Let's Talk Oscars

The Oscars: Has There Ever Been a Less Juicy Race?
All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 23 2012 2:48 PM

Let's Talk Oscars

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The only thing to hate about The Artist is how likeable it is.

The Artist.
Still of Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin in The Artist

The Weinstein Company.

Dear Dan and Troy,

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

In a letter to his mistress in 1852, Flaubert famously expressed his longing to someday write “a book about nothing.” Too bad he never got the chance to cover the 2012 Oscars to test his true gifts. I know saying this every year is one of the sacraments of awards season, but seriously, has there ever been a less juicy, more foreordained-feeling race? Can we get a Melissa Leo pushing the bounds of taste with self-financed publicity ads? Some Dark Knight-style fanboy outrage on behalf of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes shutout? Something, anything, to get a little traction here?

Even the decision to have Billy Crystal as host seems to have been made by an academy committee who sat down with a whiteboard and said, “How can we make the Oscars as stereotypically Oscar-y as possible this year?” The producers’ attempts to frame this as a heartwarming comeback in press interviews are sweet, but given that the last of Crystal’s nine previous hosting gigs was only eight years ago and that he’s stepped in at regular intervals since his four-year run of consecutive shows in the early ’90s, it feels like he never really stopped being on the list of potential hosts. If that meeting of the Oscar Stereotype Fulfillment Committee did take place, I suspect it adjourned early with the words, “Ah, fuck it, call Crystal and let’s break for lunch.”

That said, I’m in agreement with A.O. Scott that, with Crystal now in as host, the show’s producers should “own it,” go ahead and embrace this year’s pleasantly geriatric old-Hollywood vibe. “Oscar night stage is Billy Crystal’s comfort zone,” reads a USA Today headline that doubles as a prediction about what Sunday night will feel like for viewers: the jokes may be Jurassic, but at least we’ll be spared vicarious anxiety on the behalf of Anne Hathaway and James Franco (whose youth and not-up-to-the-task-ness were so salient that they had to be pre-satirized in those advance promo clips). I say bring on the “screw it, we’re old” Oscars. They can’t be worse than the “only faggots rehearse” Oscars that Brett Ratner promised us before he had to step down for that very statement, in a moment of vindication for hardworking theater queens everywhere.

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The year’s favored movie, too, is very much in the comfort zone: The Artist is the first Oscar front-runner in years to be light, frothy, and agreeable, devoid of macho gloom or socially important handwringing. The only thing to hate about The Artist is how likeable it is—and maybe, now that Oscar season is here, how cannily that likeability has been packaged and marketed in the film’s “little movie that could” campaign story. But I’m not going to kick the adorable SAG-affiliated puppy that is The Artist. It’s fine by me if Michel Hazanavicius’ faintly cloying bagatelle wins every award it’s up for. (Except best score. Ludovic Bource’s music was pleasing enough, but I draw the line at that Bernard Herrmann Vertigo lift.) There’s no nominated movie I feel strongly enough about this year to rustle up any umbrage on its behalf.

That said, Sunday night still holds a few mysteries, most notably the outcome of Meryl v. Viola, a historic Supreme Court decision that paved the way for the integration of the diva showdown. This has been the warmest, most peaceful close Oscar rivalry in recent memory—of course a nominee always has to pay lip service to the colossal talents of her rivals, but as Andew O’Hehir notes in his explanation of “How Viola Davis took Meryl Streep’s Oscar,” Streep has taken the podium at various awards-season events, looked out at the audience, and all but mouthed silently at Davis, “Take it. It’s yours.” A Meryl Streep acceptance speech is a thing of beauty, and I hate to miss out on the first chance to hear her accept an Oscar in almost 20 years, but watching Viola win will be plenty gratifying. It was the sensitive, witty performances of Davis and Octavia Spencer (a likely shoo-in for best supporting) that lifted The Help above its natural station as sentimental abolitionist literature. And for all the racial discomfort the film inspired (not just between but within races, as Davis demonstrated in a prickly interview with PBS’ Tavis Smiley), The Help was a crowd-pleasing hit that also had its critical champions, whereas not even Meryl Streep partisans can really find it in themselves to defend the creaky biopic mechanism of The Iron Lady.

And since we’re embracing old-school corniness this year, no need to apologize for caring about the clothes: I want Janet McTeer to find a worthy display case for the spectacular bosoms she so memorably flashed at Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs. I want the entire cast of Bridesmaids to show up in matching fuchsia taffeta poufs with wrist corsages. And I want Jessica Chastain to float down the red carpet without touching the ground, dressed as the impossibly ethereal mother she played in The Tree of Life, in a perfect ’50s-vintage sundress and grassy, wet bare feet. (If her stylist has any sense, she’s rigging up a portable lawn sprinkler to accompany La Chastain everywhere she goes, dousing her in an ambient dewy mist.)

I believe I may be getting loopy, so I’ll sign over to you, Dan. What are your Oscar 2012 wishes, anxieties and secret daydreams?

Yours,

Dana

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