In the end it was mostly predictable. The only stunning surprise of the 84th Annual Academy Awards was that somehow The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo came out of nowhere to win the Best Film Editing award, something no pundit I know of saw coming. But it served to stop the early momentum of Hugo, which at one point was leading front-runner The Artist 5 awards to 1. Was Harvey Weinstein nervous that there could be an upset brewing over his heavily favored film? No. When I caught up with him at the Governors Ball, he said he was just enjoying the show and not keeping tabs. Eventually Artist caught up and won all the big ones — the Oscars everyone was predicting including Best Picture, Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin in addition to music and costumes. I am told The Weinstein Company plans to expand the little-film-that-could to 2000 screens by next weekend in what should be a real test of Oscar’s drawing power at the boxoffice. So far after a little over three months the film has just grossed over $30 million domestically. Weinstein will hope to double that with an Oscar bounce.
Among those congratulating Weinstein was Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux, who proudly championed the film at last May’s fest, even switching it from out of competition to a competition slot, where it won the first Best Actor prize of Dujardin’s remarkable run. When I ran into him at the Governors Ball, Dujardin told me the Oscar had put him in “a very happy place”. I told Fremaux that based on the stellar showing of Cannes titles like Artist, Midnight In Paris and The Tree Of Life in this year’s Oscar race, he had a lot of pressure to repeat the performance. Cannes proved itself to be a formidable start to awards season with a lot of major players. And what a season for Hazanavicius, who has pulled off the unprecedented grand slam of winning Best Director prizes from the Oscars, the BAFTAs, the French Cesar Awards and the DGA. It’s hard to imagine how someone else with ever be able to pull that off again. Among those he thanked in his speech was Uggie, the scene-stealing Jack Russell Terrier who turned up onstage after Best Picture was announced and had a nice bit with Crystal earlier. He should be thanking this dog. He’s getting more talk-show bookings than any of the film’s stars.
It was a big night for Harvey, further evidence of a major comeback (after last year’s The King’s Speech win) and a return to the Oscar dominance he enjoyed all those years in a remarkable run at Miramax. And it wasn’t just the dominance in major categories of The Artist, the black-and-white silent film that became the first non-talkie to win the top Oscar since Wings in 1927-28 — Oscar’s first year. He also grabbed two Oscars for the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady including a first Best Actress win in nearly three decades for Meryl Streep. Weinstein had been campaigning hard for this one, reminding voters on a daily basis that the 17-time nominee hadn’t won an Oscar in 29 years. It was a relentless campaign theme that obviously paid off for the now three-time Oscar winner. At the ball, Weinstein admitted they really wanted this one and got it with the help good old-fashioned hardcore campaigning that included Streep’s rare participation in select Q&As and interviews such as 60 Minutes.
When I caught up with her, also at the Governors Ball, Streep was ebullient and clearly excited about having a third Oscar, especially considering the competition including her Doubt co-star Viola Davis. “There were so many great performances this year. I think maybe they should expand the category. Maybe there should be 10 nominees (instead of five),” she told me, adding it was nice to get this towards the “end of her career”. Hardly. Streep will be working with Weinstein again in the film adaptation of the Tony-winning play August: Osage County, which is scheduled to roll in the fall co-starring Julia Roberts. At the Governors Ball Davis put on a game face but was clearly disappointed to lose Best Actress for The Help. But it was always going to be an extremely tight race and the two had seesawed back and forth at precursor shows. I thought Davis might eek it out, but it wasn’t to be.
Weinstein cornered me just before the ceremony to ask why I was so confident in predicting their company’s Best Documentary nominee underdog , Undefeated as the winner in that category. I gave him my reasons and after its surprise victory he said , “You were right . You called that one”. Saturday night when I ran into them at the Weinstein’s pre-Oscar Soho House party I had told the three filmmakers (T.J.Martin, Dan Lindsay and RIchard Middlemas) nominated that I thought they would win despite pundits predictions they wouldn’t. It’s a powerful film about an all black high school football team but there were complaints from other Documentary campaigners that the Weinsteins sent out the DVD screener of it to all Academy members even though to be able to vote you have to prove you have seen all five films in theatres. Whatever the tactic, it worked and Weinstein hopes the Oscar win will increase the middling business the film has done since its February 17th release.
