The 83rd Annual Academy Awards – Some Thoughts

By Ezra Stead

James Franco and Anne Hathaway host the Oscars.

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards have now come and gone, and as usual, I have a few gripes. Nothing too unexpected happened, but you must understand this is my Super Bowl: an excuse to get drunk and yell at the TV each year, so I can’t help but complain a bit about some of what went down the morning (and the rest of the week) after. Please bear with me.

Last year, I dominated my friendly Oscar pool, with 18 out of 24 categories guessed correctly. By the time they got to the last four categories, it was mathematically impossible for anyone at the party I attended to beat me, and then I got those four categories right, too. I say that to say this: oh, how the mighty have fallen. Perhaps as a result of having bet against Roger Ebert in an online competition, and thereby allowing too much of his presumed wisdom to influence my choices, I failed miserably this year, with only 15 correct guesses. I did manage to outguess Ebert by one vote, but not quite as simply as that makes it sound: he picked Geoffrey Rush for Best Supporting Actor and I picked Christian Bale, who won; I also guessed correctly in the make-up category (Rick Baker and Dave Elsey for The Wolfman) while Ebert guessed Adrien Morot for Barney’s Version, but then he managed to get a point back in the Best Director category (more on that shortly).

In the unofficial Oscar pool at the party I attended this year, however, I was dead last, out of the four of us who stayed to the end and put in our five bucks. The worst part was the two categories in which I tried to be shrewd and voted against my own personal favorites, only to see them win after all; these were Best Supporting Actress, won by Melissa Leo for The Fighter (I predicted Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit, a decision which I was constantly second-guessing), and Best Original Score, won by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network (I deferred to the wisdom of Ebert and guessed Alexandre Desplat for The King’s Speech, so we both lost that category). On the other hand, I had a feeling Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann’s The Lost Thing would pull an upset and win Best Animated Short, but I went with my personal favorite in that category, Teddy Newton’s Day and Night. The Lost Thing did indeed win, which I should have guessed in part due to the fact that everyone rightly expected Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3 to win Best Animated Feature, and there was certainly a good chance of the Academy not allowing Pixar, who also produced Day and Night, to have a monopoly on the animation categories. Politics aside, The Lost Thing is a beautiful little film with a highly imaginative style, and its win certainly did not make me unhappy.

God of Love is a sweet, clever and very funny short.In the Best Live-Action Short category, I was also pleasantly surprised to see Luke Matheny’s God of Love win, when I (as well as Ebert and many others) had predicted Ivan Goldschmidt’s Na Wewe, the most overtly message-oriented film of the category. I had the pleasure of meeting Matheny, who also stars in his own film and delivered the most charming and funny acceptance speech of the night, at IFC Center in Greenwich Village, and I got the feeling that this honor couldn’t have been bestowed on a nicer, more humble young filmmaker. God of Love is Matheny’s final student film from his time at New York University, and I can only imagine the rush of winning an Oscar right out of the gate like that. Here’s hoping he has much more success ahead of him, and that his first feature lives up to the promise of his sweet, clever and very funny short. My personal favorite in this category was Ian Barnes’s Wish 143, the bittersweet story of a 16-year-old terminal cancer patient who vows to lose his virginity before he dies, but all five nominees were really excellent, each in their own way.

My two biggest grievances, in terms of winners, are two categories in which I voted for my favorites, but because I also actually expected them to win. First, Roger Deakins, who has been nominated nine times before (including twice in the same year for 2007’s No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), lost Best Cinematography for True Grit to Wally Pfister for Inception. Now, I’m certainly not saying the cinematography in Inception wasn’t impressive, but to me, Deakins’s work on True Grit was the best thing about the movie; the opening shot alone deserves an award, not to mention Deakins’s stellar body of work in the past.

Perhaps it is also partly a fondness for the artist’s past work that led to my other big upset of the night: Tom Hooper’s win as Best Director for The King’s Speech over David Fincher for The Social Network. I am a bit biased here, since Fincher’s Se7en (1995) is possibly my favorite film of all time, and I fully expected The King’s Speech to win Best Picture, which usually brings a Best Director win with it (notable exceptions to this rule include Roman Polanski’s win for The Pianist in 2002 and Steven Soderbergh for Traffic in 2000), but I really thought this would be another split year and Fincher would take home a much-deserved statue. The Social Network, easily my favorite of the Best Picture nominees, was duly honored in other categories, such as Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin, who was played offstage by the orchestra almost as soon as he began speaking, or so it seemed to me), Best Film Editing (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall), and the aforementioned Best Original Score, and I suppose Fincher will have another shot, especially since it seems likely he will continue to make films of great quality.

