Here’s a few things we learnt from watching this year’s Academy Awards…
1. Producers are hooked on ‘true-life stories’
The Best Picture win for ‘Argo’ acknowledges Hollywood’s current obsession with ‘real-life’ tales (and its accompanying fear of original stories or yarns not based on books). Ben Affleck’s film is founded on a long-redacted CIA account of a bizarre 1979 plot to break six Americans out of 1979 Iran by getting them to pretend they were making a movie. This trend shows no sign of stopping. On the horizon for 2013 and 2014 are stories featuring the characters of Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba), Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman), Princess Diana (Naomi Watts), Phil Spector (Al Pacino) and Liberace (Matt Damon).
2. The rest of the world just about exists
Last year’s sweep for ‘The Artist’ pointed the way, but the 2013 Oscars ceremony cemented the idea that the Academy Awards are (gradually, reluctantly) becoming a more global affair. We knew Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ didn’t have a chance at Best Picture, but the very fact it was nominated – not to mention Austrian director Haneke’s nod for Best Director, and ‘Amour’s Best Foreign Language Film win – was still something of a coup. Add to that Ang Lee’s Best Director win for the globally-themed ‘Life of Pi’, Austrian actor Christoph Waltz’s Supporting Actor grab for ‘Django Unchained’ and even the success of the Iran-set ‘Argo’, and you have an Oscars which at least acknowledges the existence of a world beyond Los Angeles.
3. Bad taste is out
We’ve been saying all along that Seth MacFarlane was a rotten choice for Oscar host, and so it proved. Following a slew of highly critical opinion pieces this morning, and in the wake of Ricky Gervais’s Golden Globes disaster, it feels as though the flirtation of awards ceremony producers with ‘edgy’ material – in practice, middle-aged white men telling crass, unpleasant jokes about race and gender – has backfired disastrously. Whether this distaste will spill out into the wider film industry (watch your backs, ‘The Hangover’ gang) remains to be seen.
4. Oscar voters like to think they’re daring – but not too daring
Audiences and critics liked ‘Lincoln’, and Oscar voters liked it enough to give it a bunch of nominations, but in the end it proved too obvious for the Oscars to honour a film about America’s favourite president, made by America’s favourite director (Steven Spielberg) and starring the Academy’s favourite actor (Daniel Day-Lewis). ‘Argo’ was the voters’ semi-edgy choice: an act of respectable rebellion. Ben Affleck’s film is political without being controversial; foreign while remaining American; and sort-of-serious in execution (wow, they mixed visual formats!) but topped off with a ridiculous action sequence. In the end Oscar voters steered well clear of the genuinely edgy fare they nominated: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ won nothing; ‘Amour’ stayed put in the Best Foreign Language Film ghetto; and Quentin Tarantino’s properly confrontational ‘Django Unchained’ only won Best Original Screenplay and a Best Supporting Actor prize for Christoph Waltz.
5. Youth Springs Eternal
In the run-up to the Oscars there was plenty of talk about the oldest ever Best Actress nominee, 86-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, going up against the youngest, nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis. Well, youth triumphed in the end – the award ultimately went to 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. And it was a similar story in a number of categories, with 24-year-old Adele winning Best Song and 30-year-old Anne Hathaway taking Best Supporting Actress. And while Ben Affleck may be no one’s idea of a spring chicken at 40, he’s one of the youngest filmmakers ever to take Best Picture. Could Hollywood’s dominance by late-middle-aged men be coming to an end? Well, probably not, but here’s hoping.