It must be Oscar season. On one side of town, the Annie Awards were given out (Oscar front runner "Rango" dominated the evening) while at the interminable Art Directors Guild Awards, for once "The Artist" didn't win anything, even with presenters James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller on hand (Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo were up at the Santa Barbara Film Fest, getting feted).
The ADG Awards eventually went to films in three categories: Martin Scorsese's period film "Hugo" (Dante Ferretti, his first 3-D film and Guild Award), contemporary "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Mark Friedberg beat the other more prosaic Oscar nominee, "The Descendants") and fantasy, Stuart Craig for the "Harry Potter" finale, which was also given a prize for Cinematic Imagery. Presented by Gary Oldman (in a natty dotted bow tie), a veteran of four "Potter" films and more important, an Oscar nominee for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," that team award was collected by producer David Heyman, director David Yates and of course, Craig. On Oscar night "Harry Potter" will duke it out with "Hugo" for the big prize.
The ADG Awards is sort of like childbirth--afterwards you remember the good parts. An edited version of this show (complete with accompaniment by Astaire-inspired Johnny Crawford and his Orchestra) would make it one of Hollywood's best. But you have to wade through a lot of Paula Poundstone ad libs (observing that many Oscar attendees last year had work done: "they look like birds flying into a strong wind") and skinny starlet presenters wrestling with sticky envelopes (a design flaw?).
But the clips were superb: Cindy Peters' opener inspired by "The Artist" was a gem, from Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers to Marlene Dietrich (Poundstone borrowed her white tux and top hat). And Peters' eight shorts in which today's top designers examined inspirational films of the past, from William Wyler's "Ben Hur" and Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen" to Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev," were eye-opening. Also on video, Life Achievement-award-winner Tony Walton's ex, Julie Andrews, thanked him for helping her to find Mary Poppins via bright silk linings inside her drab suits.
Finally, I'd advise more clips, less talking: the Beverly Hilton dinner started at 6:30 PM, and the final awards were given out four hours later.
Among the many TV prizes, Ed Asner presented for TV movie or mini-series, the best presenter of the night. "He's alive," he quipped as he hit the stage: the prize went to HBO's exquisite period "Mildred Pierce." Predictably, HBO's lushly period "Boardwalk Empire" also won single camera one-hour TV series. The best awards show design award went to--hold your hat--the Oscars. Steve Bass, who was also up for The Emmys, pointed out: "We work on a show that has no narrative." Exactly.
My favorite contender clip of the evening was an amazing Jim Beam commercial starring Willem Dafoe that lost to "Activision: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3." (I mainly watch commercials at the Super Bowl.) Check it out.