, is worthy of being named the best of the year, even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences enlarged its list of nominees specifically to include such films. In previous years, it was the movies that didn't stoop to mere entertainment, let alone joy - films such as the 2004 drama, Crash - that have gone home with the hardware.
The nostalgia of many of the Best Picture nominees also raises the question of age: A Los Angeles Times survey found that the 5,765 voting members of the academy were overwhelmingly old white men, with a median age of 62. Even the evening's host, Billy Crystal, is a 63-year-old veteran: In his opening routine, which elaborately placed him into many of the nominated movies, Justin Bieber popped up to say, "I'm here to give you the 18-to-24 demographic."
ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE
Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
"The Artist" Michel Hazanavicius
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
"Saving Face" Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
"The Shore" Terry George and Oorlagh George
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
"Midnight in Paris" Written by Woody Allen
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
"The Descendants" Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
"Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets" Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
"The Artist" Ludovic Bource
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
"Hugo" Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"Rango" Gore Verbinski
"Undefeated" TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas
"Hugo" Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
"Hugo" Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Octavia Spencer in "The Help"
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
"A Separation" Iran
"The Iron Lady" Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland
"The Artist" Mark Bridges
"Hugo" Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
"Hugo" Robert Richardson