Take that, all other performers in the history of the medium
Method man: Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis backstage during the Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on Sunday night. photograph: christopher polk/getty
The 85th Academy Awards will be remembered as the ceremony that propelled Daniel Day-Lewis towards a notable Oscar superlative. To the surprise of nobody who’d been even momentarily awake over the past three months, the Anglo-Irish method man, nominated for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, became the first person to win three Oscars for Best Actor. Take that, all other performers in the history of the medium.
Day-Lewis’s victory went some way towards dismantling the notion that you have to campaign vigorously to secure an Oscar win in the big races. While lesser talents were chewing their way through every fifth-rate chat show, Day-Lewis, as ever, kept interviews to a minimum and spoke only when he was spoken to.
Long resident in Wicklow and an Irish citizen, Day-Lewis has now secured his standing as the greatest actor of his generation and solidified his reputation for choosing roles wisely. Famed for immersing himself in performances, he faltered briefly a few years back when he appeared in the unloved musical Nine, but his turn as Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s film was immediately praised for its quiet elegance.
Day-Lewis is not the first actor to win three Oscars. Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson both managed that feat. But each had to settle for the odd Best Supporting Actor statuette. Day-Lewis has accumulated his three Best Actor wins at the relatively young age of 55.
“I’m definitely out of character at this moment,” he said backstage afterwards. “If I slip back into it by mistake, you can do an intervention of some kind, Heimlich manoeuvre or whatever, if I get stuck in character. No, I’m definitely out of character now.”
It was also the year that a fine populist director was snubbed. Never mind. The late Michael Winner famously turned down an OBE because that “is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross station”. He probably wouldn’t have wanted to be lauded among the other plebs in the Academy Awards’ “in memoriam” section. (More seriously, Nagisa Oshima, a genuinely great director, was also left out.) Ha ha! We are, of course, alluding to the exclusion of Ben Affleck from the Best Director shortlist. He showed them. Picking up the award for Best Film for Argo – Affleck was also a producer on that film – he noted that one “can’t hold grudges”.
From one angle, Argo’s victory looked like a surprise. No movie has won the top prize without a nod to the best director since Driving Miss Daisy, in 1989. However, by the time Michelle Obama (pardon?) opened the last envelope, the fast-moving thriller had long been established as runaway favourite. Lincoln had topped the nomination charts with 12 mentions, but won virtually nothing in the preseason bouts. Argo had triumphed with the Directors’ Guild, the Writers’ Guild, the Golden Globes and the best-kept pony category at the North Dakota state gymkhana.
Poor old Lincoln got just two awards (the other for production design). Argo picked up three. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi surged to the top with four Oscars. Lee won the best director prize that would surely have gone to Affleck – this is too boring and complex to explain in depth – if the Academy had not moved the date of its nominations forward to early January.
It was the weirdest of years. As the evening wore on (and on and on), it became increasingly hard to tell the surprises from the deadening inevitabilities. Jennifer Lawrence was the bookies’ favourite for Best Actress. So, her win for Silver Linings was a done deal? Not so much. Nobody would have been altogether astonished if Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest-ever acting nominee – who celebrated her 86th birthday thet very day of the ceremony – had taken the prize for Michael Haneke’s Amour.
Christoph Waltz was probably second favourite in the Best Supporting Actor showdown. So, there was only a mild furore when the Austrian, nominated for Django Unchained, made his journey to the stage. Writer and director Quentin Tarantino took the film’s second prize when he won for best original screenplay.
Anne Hathaway seemed to have her name on the best supporting actress’s statuette from the moment the trailer for Les Misérables was released. If an asteroid had levelled Sunset Boulevard on Sunday afternoon, one suspects she would have made her way through the bloody wreckage to lay hands the last surviving battered gold man.
But there were enough surprises to sideswipe Oscar pundits, including this correspondent. Anyone who predicted a tie in the sound-editing category – Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall tied – deserves some sort of honour .
We did, at least, get to see an interesting performance from the Oscar host. The producers signalled their nervousness about Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and American Dad, by placing his most risqué material within intergalactic inverted commas. He had barely begun when a screen descended, within which William Shatner, still Captain Kirk, at 81, introduced excerpts of the material that MacFarlane would, in an alternate universe, have shocked the assembled Hollywood masses.
There was a funny (if vigorously unreconstructed) number concerning the films that featured A-list actors showing their bosoms. There was a superb recreation of Robert Zemeckis’s Flight with sock puppets. There was a less amusing clip that saw MacFarlane appearing before Sally Field as the flying nun.
As the evening progressed, the jokes remained funny and the audience remained somewhat uneasy in their responses. Discussing actors who had played Abraham Lincoln, he quipped: “The actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” MacFarlane was hardly demolishing limits with a gag about Lincoln’s assassin. But the relative silence confirmed the Oscar lags believe that such limits still exist.
Thank heavens for Day-Lewis and Quentin Tarantino. Both men managed to get away from the serial thanks and deliver speeches that broke original ground. Quentin played it off-the-cuff. Day-Lewis, still wearing Meryl Streep’s lipstick on his cheek, joked that the presenter was Spielberg’s first choice for Lincoln. He is class act. Alas, having announced that he is retiring to Wicklow for a five-year break, he will have to wait some time before delivering another assault of well-spoken charm.
For all the oddness on display – Jack Nicholson cutting to Michelle at the White House was a rub-your-eyes moment – this year’s Oscars ended up making relatively safe selections.
Argo is a good film. But, if there is a worthwhile comparison in history, it is probably with George Roy Hill’s The Sting from 1973. When that mainstream best-picture winner turns up on telly, you happily watch through until the end. But it is hardly in the same league as fellow nominees such as The Exorcist or Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. Similarly, Argo did not break as much new ground as Beasts of the Southern Wild or attack the brain as vigorously as Amour.
It will do well enough. That phrase could serve nicely as a summary of entire evening.
85th Academy Awards winners
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting ActorChristoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Animated FeatureFilm Brave
Life of Pi
Documentary FeatureSearching for Sugar Man
Foreign Language Film Amour (Austria)
Life of Pi
Skyfall from Skyfall
Short Film (Animated)Paperman
Short Film (Live Action)Curfew
Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty (tie)
Life of Pi
Best Adapted ScreenplayArgo
Best Original ScreenplayDjango Unchained