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Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 02-27-12


 
Meryl Streep, star of “The Iron Lady”

Meryl Streep, star of “The Iron Lady”

Harvey Weinstein at The Weinstein Company’s pre-Oscar party

Harvey Weinstein at The Weinstein Company’s pre-Oscar party

Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin sharing an Oscar moment

Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin sharing an Oscar moment

“The Artist’s” Bérénice Bejo

“The Artist’s” Bérénice Bejo

Michel Hazanavicius, Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin at The Weinstein Company’s pre-Oscar party

Michel Hazanavicius, Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin at The Weinstein Company’s pre-Oscar party

Oscar Outcome: They say it’s not over till it’s over, but that really didn’t apply to the Oscars. They were over before the show even started.

After an awards season thoroughly dominated by The Weinstein Company’s French silent, black & white dramatic comedy “The Artist,” anyone expecting a nail-biting finale Oscar night was clearly living on another planet.

Nonetheless, the 84th annual Academy Awards was a spectacular triumph for Harvey Weinstein with “The Artist” taking home five well deserved Oscars — winning best picture, director (Michel Hazanavicius), actor (Jean Dujardin), original score (Ludovic Bource) and costume design (Mark Bridges) — and with Meryl Streep winning best actress for playing former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” plus that film’s best makeup win for Mark Coulter and J. Roy Helland. The Weinstein Company also scored an eighth Oscar win for releasing the best documentary feature Oscar winner “Undefeated.”

With “The Artist” having already walked off with best picture wins from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), British Academy (BAFTAs), Producers Guild of America, Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critics Choice Awards), Screen Actors Guild (ensemble cast award), European Film Awards, Cesar Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards as well as the Directors Guild of America’s best directing award, it was a foregone conclusion that Academy members would rubberstamp those earlier votes.

Between the lack of suspense as to what would be in the sealed envelopes and the lack of funny material in the show, watching the telecast was like watching paint dry for just over three hours. Having been there in past Oscar audiences to enjoy Billy Crystal’s hosting, I’ve got to say the Academy did him no favor by convincing him to sign on for a ninth tour of duty. Much of his material wasn’t very funny and seeing Crystal repeatedly laughing at his own lines hammered home just how soft they were.

In fairness, Crystal deserves applause for jumping in at the last minute to pick up the pieces when Eddie Murphy bailed as host after the show’s intended producer, Brett Ratner, departed after making some ill-advised controversial remarks and was replaced by Oscar-winning movie producer Brian Grazer.

Also, it’s only fair to point out that Crystal was faced with the impossible task of conjuring up humor at the expense of some very serious nominees like the 9/11 driven drama “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” the comatose-cheating wife drama “The Descendants,” the loss of innocence family drama “The Tree of Life,” the World War I battlefield drama “War Horse,” the 1930’s orphan-living-in-a-French railway station drama “Hugo,” the baseball business drama “Moneyball” and the 1960’s civil rights drama “The Help.”

With the exception of “The Help,” which grossed nearly $170 million in domestic theatres, none of the eight other best picture nominees — including the 1927 set silent filmmaking comedy “The Artist” and Woody Allen’s Paris set time travel fantasy comedy “Midnight in Paris” — attracted big audiences. So how could anyone expect people watching the telecast to understand jokes about films they hadn’t seen?

Moreover, this year’s crop of mostly bland best picture nominees had little or no chance of winning considering “The Artist’s” success throughout the awards season. There really wasn’t a shred of suspense for Crystal to tap into for laughs. In effect, the other nominees were condemned to sit through the show and its inevitable celebration of “The Artist.”

What the Academy did was try to generate humor between its presenters wherever possible. But the results were embarrassingly awful — like the scripted banter between presenters Emma Stone and Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. Even less funny was a filmed segment of a made-up 1939 focus group session in which actors pretending to be ordinary people offer stupid suggestions about how to improve “The Wizard of Oz.”

As bad as the show was, the Academy has to be pleased that it still managed to perform about 4 percent better in the ratings than 2011’s mega-disaster hosted by a sullen James Franco and a super-perky Anne Hathaway. Early audience estimates put this year’s crowd at 39.3 million people vs. 37.9 million people last year. Credit the ratings improvement to Crystal, who’s a brand name Oscar host with strong appeal to older viewers.

Nonetheless, the Academy needs to grow its Oscar ratings, which means finding a way to attract younger viewers who typically don’t go to see the kind of small independent dramas that in recent years have been the ones getting best picture nominations. This year was down, for instance, by about 9.75 percent from the roughly 43.5 million who watched “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” win best picture in 2004. With nearly $378 million in domestic grosses for this final episode in its blockbuster franchise, “King” was a film that people were rooting for Oscar night.

Adding to this year’s lack of suspense were supporting actor and actress races that were widely expected to go — as they did — to Christopher Plummer for Focus Features’ drama “Beginners” and to Octavia Spencer for DreamWorks and Disney’s drama “The Help.” Plummer and Spencer had been making awards acceptance speeches for months and were locks to win Oscar night.

The only races where insiders even conceded the possibility of an upset were for best actor and actress. Dashing former Oscar-winner George Clooney (“The Descendants”) was considered the only best actor nominee with a shot at eclipsing dashing French newcomer Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”). And Viola Davis (“The Help”) was regarded as the only one who could snatch best actress victory from the jaws of longtime Academy favorite Meryl Streep. Of course, Dujardin and Streep prevailed as anticipated.

Like “The Artist,” Paramount and GK Films’ drama “Hugo” also mopped up five wins — but not in high profile Oscar categories. “Hugo” took home Oscars for art direction, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.

Bottom line: As they say, Wait till next year. Before you know it, the 85th annual Academy Awards will be here and with a little luck maybe Pricewaterhouse Coopers will be the only one who knows ahead who the winners will be.