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by Pat Cerasaro
Billy Crystal was nine for nine with his stupendous hosting - particularly thanks to his superlative musical material courtesy of Tony-winning tunesmith Marc Shaiman - yet, the 2012 Oscars were all about the awards, for once, with a heavy helping of superstars and surprises. A glamorous and generally genial broadcast, more than many in recent years this years, last night's top entertainment honors came across as a class act on the elegantly produced and impressively rendered broadcast, from beginning to end - unscripted screenwriters' Angelina impressions aside. Crytal's hilarious opening montage allowed the Oscar host extraordinaire the opportunity to enact his oh-so-idiosyncratic take on the year's top nominated films - including a kiss with George Clooney ala THE DESCENDANTS and a Justin Bieber/Sammy Davis, Jr. skit inspired by Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, both of which went on to win the Best Screenplay categories - and remind us why Crystal is tops at Oscar parodies. The portrait of the winner of Best Picture may have been painted long before last night for THE ARTIST, yet the 2012 Academy Awards show was packed with a plethora of surprises in technical and even some major categories, with Martin Scorsese's HUGO also scoring big and Meryl Streep winning her third statuette, this time for her Best Actress turn in THE IRON LADY, uncanny in her portrayal of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Additionally, THE ARTIST's Jean Judarjin took home Best Actor - over Hollywood titan George Clooney, no less - for his superb performance as a Gene Kelly-esque silent film star (save a few words at the very meta finale). The supporting categories showed some love to expected winners Octavia Spencer - for the audience hit, THE HELP - as well as veteran actor Christopher Plummer - for the indie release, BEGINNERS. Cirque du Soleil afforded us some spectacle in the form of a 3D aerial classic film homage as only they could create and present, but Crystal's inimitable opening sequence - film sequence and crisply amusing song acting as the ideal entrée into the awards season's show of shows - were the night's undeniable highlights. So, too, on the performance front did the In Memoriam sequence shine thanks to a soulful rendering of "What A Wonderful World" by Esperanza Spalding. Many of the major categories may have went the way we have all predicted, yet important categories also went to a surprisingly large smattering of the year's other fine filmatic achievements, as well, making it an entertaining and overall quite pleasing broadcast when considering the conservative slate of films nominated this season.
THE ARTIST has dominated the 2012 awards season, receiving every major Best Film prize except the Golden Globe - which went to Alexander Payne's THE DESCENDANTS - and last night at the 2012 Academy Awards there were certainly few exceptions to its all around adulation. Besides Best Film, THE ARTIST also took Best Actor, Best Director, Best Costume Design and Best Score. Yet, the Oscars always offer a surprise or two and last night was no exception to that rule - the Best Editing prize went to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (a prize usually only afforded to Best Picture) - while HUGO won many technical prizes, including Best Art Direction for Fellini notable Dante Ferretti.
THE IRON LADY took home 2 honors, besides Meryl Streep's Best Actress - and accompanying candid-as-only-she-can-do speech - the political picture also took home Best Make-up for Streep's longtime visual collaborator, J. Roy Helland. HUGO scored in the Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects categories, as well as in the all important Best Cinematography category for the respected lensman Robert Richardson, rounding out the rest of the technical prizes. RANGO surprised some by winning in the Best Animated Film category and Best Song went to the Flight of the Concords' Bret McKenzie for his work on the smashing "Man Or Muppet" from THE MUPPETS - one of only two nominees in the category, despite eligible material by Elton John and other big music names. As far as original music goes, last night gave us one of the most memorable musical scores in Oscar telecast history thanks to the intriguing and unique work by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and A.R. Rahman on the night's musical score, in addition to the aforementioned musical and lyrical contributions by Marc Shaiman; the very best of his breed. Crystal, too, proved once again why he is the best of the best - and quite possibly the most consistently strong Oscar host of our age; maybe ever. It's a thankless job, but if anybody is going to do it, let's hope it's Billy - he may not be edgy or button-pushing, but he's reliable and enjoyable, and, more often than not, that's enough in these types of circumstances.
No, the 2012 Academy Awards were not a shocking close to the awards season, yet there were enough upsets to appease even the most speculative and jaded of awards show viewers. THE ARTIST was an easy choice for Best Picture, yet the acknowledgement of the fine work by other filmmakers in the other categories in not only the actual awards but also the nominations themselves was appreciable. At the end of the day, the finest films of the year may have escaped the attention of the Academy, anyway - MELANCHOLIA, DRIVE, SHAME, THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE and many other deserving films, in particular. The most audience-friendly films, as always, received the most praise. The pageantry of the show made it into a buzz-worthy event - The Dictator on the red carpet or not - and Crystal sparkled, so it was a more rewarding home viewing experience than many in recent or distant memory.
And, hey, at least last night's show wasn't in black and white or silent - not that there's anything wrong with that.