Cinema Chatter #8 – Nostalgia

Anyone watching the 84th Academy Awards was assaulted with the event’s theme from the onset – it’s all about reliving the past. Given the LA Times' recent study on Academy Award voters (they’re mostly white, male, and over 60), it comes with little surprise that the event embraced this sense of nostalgia through and through. The broadcast, from its reprisals of classic film clips to Billy Crystal’s comedic approach, felt like a dusty relic. In the event’s opening sequence, we saw Billy Crystal banter with Justin Bieber in an attempt to reach a younger demographic. The only thing I get out of that exchange is the Academy’s misguided sense of youth culture. What followed was a show adheres to the familiar, with jokes so old that they show their wrinkles.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the large thematic element for 2011 involved a sort of nostalgic reverence. I’ve discussed at length how pictures like The Artist, Hugo, or Midnight in Paris have all embraced the past in one way or another. And given that The Descendants was the only film in the Best Picture category to take place in the present, the notion of the Academy embracing the past isn’t afar-fetched concept. But its execution simply fell flat. The event was a dull excursion that seemed to take umbrage with anything remotely progressive. The night’s only true surprise came from Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter winning Best Editing for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – a particularly impressive feat given that the picture wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. There were some bits and pieces of excitement felt throughout the night, particularly when Hugo ended up cleaning up so many of the technical awards, but again, it all reached a status quo when The Artist took Best Score and regained its composure for the night. The night’s finest moment would come from Bret McKenzie winning Best Original Song for The Muppets. While it was hardly a shock, his acceptance of the award was a sight, particularly for a guy who is such a fan of Flight of the Conchords.

Hugo and The Artist would go on to win five Oscars a piece, but the most talked about win seems to have come from Meryl Streep besting Viola Davis in the Best Actress race. It was a particularly sour reward, particularly given the supposed industry good-will that Davis had been receiving. With the ever crucial win from the Screen Actor’s Guild, Davis seemed to have had the award all sewn up. It was not to be. It was the one deviation from expectations that really felt off. But it all fell in place with The Weinstein Company’s dominance for the night.

Best Picture. Best Director. Best Actor. Best Actress. Best Documentary. All of those categories were given to films under The Weinstein Company’s umbrella. Their campaigns for films like The Artist and The Iron Lady were simple – play on this concept of nostalgia and belated recognition. Sure, Meryl Streep has won Best Actress twice before, but it has been decades since her previous win. The campaign played as if the stakes for her victory exceeded that of any of her competitors – none of whom have won the award. It was a misguided campaign, but it worked.

And now we move forward.   The 2012-2013 race is already underway, as the Sundance Film Festival has given audiences a glimpse into the future. Before we know it, the Cannes Film Festival will unveil some art-house heavy-hitters that will enter the fray. Paul Thomas Anderson returns after five years with The Master – a film that has the backing of The Weinstein Company. Andrew Dominik also returns following his 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with Cogan’s Trade. It looks like the sort of vehicle that could bring Brad Pitt back into the fray. And the Best Actor field is already taking shape, with names like Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln and John Hawkes in The Surrogate garnering attention.

My first year doing this is all wrapped up. Here’s to another year.