Friday, March 2, 2012

Oscar 2012: the Aftermath

Best Actress and Best Actor
Less than a week after the most epic of parties, with the red carpet all rolled up, and the stars all (hopefully) back at work, here are some random notes on this year’s Academy Awards aftermath. I’m not concentrating on the actual show itself, but discussing the ultimate question: what does it all mean?

Let’s discuss the success of The Artist. It wasn’t a clean sweep, Lord of the Rings-style. It was more like a respectable showing, a la Chicago in 2002. This doesn’t mean that studios are rushing to make eclectic projects like this one. Harvey Weinstein is not overcome with a sudden urge to bring back silent movie en masse. What this does mean, as a business model, is that the major studios and boutique shops (like The Weinstein Company and Focus Features) will continue to attend film festivals and acquire domestic distribution rights to worthy projects, dress them up in critical praise, and create Oscar campaigns for them. No, the major studios are still producing Transformers sequels and busily re-booting tried-and-true franchise options. (Unless you’re Christopher Nolan or Steven Soderbergh and can do whatever the hell you want.)

Jean Dujardin will continue to be a star in France, and his next few projects might get limited release in North America, but people here may forget he exists. The real test of longevity will be how he navigates his career without TWC’s direct involvement. He’s charmed everyone by appearing on talk shows, participating in that hilarious Funny or Die video, and he’s sexy to boot. He will now have to decide if an American project might entice him and he can become a domestically-recognized movie star, or if he’ll continue in French films exclusively. He may want to call fellow French Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, for tips. She’s continued working in their native France while also taking on strong supporting roles in such prestige projects as Inception, Nine and Midnight in Paris, all of which were nominated for or won Oscars. Dujardin will have to choose wisely, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. In the interim, it’s likely that his next film Les Infideles, which caused some controversy in France due to its outrageous movie poster, will be given a local release.

Now that Meryl’s won an Oscar for her outstanding performance in The Iron Lady – a film I did not love but in which she was tremendous – the pressure’s now off to give her a third Oscar, something people have been buzzing about since at least 1985. She still has more nominations than any performer, living or dead, and as many Oscars as Jack Nicholson and Ingrid Bergman, one away from Katherine Hepburn’s all-time record. However, the next person in line for the Best Actress award will be none other than fellow nominee Glenn Close. Seeing Close on the red carpet for the first time in years, looking beautiful but also age-appropriate given the lack of any (obvious) plastic surgery, should remind the Academy to take notice of the outstanding work she’s done since her last Oscar nomination 23 years ago. She’s since won two Tony Awards and three Emmy Awards (and countless nominations) for, amongst others, a political stage play, a big-budget Broadway musical smash, noted miniseries and excellent ongoing work for serious, prestigious television series such as Damages and The Shield. Heck, Damages just might be her signature role and may outclass almost about everything she’s ever done in film. She’s now lost at the Oscars six times. She is due. Her next project is Thérèse Raquin, currently in pre-production. This is an adaptation of an oft-performed Emile Zola play and novel, smells of prestige, and is due out next year. Close for Oscar, 2014? It could happen.

We rock: the cast of Bridesmaids
I did not say that Viola Davis is next in line, or that she is due. Her work alone on The Help was far worthier than the “she’s due so let’s give her one” vibe that has followed Streep’s body of work for years. This is not a dig at her career choices, but simply a reflection of the critical buzz that has necessarily accompanied her work over the last 30 years. I worry that while Streep is still entertaining scripts, Davis might not have a film role worthy of her immense talent. Her next project is the big-budget adaptation of the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, but her role is “Major Anderson”. Does this sound like a juicy part to you? Unless it’s hailed as a cinematic classic or a major sci-fi work, she might not have her Oscar anytime soon. There are frequent comments that it’s hard for a woman of a certain age to land a meaty film role, but what’s not often spoken is that it’s even more difficult for ethnic minorities to get them when so many of the scripts seem to be written expressly for Caucasian actors. These of course only speak to the truly substantive parts. I think Davis should go the TV route for now by landing a long-term, ongoing role on a high-quality series, pick up a stack of Emmys like Close did, and then return to the Oscar race with a body of work that will make the Academy sit up, take notice, and bang the drum for her to take home the statuette.

You guys! Dean Pelton won an Oscar!
Take that, NBC!
Speaking of television, there was a bigger presence than before this year than at previous Oscars ceremonies. The entire TV-bred cast of Bridesmaids, including SNL writer-performers Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, made mincemeat of the comic material they were provided for their awards presentations. Joining them were Oscar nominee / Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy of TV’s Mike & Molly, Ellie Kemper of The Office and Emmy nominee Rose Byrne of Damages. These are all great parts, no matter your opinions on these series. It seems that asides from this project, the meatiest role for Hollywood actresses appears to be on the small screen. Additionally, Jim Rash rocked the forced hiatus of NBC’s brilliant comedy Community by winning Best Adapted Screenplay. Bret McKenzie, officially half of the Flight of the Conchords, won Best Original Song. And Tina Fey killed it during her presentation and on the red carpet, playing along with Sacha Baron Cohen’s joke by bowing to the fake ashes of Kim Jong-Il (Ryan Seacrest, are you listening?). Perhaps it’s time for the major studios to continue using TV actor-writer-performers more often, rather than casting based entirely on the cover subjects of Maxim or who’s trending on MTV and Twitter.

Tina Fey on the red carpet, "bowing"
I am not worried for either Supporting Acting winners. Plummer is so charming that even at age 82, he’ll keep getting roles as a working actor. Everyone wants to work with him and be around him. Similarly, Octavia Spencer’s popularity didn’t become obvious until she collected her Oscar to a standing ovation last Sunday. I had mentioned her insane popularity amongst her peers, and her well-deserved victory and its reception was testament to this. She’s appeared in all types of projects, taking on more typecast roles in Beauty Shop and tiny speaking parts in horror schlock, and built a vast support and business network that way. She will have no trouble continuing to find work, but here’s hoping that she’ll be taken more seriously and given roles worthy of her talents.

My suggestion for next year? Get the entire cast of Bridesmaids to take turns hosting the show, with Tina Fey writing, the Conchords performing all musical interludes, with Jim Nash announcing. Heck, forget the Oscars and get them all to do a make-over of the Emmys this way. Why wait another year when the Emmys are on in six months’ time?

Another year, another Oscars. Still no repeat of the infamous swan dress. See you all at the end of November, when this madness starts all over again!