Meanwhile Hugo producer Graham King wasn’t disappointed the Martin Scorsese-directed film-about-film did not go all the way , especially after winning 5 big early techincal awards. He said that is the same number their The Aviator got too before losing to Million Dollar Baby. It’s not a bad haul and GK films also scored the Best Animated Feature Oscar for Rango. King was in a good mood when I saw him after at the Governors Ball, happy his Hugo had tied the Artist for most Oscars of the night.
Mostly it was all a very predictable ceremony but I thought a good one, at least from the vantage point of the first Mezzanine where the Cirque Du Soleil number looked simply spectacular and the ambience of the setting of an old movie palace was pitch perfect, right down to traditional-looking movie ushers handing out popcorn and candy during commercial breaks. Nice touch. Billy Crystal didn’t always land his schtick but he got off some good zingers and the opening film sequence and song was a winner in the room. He makes this gig work about as well as anyone can. There were a lot of jokes about the old age of many in the Academy which couldn’t have pleased Acad officials who are still trying to prove they can be young and hip. He also was funny after Academy President Tom Sherak’s dryly-delivered speech. “Thanks Tom for whipping this crowd into a frenzy,” Crystal joked.
The show flowed nicely and got off just seven minutes over the alloted three hours according to producer/director Don Mischer in our conversation at the Governor’s Ball. He was cautiously optimistic that the response would be good when reviews roll in Monday but not counting on it, especially after last year when the show was lambasted in the press. Critics do love to pounce on the Oscars. I pointed out one trade paper actually ran a formal online review of the first 30 minutes of the show while it was still going on. “That’s just evidence that we are now judged minute by minute. Times have changed,” Mischer said — and not necessarily for the better. But maybe that is the lure and power of the Oscars that media types feel they have to jump the gun and be there first. He can take solace in the fact that most of the people at the Governors Ball seemed very enthused by the breezy Oscar show, one of the all-time shortest (at least in the modern era) at three hours and seven minutes according to Mischer. That could help the ratings but it is still expected to come in on the low side due to the fact that the movies nominated this year were not big blockbusters that can bring in an audience. Foreign Language Film presenter Sandra Bullock told me she thought the whole show was really great, a sentiment I heard more than once at the nicely appointed Governors Ball where Tony Bennett entertained. Usually it is a quick stop and then off to Vanity Fair and other parties , but this year (eschewing the formal sit-down dinner routine) it was still going well past 11pm with nominees like Streep and Dujardin still there. Streep later made it to the packed Weinstein’s after party at Mondrian’s Sky Bar where the celebration continued for TWC.
Among the highlights of the show were the standing ovations for Supporting Actress winner Octavia Spencer and Supporting Actor winner Christopher Plummer who wryly noted that at age 82 he was only two years younger than Oscar himself (and now the oldest performer to ever win). As she was leaving the Ball I walked down the stairs with Spencer and asked how she felt about the whole night. “It’s crazy town, it’s crazy town,” is all she could say at that point sounding a little shell shocked and loopy. Her earlier emotional acceptance scored big points as did many of the speeches, particularly those of Streep, Dujardin, Foreign Language winner Asaghi Farhadi, Live Action Short Subject winner Terry George and the Live Action Documentary short winners for the harrowing Saving Face. It was also nice to see full-on glamour return to the show thanks to presenters like Angelina Jolie who had a whole lotta leg going on and the teaming of Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez.
Another class act of the night was Best Actor nominee Gary Oldman who got up during the commercial break after losing Best Actor to Dujardin and sought out each of the other nominees to presumably commiserate or console them. Whatever the purpose it was a nice thing to do for George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Demian Bichir who were locked in a tight race. As for Dujardin he charmingly nailed his acceptance speech opening with the line, “I love your country”. Indeed he should since he was snubbed by his own country Friday night at the Cesar awards where he was passed over for another , Omar Sy in the Best Actor competition despite the sweep of The Artist.
And clearly this country loves Dujardin and his movie, or at least Academy members do. Now if it can just translate that love into boxoffice gold it could mean the silent era is baaaaack.