Black Swan is buoyed by an electrifying and very memorable performance from Natalie Portman. On the other hand, despite the fact that I preferred Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine (not to mention Lesley Manville’s incredible but un-nominated performance in Another Year), I was very pleased to see Natalie Portman win Best Actress for Black Swan. I was particularly happy about this not only because she turned in a bravura performance, but because it marked the first win in any category for a Darren Aronofsky film, and Aronofsky is one of my absolute favorite living filmmakers. He has shown a strong track record for getting his lead actors Oscar nominations (Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream in 2000 and Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler in 2008, both of whom should have won), and it has finally paid off. This is also the first time an Aronofsky film has been nominated for Best Picture, and he also got a nod for Best Director, all of which point to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally showing more appreciation for one of America’s most gifted filmmakers.

As for the hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, I would say they did fine. They didn’t have quite the comedic chemistry of last year’s team, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, but they played well together and delivered some good jokes, and Hathaway in particular showed a genuine excitement that was infectious. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they are two of the best (and, of course, best-looking) young actors out there today, though I still think it was a poor decision to have Franco, who was nominated in the Best Actor category for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, host the show in which he was nominated. This pretty much intimated to the audience before the show even began that he would not win, in much the same way that the use of Colin Firth’s voice-over from The King’s Speech over the entire Best Picture montage pretty much took any remaining suspense out of the announcement of that category.

To me, the funniest moments of the broadcast were the opening sequence, in which Franco and Hathaway stumble through a dream in Alec Baldwin’s head narrated by Morgan Freeman, who refers to Hathaway as “the naked girl from Love and Other Drugs,” and the moment in Christian Bale’s acceptance speech when he got choked up and appeared to forget his wife’s name. Of course, Kirk Douglas’s rambling, suspense-building presentation of the Best Supporting Actress award was also pretty funny, but also somewhat difficult to watch, as his 94 years of age and the fact that he has suffered a stroke were both painfully obvious.

My final thoughts on the Oscars broadcast: they should have let Banksy, the mysterious street artist and director of Exit Through the Gift Shop (my favorite documentary of the year) show up in a monkey mask.

Here are my own personal top 10 favorite films of 2010. Full reviews of most of these are available or forthcoming on this site, or on A&E Playground, our sister site:

1)  Dogtooth

2)  Blue Valentine

3)  Exit Through the Gift Shop

4)  The Social Network

5)  I’m Still Here

6)  Greenberg

7)  Black Swan

8)  Another Year

9)  Enter the Void

10) The Kids Are All Right

Here is a complete list of the winners:

Best Picture – The King’s Speech

Best Director – Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

Best Actor – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Actress – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor – Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress – Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Best Original Screenplay – David Seidler, The King’s Speech

Best Adapted Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Foreign Language Film – In A Better World

Best Animated Feature – Toy Story 3

Best Documentary Feature – Inside Job

Best Cinematography – Wally Pfister, Inception

Best Film Editing – Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, The Social Network

Best Sound Editing – Richard King, Inception

Best Sound Mixing – Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick, Inception

Best Visual Effects – Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, Pete Bebb and Paul J. Franklin, Inception

Best Art Direction – Robert Stromberg and Karen O’Hara, Alice in Wonderland

Best Costume Design – Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland

Best Make-Up – Rick Baker and Dave Elsey, The Wolfman

Best Original Score – Trent Reznor and Angus Wall, The Social Network

Best Original Song – Randy Newman, “We Belong Together”, Toy Story 3

Best Animated Short – The Lost Thing

Best Live-Action Short – God of Love

Best Documentary Short – Strangers No More

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’ Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper and poet who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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    class="comment byuser comment-author-sbones even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-9158">

    Great recap Ezra! I think the Oscars is the Superbowl for film and I agree with most of your picks (save for Black Swan and Toy Story 3)! I did a little better in predicting the main catagories, but for me the ultimate complement a film can receive is inclusion into the Criterion Collection (Excluding Armageddon)…

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