I went into the home stretch of the Academy Awards fully expecting to miss the show. I was out of the States, unplugged from the Internet and without access to network television. I believed this year’s show was to go down in my personal history alongside the show in early 2007, the only other Oscar telecast I’ve missed this decade, when a second-shift journalism job kept me from seeing Martin Scorsese snag his Best Director award and The Departed — my pick of the five nominated films, the only time it'd happened that decade — go home with Best Picture.
Ah, but I hadn’t counted on a cable channel carrying the feed. TNT, broadcasting the exquisite Spanish language, carried the show. After dinner and loitering near a craps table, I managed to catch the latter half from a crowded bar, sipping White Russians in tribute to the role that should have landed Jeff Bridges an Oscar.
It would have been fitting if I’d missed the whole show, considering how strongly I was gunning for The Hurt Locker to win. It is one of the best releases of 2009, and I’m absolutely thrilled it took home six Oscars, including Picture and Director. Its story is invigorating for a film critic who perpetually finds himself on the side of the loser, and refreshing that such a small but powerful film can topple an undeserving behemoth such as Avatar. It went home with three Oscars, all of them tech, and that feels just about right to me.
Let’s get to some run-down stats:
• I predicted 18-of-24 when you consider the entire ballot. I missed all three short films (ouch), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Sound Editing. If you take out the short films and go solely with the main categories, I was 18-of-21, which was just a tad better than the 17-of-21 I went last year. Meanwhile, my preferences lined up 9-of-24, which is fewer than I'd have liked but rewarding because I agreed with Picture and Director. (Other preferences that won: Supporting Actor, Animated Film, Editing, Score, Song, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects.)
• Because I had so many correct predictions, there were few surprises. The three main categories I missed each provide an interesting angle for discussion. Perhaps it is a reflection of my film geekdom, but Sound Editing was the most surprising. I thought Avatar had it in the bag, but I was thrilled to see The Hurt Locker snag it. When I first heard Precious, a film I didn’t care for, won Adapted Screenplay away from Up in the Air, which I found to be among the year’s best, I was shocked. But the shock wore off, and the more I thought about it, the more I simply came to realize I undersold its popularity among the Academy. (That it turned up in Best Editing should have been a sign that Mo’Nique would not be the only victory the film received.) It is clear the Academy is okay, or at least confused enough, to embrace digital cinematography.
• There was a complete rout of my predictions and preferences in the short film categories. Few anticipated Music by Prudence or The New Tenants would win their respective categories, and most people believed Logorama was too crude for the Academy members who shuffle out into the theaters and screen all five shorts before they're allowed to cast a vote. But the voters still had a few surprises up their sleeves and proved once again that while they might be predictable in the Documentary and Foreign Language Film categories (which also require attendance), they're anything but predictable when it comes to the shorts.
• The show itself: an incomplete blah. The bar where I sat was rather loud and I was hardly able to hear much of what was said by the hosts, the presenters, or the winners. When I was able to hear what people were saying, it didn’t carry the gravitas I’d have hoped it would. The Best Actor/Actress presentation was laughably sycophantic, and I would have preferred Kate Winslet and Sean Penn just to grace the stage, read the nominees, and award the trophy. It was difficult to stomach that the show cut segments and ran long for five personalized introductions.
• One final note: watching the second half among people who don’t make awards-season twists a top priority and who hardly saw any of the films was a shocking experience. The Hurt Locker was never referred to by name; it was always “the bomb movie.” Avatar, George Clooney, and Sandra Bullock had tremendous support. One sexist jerk who walked in during Kathryn Bigelow’s wonderful acceptance speech shouted out, “Blah blah blah blah, I love being an actress, blah blah blah blah.” If you think the idea of her win making history is rather blase, just remember there are still people for whom the idea of a woman director is completely foreign.
I’m scrambling to finish watching missed films from the last year, and soon I’ll be ready to post my best films of 2009. Until then and the next awards season, however, it’s back to film criticism.