Did you enjoy your Oscar® night? I sure did. There was a diffident air about the show that was most appealing to me, starting with the choice of Ellen just sort of roaming around, chatting with the rich and famous, and essentially taking a lot of the air out of all the weeks and months of overhype. (Ellen’s manner accomplished what the booze always does at the Golden Globes: get people to settle in and just relax.) That diffident air translated to some viewers, I know, as “boring,” and it did undercut the evening’s announced Heroes theme to a significant extent: It’s hard to celebrate heroism over a slice of pizza in Row C on the aisle. Still, I think the producers figured there was drama enough in the year’s races, and in its movies, that some relaxed charm ought to be the order of the night. And that worked for me.
Best Adapted Screenplay went, as expected, to John Ridley, whose speech was refreshing for its bringing up details in the life of a screenwriter (his start in TV; getting notes; interacting with peers and assistants) as opposed to going on and on about his movie’s subject matter. I found it interesting that he and director McQueen didn’t embrace or shake hands when Ridley’s name was called, and as far as I could tell, the director was not one of the people Ridley thanked. Anyone able to assess their dynamic when they accepted Best Picture? I smell feud, and it would be interesting to find out the basis for the conflict, if there is one. Anyway, I’ve read Solomon Northup’s book, and I am here to tell you that Ridley’s job was much more difficult than he always makes it sound when he talks about 12 Years a Slave. Both the structure and the dialogue were, it’s clear, not easy to translate to film. Bravo to him; it’s a statuette well-earned.
So was Spike Jonze’s for Her, which I touted in a previous posting as the “possible spoiler” of an American Hustle victory. It goes to show you, the winner in this category is almost always the one with the “highest concept” – the cleverest central idea. (Cf. Juno; Little Miss Sunshine; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Midnight in Paris; the list goes on and on.) Those of us who felt Hustle would eke out a win overestimated the love for David O. Russell’s shaggy, polarizing satire – not to mention the feeling of warmth that Her engendered, which as it turns out, ran deep.
Two personal notes. I am so thrilled that The Great Beauty won for Foreign Film. I urge you to see it; it’s coming out this month in a spectacular Criterion Collection DVD. Or better still, watch La Dolce Vita again, and then revel in Paolo Sorrentino’s stunning companion piece.
And I know it didn’t win, but when the short documentary Prison Terminal shows up on HBO, I promise you it’s worth your time. Documenting the final hospice days of a World War II vet whose bad decisions landed him in a maximum security prison, it’s a beautiful, uncompromising look at how a life not always lived with dignity can still end with it, in the presence of compassionate caregivers. Put it this way: You can get lots of good advice about how life should be lived from Alice Herz-Sommer in the award-winning The Lady in No. 6. But you will learn something about how it can come to an end, from Private Jack Hall.