Five Things We Learned from Oscar 2010

Pixar remains more or less foolproof, while Nick Park and his Aardman Animations group lost their first Oscar ever (unless you count them beating themselves in 1989). Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were interesting choices as hosts. Most of the presenters were barely passable. History was indeed made when Kathryn Bigelow won her Best Director award for The Hurt Locker while shuttled-off-to-their-own-ceremony honorees Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall were actually in the Kodak Theater, able to bask in their standing ovation afterthought glow. All in all, it was a decent night for the Academy Awards – a few fun surprises surrounded by a lot of the same old shi…stuff. Jokes at the expense of celebrities were the norm. The hosts indulged in a few uneven spoofs. And less than 24 hours later, pundits everywhere are trying to make sense of what transpired – if anything.

Sure, it was nice to see Jeff Bridges received his lifetime achievement award – sorry, Best Actor statue – and Sandra Bullock put on a brave “maybe I shouldn’t be here” face for what is rapidly becoming the Paltrow/Hunt “Huh?” acknowledgement for actresses. Christoph Waltz was unfortunate enough to be the first major recipient, meaning that every time Inglourious Basterds lost to some other film, he became the close-up poster boy for Quentin Tarantino’s fading evening fortunes. At some point, the ceremony needs to be shorn of such pointless grandstanding as the Best Live Action Short Film/Documentary category (these filmmakers can be insufferable) and it’s clear that few can sell a Best Song nominee outside its cinematic setting. Still, if we learned anything from the 2010 Oscars, it’s that the more the AMPAS tries to change things, the more they stay the same, sadly.

However, there are at least five things we can take from this years awards that stand out, elements that, at least for this movie season, made us sit back and take notice, beginning with:

Ten Didn’t Matter

So what exactly did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences accomplish by adding five more Best Picture nominees to its annual list of possible winners? Nothing, really. The Hurt Locker still dominated, picking up six trophies. Avatar won many of its technical nods. Supposed sure things like Up in the Air and Inglourious Basterds had to settle for one award between them, while almost every other announcement was predicted months before. Indeed, in what will rapidly be known as the “happy to be here” category (should Oscar continue such a Decalogue decision), films like District 9, An Education, and A Serious Man resembled gimmicks paid lip service for wholly crass, commercial ratings reasons.

The Guilds (Almost) Always Get It Right

The Producer’s Guild had Hurt Locker. The SAG’s got all four Actor/Actress categories right. Only the WGA miffed this one when Precious‘ Geoffrey Fletcher picked up the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was originally thought that Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner would capture Academy gold for the George Clooney vehicle Up in the Air (which was shut out overall by the way), since the guild gave them their seal of approval a few weeks back. Clearly, out of all the pre-Oscar showcases, the scribes lose a little luster this time around.

The Foreign Film Category is Now Officially a Crapshoot

Okay, it happened again. A clear foreign film front runner (Pan’s Labyrinth, Waltz with Bashir, and now The White Ribbon) has been dethroned at the last minute by a title (The Lives of Others, Departures, and last night, The Secret in their Eyes) few saw coming. Granted, sometimes, the winner is an equal – or frequently, superior – film, but how Michael Haenke’s acclaimed German history lesson lost out to an Argentinean drama about an unsolved murder case will remain the stuff of critical clamoring…at least, for the next couple weeks.

It Can Be About “The Performance, Not the Politics

For months now, stand-up comic turned serious actress Mo’Nique has been ridiculed for not “playing the Awards season game” as others have before. She snubbed important critic’s groups, rejected invitations to ceremonies some thought she should attend, and left an inconsistent impression with many during her nearly flawless streak of Best Supporting Actress wins. So when she finally found herself on the Academy dais on Sunday, she let everyone know that she was grateful for making her acknowledgement more about the craft, and less about the kowtowing.

All Dancers Must Die!

Lord help the person who found the interminable, endless interpretative dance number for the five nominated film scores entertaining. As a constant reminder of the throwback mentality embraced by this show business spectacle, watching lithe individuals wriggle and writhe to the music written for Up, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes seems more than silly. In fact, with winners barely guaranteed their 45 seconds of face time come acceptance speechifying, lingering over such hoary Hollywood variety clichés illustrates how out of touch the Academy still is.