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The Best & Worst Moments Of The 84th Academy Awards

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
February 27, 2012 2:45 PM
17 Comments
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How's your Oscar hangover? We've all got the prosecco sweats in the Playlist offices this morning, but that's about the norm for a Monday. Or a Tuesday. Or a Thursday. Anyway, the dust is settling post-Oscars, with the winners basking in their glory, and the losers digging through their script pile to find a disabled Holocaust survivor to play to give them another chance at the big prize (here's who took home Oscar gold if you somehow weren't paying attention).

But the question is: how was the ceremony? After one of the very worst last year, and the controversy after Brett Ratner was forced out (with original host Eddie Murphy following soon after), they were always likely to go for a safe year, and that's exactly what we got: a dull ceremony that could have come from pretty much any time in history. It wasn't the worst of ceremonies -- there were quite a few good little moments, but there were also plenty of lowlights. Below, you'll find our list of the Best and Worst Moments of the 2012 Academy Awards.

Best Moments

"The Artist"
Do we consider "The Artist" the best film of 2011? Of course not. Does an independently-made, black and white silent French movie with no stars qualify as a safe choice to win Best Picture? Of course not, and it's a shame that that's the way some Oscar bloggers have shifted the narrative. It's not what we would have picked for most of its wins, but we don't begrudge it the victories either, particularly as the speeches, from composer Ludovic Bource to Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin, were so charming. When canine star Uggie took to the stage as it won Best Picture, it was hard not to be a little delighted by the little gamble that paid off in a big way.

"A Separation" Wins Foreign Film Prize
A funny thing happens at the Oscars without fail each year -- the film that everyone believes is the Best Foreign Film generally loses. So broken and fucked up is the Foreign Oscar branch that if a good film does make the final five cut (a 50/50 proposition at best), odds are it's not going to win the statuette. This trend is so prevalent, that most Awards pundits (including our own) generally predict an outsider to take the bauble instead. But this year, somehow that changed. The moving and powerful  Iranian social drama "A Separation" -- universally loved, topping several top 10 lists of the year -- actually won the Best Foreign Film award much to our delight and utter surprise.

Christopher Plummer’s Speech
The man's been in the business for well over half a century, and while he might be the oldest acting Oscar winner in history, Christopher Plummer showed his years of wisdom with one of the best acceptance speeches in recent memory. Looking unbelievably dapper, he kicked off with a witty opening line, seemed to genuinely be delighted (while not feigning surprise either), paid tribute to his fellow nominees, co-stars and director, and proved moving, but not maudlin or sentimental. It was a class act, and future nominees should treat it as the bar of what to aim for. Watch it right here.

MGM Test Screening For “The Wizard Of Oz” With The Christopher Guest Crew
It has been a way, way too long six years since the last Christopher Guest outing “For Your Consideration,” and while it was a lacklustre effort, his appearance last night with the rest of his regular crew of players (except Parker Posey, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean) was  a reminder of why we need him back. The gang appeared in an enjoyable little segment playing the test audience for MGM’s “The Wizard Of Oz” back in the day. Bob Balaban played the studio suit getting their feedback and thoughts on the film, with delightfully clueless responses from the whole gang. It was a clever way to acknowledge the nostalgia fueled year at the movies that still felt fresh and funny. More please.

Emma Stone
Apparently, endearing charisma and charm are spelled E m m a S t o n e.  Surely when the Oscars were pairing James Franco and Anne Hathaway together they were hoping for vibrant, affable charm. And no offense to Hathaway -- she did her best with her dead-to-the-world co-host -- but her pep and zip just fell flat. Sure, last night Ben Stiller played a good straight man, but Emma Stone’s presenting performance -- as that’s truly what it was -- was infectious and utterly beguiling. Sure, this kid's going to be a star, we all should know that by now, but if she’s not careful, she’s also going to become America’s next sweetheart, as her poise, grace and wit feels timeless like a golden age starlet with class, spunk and allure to last an entire career.

"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" Winning Best Editing
The second win in a row for Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, after "The Social Network" last year, this wasn't so much a win to be celebrated out of merit (although it was arguably the most deserving of the five nominees), as one to be celebrated purely because it was so unexpected. Hardly any pundits, ourselves included, had predicted this as a possibility, and in a year where most of the victors had seemingly been ordained months ago, it managed to wake up those who'd been dozing through the ceremony. Plus Baxter & Cameron managed to get a smile out of Rooney Mara, which is an impressive feat on its own. Trivia: the last film to win Best Editing and no other award? “Bullitt” in 1968.

Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis
Since he became a bona-fide star with "Elf" and "Anchorman," Will Ferrell's reliably been one of the go-to guys to present some lesser award and bring the funny to it. This time, he got his "The Campaign" co-star Zach Galifianakis (or as he pronounced it, Zaj Gabafasnafanfis) on board too, and while it couldn't quite match Ferrell's finest Oscar hour, the Jack Black/John C. Reilly "Comedian At The Oscars" song, their act, which involved the pair in white tie banging cymbals in Brad Pitt's face, was one of the funnist bits than of the show. Which is something of a backhanded compliment, sure, but it was still a highlight.

Colin Firth & Meryl Streep
Last year, Colin Firth gave a lovely speech when he won Best Actor, and back to present this time around, was the embodiment of class, paying tribute to each of the five nominees in turn, most notably to his "Mamma Mia" co-star Meryl Streep. If the Academy are looking for potential hosts for next year, they could do a lot worse. And when Streep finally won her third Oscar (which most had predicted for Viola Davis), she nailed the speech too, with a self-deprecating wit in which she couldn't hide her genuine glee at picking up her first Oscar in nearly thirty years. Her tributes to her husband, and to her make-up artist, who also won an Oscar last night, were heartfelt and moving.

Worst

Billy Crystal
We get that after the Ratner/Murphy kerfuffle, the Academy wanted to go into familiar territory, but Billy Crystal felt like the wrong choice from the off. We'd generally liked his previous hosting appearances, but the gags in the opening film felt tired and lame, his traditional song was rushed and dated, and the whole thing felt like a dusty relic of a bygone era, right down to the uncomfortably racial tinge of some of his material. Crystal had a few good ad-lib moments towards the end of the show, but for the most part it felt like the Academy were going right for the old white men that make up their own membership, rather than the audience at home.

Emmanuel Lubezki Missing Out On Best Cinematography
While not necessarily a surprise (we'd predicted "Hugo" to take the win), it was sad to see the great Mexican DoP Emmanuel Lubezki lose out for the fifth time in the Cinematography category. Many had pegged his work on "The Tree of Life" as the film that would finally win an Oscar for one of the most innovative and brilliant DOPs in the business, but it wasn't to be, with three-time victor Robert Richardson winning instead. We're not sure why he's failed to convert his nominations in the past, but we can only hope that the upcoming "Gravity" or one of the three Malick films that are in the works will finally be his moment. Note: Even Robert Richardson thinks Chivo is overdue and thought he was going to win

Endless Talking Head Montages
Getting the ceremony down to the three-hour mark is the ever-elusive Holy Grail of Oscar producers, which is why we're continuously so baffled about the filler that they include every year. From the early montage seemingly on the theme of "Some Clips We Already Had Saved On The Hard Drive" to the uncomfortable and dull talking head interviews, repeated three times, it felt like a desperate plea for relevancy, or for better box office, or something. As Playlister Drew Taylor tweeted last night, "Did movies die?" It was navel-gazing self-celebration of the worst kind, and while navel-gazing self-celebration is what the Oscars are all about, this sort of took the biscuit.

“Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” Losing Best Visual Effects Award
We're not ones to complain too much about the Oscars or awards -- for all our conversations, the awards are what they are. But certainly they often evoke outrage in audiences who vote with their heart and not their head (in predicting Oscars you're never rooting for your faves, you're trying to predict lame choices generally). That said one major "shocker" of the evening, that certainly surprised many and evoked ire on Twitter was "Hugo" winning the visual effects award over "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes." Now we might contend this controversial posit; overall and pound by pound, the visual effects of "Hugo" are better because they're perfect and don't have to pull off the impossible. "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" was attempting to pull off something much more complex -- to make living, breathing, digital recreations of human-like apes. Replicating the texture of fur and how it moves and breathes is challenging to say the least and there were a few moments where suspension of disbelief was broken in the film, particularly early on with any baby chimp like apes that just didn't feel very realistic. However, what 'Apes' did get exactly right was the facial textures and emotions of its protagonist Ceasar, as motion captured by Andy Serkis. 'Rise' lives and dies by its lead character -- arguably the first digital lead in a film surrounded by real actors -- and the emotional arc of the film is carried through every beat along the way by Serkis' excellent performance and the brilliantly rendered mo-cap work. This is a character you empathize with and suffer with, no simple feat and this is why 'Apes' not "Hugo" should have taken the award. Plus let's give a shout out to Michael Bay's "Transformers 3," the effects of which are always dazzling throughout the entire franchise, even if the movies aren't.

