“Argo” was crowned Best Picture at last night’s Oscar ceremony. Ben Affleck’s redemptive victory was announced in Washington, D.C., by Michelle Obama, who shared the podium with Jack Nicholson in Hollywood.
It was fitting that the first lady should cooperate in the presentation of the award to the movie about the Iran rescue mission that needed a presidential sign-off. The collusion might have been more resonant, however, had the top honor been won by “Lincoln” or “Django Unchained,” both of which addressed the evils of slavery. At least the Oscars had a current occupant of the White House among its prize-givers. The Golden Globes had to settle for a former tenant, Bill Clinton.
It’s not insignificant that of the nine Best Picture nominees, the one that riffs on Hollywood’s contribution to the resolving of a national crisis should win Hollywood’s top award. How soon before some bright spark follows the example of the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” by turning the fake “Argo” – the non-movie within the movie – into a real movie?
It’s the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar without its director being nominated since Bruce Beresford’s “Driving Miss Daisy” won in 1989. Affleck, who was also the star of the CIA rescue thriller, got to take home a statuette because he co-produced the film with Grant Heslov and George Clooney.
No one would have predicted that “Argo” would have won the Best Picture Oscar at the start of the awards season, when Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” weightier films than Affleck’s, looked like they would make it a two-horse race. On the back of a superbly orchestrated campaign, however, “Argo” went on an unexpected winning streak at the directors, producers, actors, and writers guild awards, also winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes and Best Film at the BAFTAS. It had become unassailable.
Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the 16th President in “Lincoln.” Jennifer Lawrence was named Best Actress for her neurotic widow in “The Silver Linings Playbook.” Christoph Waltz, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his Nazi colonel in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), made it two out of two by winning for his bounty-hunting dentist is Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” Anne Hathaway won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her singing Fantine in “Les Misérables.’
Day-Lewis, who gave the evening’s classiest and funniest acceptance speech, had been a shoo-in to become the first man to win three Oscars in the top acting category (Katharine Hepburn won four for Best Actress). Hathaway was also an odds-on favorite.
Best Actress had been too close to call because Jessica Chastain’s formidable work in “Zero Dark Thirty” was regarded as highly as Lawrence’s crowd-pleasing turn. Though the charm and underlying pathos of Lawrence’s performance deserves its laurel, it’s widely held that “Zero Dark Thirty”’s chances were derailed by the political controversies surrounding the film. The allegations that its makers had gained access to classified records and that it takes a pro-torture stance toward the interrogation of political prisoners fatally wounded its reputation. The film won just one Oscar, for Sound Editing. As the result of a tie in the voting (the sixth in Academy Awards history), “Skyfall” won the same award.
Waltz’s win was probably the biggest shock of the evening, though the ramshackle quality of the show – “loose” if one want to be kind – was eye-opening in itself. The Austrian actor was competing in the strongest category. He and his fellow nominees – Alan Arkin (“Argo”), Robert De Niro (“The Silver Linings Playbook”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”), and Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”) – were all past winners. Waltz was clearly surprised by his accolade.
Despite its triumph, “Argo” claimed only two other Oscars – Chris Terrio winning for Screenplay Adaptation and William Goldenberg for Editing. “Life of Pi” was the night’s top winner with four awards from 11 nominations. Ang Lee added a second Director Oscar to the one he won for “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005, Claudia Miranda won for Best Cinematography, and Mychael Danna for his Score. The film’s Visual Effects team – responsible for that living, breathing tiger – was also victorious.
Like “Argo,” “Les Misérables” – which provided the ceremony with a rousing music ensemble performance by its cast – won three awards: Hathaway’s, Best Sound Mix, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
Steven Spielberg had been the likely winner of Best Director going into the ceremony, but “Lincoln” won only two Oscars from its 12 nominations: for Day-Lewis and its Production Design. Tony Kushner’s adapted screenplay for “Lincoln” was the most literate, but it lost to the funkiest. Quentin Tarantino’s Best Original Screenplay Oscar brought “Django Unchained”’s tally to two; Tarantino had won the same award for “Pulp Fiction”(1994). He gave the funkiest speech, too – one full of praise for his cast, his fellow writers, and himself.
“Skyfall”’s second Oscar was for its title song, another shoo-in. It was sung on stage by Adele and a choir, but the number was over-produced. Shirley Bassey’s fierce rendition of “Goldfinger” proved the highlight of the show’s otherwise underwhelming James Bond 50th anniversary tribute. The 76-year-old Welsh singer received a standing ovation.
Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” as expected, won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Emmanuelle Riva, his lead actress, was nominated and attended the ceremony on her 86th birthday. Jennifer Lawrence was the only visitor to the stage to remember it.
“Waiting for Sugar Man” won the Best Documentary Feature award. “Brave” won the Best Animated Feature award. That possibly makes it the first Oscar-winner whose title references the title of another, the antecedent being “Braveheart,” also set in medieval Scotland.
The latter’s Mel Gibson wasn’t in evidence at the show but his notorious racist rant was made the object of a joke by first-time (last-time?) Oscar host Seth MacFarlane, who had a patchy evening. He detracted from his Vegas-style aplomb and likeability with some unpalatable gags about Chris Brown’s assault on Rihanna and John Wilkes Booth’s shooting of Abraham Lincoln.
MacFarlane’s determined political incorrectness also toppled over into jaw-dropping sexism. The show’s prolix opening sequence, in which he was assisted by Captain Kirk (William Shatner) beamed in from the future, featured a videotaped song-and-dance number in which the host performed a song called “We Saw Your Boobs.”
Backed by a troupe of male dancers, he name-checked actresses who fit that criterion. Naomi Watts was shocked; Charlize Theron (who was about to dance on stage) turned her head away in disgust. It was as if Stifler from the “American Pie” movies had suddenly infiltrated MacFarlane’s psyche. MacFarlane also made a sexist quip about women getting into shape for the show.
Coming on like Ricky Gervais, but without the bite, MacFarlane made Affleck his fall guy. He drew attention (in the first few seconds) to Affleck being overlooked as a director nominee and commented that the actor’s beard put him in mind of the Kardashians. The coup de grâce was bringing up “Gigli,” the risible 2003 rom-com Affleck made with his then girlfriend Jennifer Lopez. When Affleck came on stage to present the documentary awards, he threw an angry retort at MacFarlane.
The insults may have contributed to Affleck being especially emotional when he returned at the end of the show to accept his Oscar. Among the highlights of his speech were his thanking of his wife, Jennifer Garner, for working with him on their marriage – a rare admission of domestic reality at the Oscars – and his counseling of film folk not to hold grudges in Hollywood, hard though it is. “And it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life; that’s going happen,” he concluded. “All that matters is you’ve got to get up.” It was one of the Academy Awards’ finest moments.
A full list of Oscar-winner appears here.