Hooray for Hollywood
Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
Emmanuelle Riva in Amour
Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
Ben Affleck in Argo
Oscars host Seth MacFarlane
Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln
Finally, we have an unpredictable Oscar night. This is the year to stay up to see who wins
There’s every reason to dismiss the Oscars as so much hooey. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences almost never gives the big award to the real best film of the year. The ceremony is an eight-hour orgy of brown-nosing and vulgar schmaltz. Acting prizes too often go the way of “life achievement”.
For all that, no other awards ceremony creates such tasty buzz. Not many punters know what the Nobel Prize in Literature looks like. (Isn’t it a big gold coin?) Everybody recognises an Oscar.
But even those of us who maintain an unjustifiable obsession with the jamboree have been forced to admit that it has all become a bit predictable. As early as mid November the field has narrowed to one or two pictures. It’s The Social Network versus The King’s Speech. It’s Avatar versus The Hurt Locker. It’s Schindler’s List versus nothing else. Increased online coverage makes it harder to remain blissfully uninformed. We all know the score.
This year has been very different. Could this be the weirdest Oscar season in living memory? Here’s the skinny. In early September, after an ecstatic reception at Venice Film Festival, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master briefly became the film to beat. A week or so later, Silver Linings Playbook, David O Russell’s serious comedy, won the audience prize at Toronto (taken by previous Oscar champs such as The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire) and became the bookie’s new favourite.
Russell had barely absorbed the news when Ben Affleck’s Argo opened to breathless reviews and decent box-office returns. This looked like an Oscar picture: it celebrated Hollywood; it focused on a real event; it appealed to both buffs and the public. The film nudged aside Silver Linings and nestled in for the long march to February.
Then something peculiar happened. A group of Hollywood insiders and Oscar pundits was invited to a sneak screening of Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. Seasoned professionals were reportedly whooping and weeping in the aisles. How could we have been so stupid? Hooper had Oscar form with The King’s Speech. The musical was a worthy, middlebrow crowd-pleaser. Suddenly, it looked unbeatable.
Let’s pause before moving on and consider Anne Hathaway. That actor’s occupation of the favourite’s spot for best supporting actress began with the release of the trailer for Les Misérables. Such things have happened before. But no other performer went on to win over the bookies so convincingly. The last time we checked, she was available at an unbackable 1/50.
Can you hear the people sing? Les Misérables need only turn up to win best picture.
But hang on. It was now early December, and the initial reviews of Les Mis were looking very ropy. Maybe Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was the real favourite. That director’s study of the hunt for Osama bin Laden triumphed with the New York Film Critics Circle and a clutch of other reviewers’ organisations. (That furore about torture had yet to build.) Against the odds, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was also going down well with punters and pundits. Was that beautiful fable our man? Then, finally, the Oscar nominations emerged, and, after we had absorbed shocking omissions, a genuinely unstoppable favourite appeared to settle into pole position. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, the model of an upstanding Oscar winner, topped the charts, with 12 nods.