Still Not Showing The Honorary Oscars
The inclusion of the montages feels particularly sour when it comes at the expense of the Honorary Oscars. James Earl Jones and Dick Smith might not appeal to the younger demographic, but some of the most moving moments in Oscar history have come from the speeches of the honorary winners (Sidney Lumet the most recent example), and reducing them to a clip and then waving from the stage like a beauty queen feels like a grand slight. Either find a way to include them properly in the show, or don't bother, because this time-saving halfway house just feels insulting to everyone involved.

Screenplays Out Of Whack
Ok arguably we talked about this ad nauseum  in several pieces already -- what deserved to be nominated, but was sadly overlooked -- but no offense to Woody Allen who was watching the basketball game last night instead, but no screenplay nomination of Diablo Cody's dark and mordant "Young Adult"? (We've already gone over the unjust snub of Charlize Theron). What about "Take Shelter"? Even "50/50," a film that none of us loved, we expected it to get some kind of recognition. We're not really sure what was up with this Original Screenplay category this year, one that is generally one of the more adventurous of all the nominations, but it was seemingly topsy turvy from day one.

Cirque Du Soleil
Ok, arguably the performance was more lively than the fossilized Billy Crystal, but really? The Muppets don’t get to appear outside of a brief Kermit and Piggy moment, the Best Original Songs aren’t performed, Honorary Oscar winners are relegated to a dinner outside the awards show, but instead we get a cadre of acrobatic mimes doing interpretive dance about the movies? How do you justify that? And yes, every Oscar does need it’s bathroom break, but can’t we leave that up to the viewer? Honestly, James Earl Jones has to have his moment in the sun elsewhere because of these clowns? We weren’t even taking mushrooms with Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen so the entire thing was kind of underwhelming. No thanks to this next year, please.

The Material Given To The Stars Of "Bridesmaids"
Including the extremely talented cast of "Bridesmaids" somewhere felt like a no-brainer, given its Oscar-nominated success, but other than Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy doing a vodka shot on stage (something that felt like they'd snuck it past the producers), they were given virtually nothing to work with -- Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph were reduced to telling lame dick jokes. If they'd been given a looser rein, it could have been one of the show's highlights, but you suspect that the Academy's fear of anything interesting happening at any point meant it was never going to happen.

Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow
Since his great comeback, Robert Downey Jr's had a few good on-stage moments (presenting screenplay with Tina Fey among them), but every year his persona becomes less and less likable, something not helped by pairing him with his "Iron Man" co-star Gwyneth Paltrow, who only seems to put him in Tony Stark mode. And when they're performing a very half-assed gag about documentaries, you end up with one of the flatter moments of an already flat ceremony.

-- Oliver Lyttelton, RP and Kevin Jagernauth

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17 Comments

  • Debora | October 20, 2012 3:10 PMReply

    Robert Downey jr and Gwyneth Paltrow are very funny and i like them at the Oscar

  • Marcus | March 2, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    I agree with a lot of what you said. I loved Christopher Guest's crew being back, wish Parker Posey & Michael would have been with them.

    The only two things I disagree with are your opinions on: Cirque Du Soleil & Billy.

    I thought the Cirque Du Soleil was an awesome performance, and although I wish they would show the Honorary Oscar's too, I think this was a clever performance to through into the show and I know this was one of the parts that my eyes were actually glued to the screen.

    And imo Billy Crystal was an excellent host. His song wasn't my favorite, but I liked hit witty banter throughout the show, the opening film was funny, and although he's been out of the spotlight lately, it was nice to see him again and it felt like a classy show to watch.

    I also wish the Bridesmaids had more too do, I loved the shot that Melissa and Rose took, that cracked me up too.

  • Nik Grape | February 28, 2012 5:04 PMReply

    "Honestly, James Earl Jones has to have his moment in the sun elsewhere because of these clowns?" - so true! I agree with everything you've pretty much said, though I could give Original Screenplay a pass because they managed to nominate the asbolutely best screenplay of the year (A Separation). The only thing I would add to your Best Moment list is Chris Rock's presentation of Animation. Easily the biggest laugh of the night (for me). Emma Stone came a close second, I'm in love with her I think. Oh and I would put Meryl Streep's speech a little higher on the list, the win itself was a highlight for me, to see HER winning an Oscar after almost 30 years: fantastic. (I'm one of the crazy ones who actually think she deserved it for the performance alone). But she delivered a beautiful and touching speech on top of that. But this was a great list of Best/Worst!

