Yeah, the In The Loop team didn’t win, sadly. A group of us last night attempted to sway events, watching the movie again as a kind of spell-casting ceremony, but our eldritch energies missed the target and Precious won for stating its points about the terrible effects of poverty with great, clanking obviousness. Nevertheless, the winners were often justified. The night was bracketed by the highlights: Christoph Waltz’ win and lovely, gracious acceptance speech at the start, and Kathryn Bigelow’s historic triumph at the end, complete with emotional speeches. She was shaking so much it looked like she was hyperventilating. A thoroughly deserved win from a fantastic filmmaker who has been thrilling me with excellent movies for decades now. I was so excited for her I got giddy, though that might have also been because of the sense-crippling fatigue. (N.B. Everyone should read Mary Elizabeth Williams’ piece on Bigelow’s win.)
Inbetween there were awful technical hitches and badly judged comedy moments: Neil Patrick Harris’ big number was undone by a low-volume mic that muffled his singing, cameras wandered around getting in everyone’s way, and the inept director kept cutting to blackness or random people milling around, though we did enjoy the way the camera cut to Joel Coen when someone mentioned Jews, or every black person in the room during Geoffrey Fletcher and Mo’Nique’s acceptance speeches. Even worse, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were lumbered with utterly risible jokes, and Martin in particular seemed lost. The only moments that made me (intentionally) laugh were the inspired pairing of Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. (why weren’t they the hosts?), Colin Farrell’s endearing monologue about Jeremy Renner’s awesomeness, everything the wonderful Gabourey Sidibe did all night long (she is much <3′d here now: I ended up rooting for her over Sandra Bullock by the end of the night), and the Paranormal Activity spoof.
Jeff Bridges’ win was treated as so overdue he was given a chance to run long on his speech. A whole extra couple of minutes, which enraged countless Oscar tweeters into 140 characters of SHEER HATE. Okay, so the ceremony ran long, but American audiences had it easy. In the UK we had to endure the shouty nonsense of four empty, ignorant twerps: Claudia Winkleman, Ronni Ancona, Mark Dolan and David Baddiel, none of whom seemed to even know what was nominated, let alone what the movies were like. When lizard/human hybrid Dolan is the most knowledgeable person in the room, you know you’re in trouble. @guardianfilm was particularly disgusted by his presence, and maintained a stream of amusing invective throughout.
Lowlights of their idiotic commentary included Baddiel’s new catchphrase, “I haven’t seen it, but…”, Ronni Ancona expressing confusion and surprise when someone mentioned that Sandra Bullock had been nominated for Best Actress, Baddiel not knowing who Neil Patrick Harris was (for fuck’s sake), Ancona praising the “stop-gap” animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline, and Winkleman shutting up Mark Dolan who had been wittering on about “The elephant in the room” for half an hour (without seeming to know what the phrase means) with the mad segue, “I love elephants. Moving on…” Whenever Sky Movies cut back to the four of them, a groan erupted from all of us. They represent all that is wrong with the way UK TV treats cinema, and it depressed me to see it.
Having hoped that a big loss for James Cameron would silence the endless whining from anti-Avatar forces, I was also disappointed to see the level of hatred aimed at it from film buffs all around the world didn’t drop in volume. I guess by now it’s the received wisdom that it it is the enemy, an “avatar” representing all that is terrible about modern culture and the unwashed masses who endorse it. I know from many thought-provoking reviews or respectful conversations with critics of Avatar that a lot of this is people really not liking the movie, having genuine reservations about Cameron’s vision and how he articulated it, and that’s cool, as even this fan is fully aware that it has big problems. However, enough people are pontificating on it without seeing it that much of the vitriol seems borne of dislike of its monolithic status as Biggest Thing Ever, or residual feelings of hate for Cameron’s arrogance and obnoxiousness from his Titanic days. I saw a lot of people crowing about how he was obviously crushed when Bigelow won the directing Oscar, which is funny because I saw a guy who looked delighted for her. Their divorce was – reportedly – amicable, and he was the guy who alerted her to Mark Boal’s Hurt Locker script, so I’m not about to dismiss those reports just to hold onto some weird artificial narrative about how she bested her asshole ex-husband ha ha ha. If anything, it was Tarantino and Lee Daniels who looked pissed off.
Even more exasperating is the new narrative that Avatar only really deserved the visual effects Oscar, and the photography and art direction Oscars were a baffling mistake because the movie was made in a computer, DUH! This dismissal – which could well be borne of distrust of the New Digital Frontier making the previous analogue age obsolete, a charge I think is nonsensical – is an insult to all who worked on the look of the film, and the work of pretty much anyone working in virtual environments today, be they in films or games. We’re talking about people who are designing everything onscreen from the ground up, who designed the foliage and landscape and vehicles and props and creatures, and then created a lighting scheme that was admittedly more manipulable than an actual environment but still required an understanding of light and its effect on our understanding of the events onscreen and our emotional response to the mood of the movie.
As I said before, Mauro Fiore (here profiled in Vanity Fair) had limited options here, as 3D technology requires brighter lighting for the effect to work, and even with this restriction he managed to create a complex palette (funky neon-black-light effects at night, bright and smoky colours during the day). The lighting in CGI movies is not just arbitrarily decided by some guy disinterestedly clicking around a Maya menu screen with no understanding of how light reflects off virtual objects. There was real thought put into this by very experienced and talented individuals, and that’s the case in all thoughtfully-rendered CGI environments. Fiore’s win is thoroughly deserved, and it represents a historic win that might be as important as Bigelow’s, in the long run.
Anyway, there were no real surprises all night, no Crash/Sean Penn-style upsets to wake us up (if you thought The White Ribbon or A Prophet would win best foreign language film has never seen an Academy Award ceremony before). As a result, no one got to be excited by a left-field victory for a favourite. Remember my latest poll, asking which Oscar longshot you are most rooting for? Here are the results:
- Best Director – Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds): 4 (44%)
- Best Actor – Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker): 2 (22%)
- Best Original Screenplay – Up: 1 (11%)
- Best Animated Picture – Fantastic Mr. Fox: 1 (11%)
- Best Original Song – Almost There (The Princess and the Frog): 1 (11%)
- Best Picture – District 9: 0 (0%)
- Best Adapted Screenplay – In The Loop: 0 (0%)
- Best Supporting Actress – Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air): 0 (0%)
Sorry, nine people who voted. No happiness for you.