Let’s Talk Oscars

The Oscars: An Impassioned Cheer for an Iranian Domestic Drama!
All about the Academy Awards.
Jan. 24 2012 6:18 PM

Let’s Talk Oscars

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Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow vie for the awesome-old-guy-who’s-shockingly-never-won-before vote.

Still of Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi in 'A Separation.'
Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi in A Separation

© 2011 - Sony Pictures Classics

Dan Kois, Troy Patterson, and Dana Stevens will be on Slate’s Facebook page at 11 a.m. on Monday to chat with readers about Sunday’s Oscar ceremony.

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Dear Dan and Troy,

Between Dan’s proposal to down a drink every time Martin Scorsese calls Hugo a “picture,” and his threat to upchuck if The Artist wins the top prize, Oscar night at the Kois household may look like the Mr. Creosote sketch from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. What in this year’s slate of nominations makes me barf, Dan asks? Maybe just the fact that the nomination announcement (at 5:30 a.m. PT, to a crowd that always sounds like it’s composed of half a dozen sleepy junior executives) signals the coming of Oscar season, in all its disorienting frenzy. With each Academy Awards ceremony I sense a greater disconnect between the movie year as it was lived on the ground and the ritual Mayan sacrifices that take place each winter in a place as strange as the Kodak Theater.

Oscar season has its joys, of course—for me they involve these Slate dialogues, fashion gossip, and an uptick in Twitter gems like Patton Oswalt’s post-snub barrage of faux-self-pitying tweets to Albert Brooks (“Dude, GET DOWN HERE. Gosling is doing keg stands and Olsen & Dunst LITERALLY just emerged from a shower of rose petals”). But getting invested in a certain nominee and rooting for him or her throughout the season, knowing you’re all but certain to end up railing against the gods, nay, the academy itself on the night of the ceremony? That way madness lies.

If I were going to get behind any nominee over the next few weeks, it would be Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of A Separation, which got a nod both for best foreign film and best original screenplay, and which is crowd-pleasing enough (or is that just in my crowd?) to stand an actual chance. Farhadi’s movie was probably my single favorite of the year, and watching his acceptance speech would be a “hell, yeah” moment for me. But other than that, I don’t have a lot of skin in the game, other than to be, as Dan correctly foresaw, annoyed at the inclusion of The Artist’s score in the best soundtrack category. Composer Ludovic Bource’s bald-faced plunder of Bernard Herrmann’s love theme from Vertigo may not have been copyright infringement, but it was dignity infringement, an insult to the intelligence of The Artist’s audience, and it hasn’t sat well with me since. As Richard Brody, the New Yorker critic and blogger, trenchantly tweeted: “It's not as if The Artist is desecrating Herrmann's music; rather, it's wearing it, like a kid clomping around in Dad's shoes.”

An impassioned cheer for an Iranian domestic drama and a diatribe against a silent French film’s crimes against a Hitchcock classic: Well, at least no one can accuse me of trolling for page views. But there were small pleasures to be found in today’s nominations lineup that still, for me, fall short of out-and-out rooting: For example, I hope Christopher Plummer wins best supporting actor for Beginners (a hope that will almost certainly be fulfilled, unless Max von Sydow splits the awesome-old-guy-who’s-shockingly-never-won-before vote), but it was a pleasant surprise to see Jonah Hill on that board, especially for a part as unshowy and funny as the socially inept baseball-stats whiz he played in Moneyball. I’ve never been a fan of Hill in his abrasive-clown mode, but there’s a sweetness about that performance that makes me glad he got to have a really, really good day today.

Just because I have no strong personal stake in many of this year’s big questions (will Streep get her first best actress Oscar since 1983? How many new vowels can be invented in studio executives’ attempt to pronounce Hazanavicius? And is Albert Brooks, in fact, chopped liver?) doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to see those narratives unfold on the four-week campaign trail—many of them orchestrated by the ever-entertaining Harvey Weinstein, whose films received a total of 16 nominations this morning. Let’s reconvene here just before the Oscars on Feb. 26, and again the morning after the ceremony. You bring the barf bags, I’ll bring the champagne.

Yours,

Dana