“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Watching the 85th Academy Awards was, as is often the case with this particular awards show, ground zero for the weirdness of the movie industry. For all of its ubiquity and predictability, pop culture is a strange thing. I have had the privilege to be a pop culture critic for several years, and the scrutiny that it has taught me regularly leads to a fascination with the oddest corners of the subject. I can’t say there were many surprises in the list of winners at this year’s Oscars, but the details were just this side of batty.
Consider this particular moment: Backstage at the Oscars, where awkward interviews have their own moment to thank the Academy for this amazing opportunity, someone asked Daniel Day-Lewis if it wasuncomfortable for him to wear the iconic beard for his Best Actor role as Abraham Lincoln. Puzzled, Day-Lewis calmly explained that he sported his own, natural whiskers for the part, then veered into quasi-philosophical territory by rhetorically asking, “Do you wear your hair?”
I love this silly, little moment. It shows us that the interviewer, a pop culture journalist, is apparently unaware that method acting is to Daniel Day-Lewis as being hot and yellow is to the sun. It shows us that the acceptance we have as a culture about the trickery we assume is in our entertainments, and the actors who ironically do everything that they can to inject some reality into the artifice of film. It’s also gloriously funny to see a man fresh from receiving the highest honor in his field after months of artistic dedication and dogged promotion run smack-dab into a quibbling question like, “So, what about the beard?”
It was also subtly amazing to see the tie for Best Sound Editing awarded to both Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall. Ties have happened before at the Oscars (five times before, to be specific), but never in such an obscure category. Most ties have involved Best Actor or Best Actress, which happens when two iconic performances run in a single year. It’s also understandable for the Academy to be torn about Best Documentary, which has tied twice. Gauging the greatness of reality caught on film must be challenging. But this year, it was Best Sound Editing. There’s something delightful about the fact that there are those among the film industry cognoscenti who feel strongly enough about a low-prestige technical category to refuse to budge when it comes time to tally the votes.
And then there’s the strangeness of the inherent subjectivity of the Academy Awards. I’m willing to say that Daniel Day-Lewis was a shoe in for Best Actor, but the other side of the gender divide went in a weirder direction. Jennifer Lawrence took home the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook by merit of both playing crazy and being a perversely safe pick next to a grab bag of more challenging performances. Jessica Chastain is shaping up to be one of those oft-praised, oft-snubbed actors, while both Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhané Wallis were in roles too un-commercial to be anything other than dark horse candidates. Sometimes the Academy picks the performances that will be remembered through the decades, other timesthey settle for something good but ultimately ephemeral.
The Best Supporting Actress category was even more loaded. Amy Adams and Sally Field both turned in great work this year, but Anne Hathaway probably deserved to win for selling a whole movie few critics were willing to stand behind with any real force. Les Miserables is sitting at a mediocre 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ review, and with good cause. The film is poorly paced, often indifferently shot, and in some places horribly miscast. Hathaway’s heartbreaking performance as Fantine is a bright spot, though, and it deserves a better film around it. That’s one of the things the Oscars do; they pluck excellence in the medium from anywhere, even free of context.
Let us not forget the strangest part of any Academy Awards show: The incongruity of the presenters given their surroundings. There is no better reminder of the weird nature of Hollywood than the mix of popcorn fluff and stuffy prestige stilted on teleprompter dialogue at the Oscars. Remember that Kristen Stewart, reigning queen of this year’s Razzies, limped across the same stage as revered industry lifers. Remember that a foul-mouthed, computer-generated Teddy, a stuffed bear, did a bit while the man who created and voiced him stood nearby as the night’s distinguished host. Remember that the American movie business has been this very same circus with no ringmaster for more than a century and that it’s only getting weirder.