And the Winner Isn’t Norbit: Recapping the Academy Awards

The 80th Oscars are over and almost nothing untoward happened. Juno won a Best Original Screenplay award for Diablo Cody but didn’t pull off the “much-feared” upset of snagging Best Picture. Nor did the Eddie Murphy atrocity Norbit take home that award for Best Achievement in Makeup. (Murphy can take heart in the slew of Razzie Awards his film garnered for its cosmic awfulness.) In a way, I’m sorry on both counts. An upset (and not a wholly undeserved one) and an embarrassment would have livened up what quickly became a pretty predictable affair—yet again.

The closest thing to a surprise was Marion Cotillard (inexplicably wearing a dress that made her appear to be outfitted as a giant trout) getting Best Actress for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose when everyone thought Julie Christie was a shoo-in for her work in Away From Her. Frankly, the award should have gone to Christie, but at least it didn’t go to Ellen Page and ruin her life (winning an Oscar at 21 cannot be a good thing).

In general, it was business as usual. Most of the awards were deserved, or at least not undeserved. And while I’ve come to think that Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a better—or more adventurous—film than the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, I find it hard to get worked up over the choice of their triple win—Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Direction, Best Picture—over Anderson (who perhaps hasn’t been overlooked enough yet). I may have simply been relieved that Best Director didn’t go to Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Oh, it’s a good movie—not a great one—but Schnabel still seems more dilettante than director to me. The 20- to 30-minute My Left Eye-cam opening of his film said it all. Yet, I could see the Academy buying that as the last word in art, and going for it out of fear of being branded as artistically challenged.

There were other moments where relief was more the overriding factor than outright joy. I’m cool with Tilda Swinton’s Best Supporting Actress win for Michael Clayton, though I think Cate Blanchett’s turn as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There was more deserving. And I was dreading the prospect of Saoirse Ronan’s robotic performance as the detestable child in Atonement somehow wandering into the forefront.

Much the same dynamic applies to Javier Bardem’s win of Best Supporting Actor for No Country for Old Men. I’d have kind of liked to see Casey Affleck’s performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford take it, but was relieved to see that it wasn’t given to Hal Holbrook simply on the basis of age for his solid, but not outstanding, work in Into the Wild.

It was such a given that Daniel Day-Lewis would win Best Actor for There Will Be Blood that no one else needed to show up. An upset with Johnny Depp winning for Sweeney Todd would have been OK, but it wasn’t going to happen. George Clooney was fine in Michael Clayton, but he’s done better work. Viggo Mortensen was mesmerizing in Eastern Promises, but that was a long shot from the onset. And Tommy Lee Jones was great in In the Valley of Elah (though better in No Country for Old Men), but almost no one saw the movie.

Despite the fact that the most deserving song, “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from Once, got the award, the fact that three songs from Enchanted (two of which aren’t that good out of context and one that just plain isn’t that good) were nominated makes me continue to believe that the category ought to be retired. The triple nomination for Enchanted—despite Oscar’s love affair with anything marked “Disney”—screams desperation. All too often nominated—even winning—songs aren’t actually in the movie, but are played over the ending credits. At least that wasn’t the case here, but with most musicals these days—Hairspray, Across the Universe, Sweeney Todd—using mostly (or completely) preexisting material, the category is close to irrelevant.

Being utterly heretical, I have to say I am well and truly over Pixar. There, I’ve said it, and I’m glad. Best Animated Film winner Ratatouille is a terrific-looking film, but if it hadn’t had Peter O’Toole’s Anton Ego character, it’d have been a huge snooze-fest as far as I’m concerned. Of the nominated films, Persepolis was by far the best. The actual best—Satoshi Kon’s Paprika—wasn’t even nominated.

As usual, the foreign-language nominees were made up of movies that haven’t made it to town or that you’ve never heard of (and possibly never will again). Why J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage wasn’t nominated is a mystery—and I’d say the same about the multidirector Paris, Je T’Aime, though its outbursts of English probably weigh against it. However, the winning film, The Counterfeiters, at least is one we’re destined to see hit town.

All in all, it shook out as a fairly reasonable year at the Oscars, with no truly stupid choices and a handful of dead-on ones. That’s something, but a little excitement wouldn’t have hurt. For me, I think the highlight of the evening came in the preshow comment from Hilary Swank that she “just knows” when a script is right for her. So is that what she thought about The Reaping? Good heavens.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “And the Winner Isn’t Norbit: Recapping the Academy Awards

  1. Ken Hanke

    Yes, but not because I think there’s anything wrong with a 21 year old winning the award. Not in the least. I’m looking at it strictly from the standpoint of what winning that high of an accolade that soon would do to her career. Rather than being allowed to evolve as an actress, she’d be under constant scrutiny to live up to that (theoretical) highest honor the movies can bestow.

    From a purely personal standpoint, I have no problem with the concept of Page — or anyone of any age — winning.

  2. Steve

    I guess I was one of the many who had a hard time getting wound up about the Oscars this year. There just weren’t that many films nominated that I cared about.

    I think that’s why Ratatouille won. It was a loved film. But as much as I loved it – I am not over Pixar – even I could see from just the clips that Persepolis was a superior film.

    I just have to say though, after sitting through all those endless John Wayne movies my dad still loves, you couldn’t pay me to go see a Western. I just don’t care how good it’s supposed to be.

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