  • Glass | February 28, 2012 1:32 PMReply

    Man, people will not let go of the whole "THE MUPPETS R BANND FROM HOSTIGN" non-situation that was started on Twitter. It's obvious the Academy has volunteered to be the National Park Service of the movie industry - dedicated solely to keeping history alive. As insufferable as the ceremonies are now, I get what it's going for. Just watch all the cool shit you want on Blu-ray and dream of a future where Lex Luger and Skrillex win Best Original Score Oscars (that will be so awesome).

  • Alex | February 28, 2012 9:10 AMReply

    Great write-up - I completely agree with everything you said. One suggestion: have your links open separate tabs/windows, as opposed to taking us off the page. Once I clicked on Plummer's speech, I was lost on the Oscar YouTube page for a good hour.

  • Gabe NotToro | February 27, 2012 6:39 PMReply

    The Cirque du Soleil piece was "justified" by the fact that it was promiting IRIS, the new CdS show that takes place in the Kodak during the 11 months of the year not booked by the Academy Awards.

    Of course, it's unjustified because A. IRIS is a wildly below-average Cirque show and B. because not a second of the Oscar performance was from the actual show.

  • Sarah | February 27, 2012 6:20 PMReply

    Is no one confused by why Twilight was in the best movie moments montage? Because seriously that was weird. Best movie moments and they pick that? Yikes!

  • Oscar Lover | February 27, 2012 5:33 PMReply

    The Highlights: Chris Plummer & Streep easily gave the best speeches of the night . Jim Rash and Nat Faxon wickedly imitated Angelina Jolie's leg bit. Chris Rock's speech about animation. Sasha Baron Cohen spilling pancake mix on Ryan Seacrest.

    The Disappointments: The overrated Emma Stone ( she was easily out-acted by all the cast members in the " The Help " ) was beyond annoying & weird last night , plus she was trying too hard ( she is the same way when she hosts SNL ) . Even Ben Stiller found her painful to watch . Trust me, Anne Hathaway has more charisma ( more talent , more intelligence , & more sophistication than Ms. Stone ). Plus, Hathaway is the best female to host SNL in years ( that is why the Oscar producers asked Anne to host the Oscars ) . Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis were not hilarious- another very forced moment . Yes, Robert Downey Jr has become very full of himself , and he seems to have lost his funny bone. Gwyneth Paltrow has no charm & no wit whatsoever. One of the worst actors on the planet, Adam Sandler , talking indepth about films. The " Wizard of Oz" skit was dead weight and dreadful to watch. Billy Crystal was incredibly bad , proving he is no match for Hugh Jackman.

  • Oogle monster | February 28, 2012 8:38 PM

    "The overrated Emma Stone".... that is such a lazy analysis. How is she "overrated"?

  • ver | February 27, 2012 7:07 PM

    Agreed, Bonzob.

  • bonzob | February 27, 2012 6:52 PM

    How do multiple people in this comments section not seem to get that Emma Stone was doing a bit? Of course Ben Stiller seemed annoyed and she seemed like she was trying too hard... THAT WAS THE BIT. Jesus.

  • WRT | February 27, 2012 5:26 PMReply

    Emma Stone's 'pep' fell flatter and felt more affected than Hathaway's -- and that's saying a lot. Also, rather than appearing 'graceful,' she looked freakishly tall, and was moving around stage like she was on stilts. My friends and I literally thought there was someone under her dress. Man, you guys just eat up these Hollywood ingenues

  • Kate | February 28, 2012 9:39 PM

    *woosh*

  • ver | February 27, 2012 5:55 PM

    Honest question, you thought she was trying to appear "peppy" and "graceful?"

  • Clint | February 27, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    I agree with everything especially your screenplay complaints. WTF. Even the adapted screenplay category was wack with an exception of Moneyball and TTSS. It's a shame that SO many worthy candidates were snubbed this year because it truly wasn't a weak year in cinema yet the Academy nominations and wins made it seem that way. Imagine Fassy, Charlize, Tilda, Albert Brooks, Baby Goose, Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, and Elizabeth Olsen sitting in that auditorium as nominees.... *kanye shrug*

  • alish | February 27, 2012 4:35 PMReply

    Generally agree but guys, cirque du soleil rocked! What's wrong with 5 minutes of "woah how are they doing that"-acrobatics between all the talking heads?

  • Amir Syarif Siregar | February 29, 2012 9:58 AM

    I'm with you.

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