At the end of a long, grueling season, here's what stood out at the Odds
Six months. Well over 100 films. Dozens of interviews, more parties, I don’t know how many awards shows, substantial dry-cleaner bills for the tuxedo alone.
And now it's over. We have a winner (the one I saw coming at the beginning of all this), and it's time to look back, and come up with 10 things I'll remember about this awards season.
In no particular order:
1. The Toronto Film Festival's gala screening of "The King's Speech"
The word out of the Telluride film festival had been positive, and an early-September Toronto screening sealed the deal: Tom Hooper's film went over like gangbusters in the huge Roy Thomson Hall, drawing applause at the end of the climactic speech and an ovation when it ended.
The screening took place on Colin Firth's 50th birthday, and also marked the first time I heard Hooper tell the story of his film, using anecdotes that I'd be hearing again and again over the next six months. They worked that night, and they worked all the way up to his Oscar acceptance speech on Sunday.
And since a few days earlier I'd picked "The King's Speech" as the 2010 Best Picture Oscar winner sight unseen, Toronto was a sign that I just might have gotten lucky two years in a row.
2. "The Social Network" taking over Spago
Within a few days of getting back from Toronto, I saw a screening of the film that would provide the main competition to "The King's Speech": David Fincher's "The Social Network," his virtuosic look at Mark Zuckerberg's founding of Facebook and its legal and personal repercussions.
The film would go on to win just about every critics' award on the planet, building up such momentum that it surged to Oscar frontrunner status in the eyes of most observers. And in early January, in the midst of all the attention and awards and at a time when "The Social Network" seemed to sit unassailably at the top of the heap, Sony bought out Spago in Beverly Hills for a DVD-release party for the film. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
The entire cast attended, as did Fincher (rarely present on the campaign trail) and producer Scott Rudin; the room buzzed with the certainty that not only was "The Social Network" the year's best movie, but it would be Sony's first Best Picture winner in more than two decades.
The food was great, the vibe was exhilarating, and the film would enjoy another couple of weeks on top, winning Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards. But then, less than three weeks after the Spago shindig, the Producers Guild would give its top honor to "The King's Speech," and the game would shift dramatically.
No other Oscar nominee was this much fun to watch. I don't mean that literally, of course, because as far as we know we never actually saw the guy. But we knew he was around, and that made him the most entertaining part of this awards season.
The sly art-world documentary directed by the elusive street artist, "Exit Through the Gift Shop," was a longshot to make the documentary shortlist, then a longshot to land a nomination. But when it did both, the fun really started, beginning when the Academy said that they weren't comfortable with the idea of Banksy, who never shows his face in public, accepting the award in disguise. Then Banksy artworks started showing up on walls around Los Angeles, and the questions flew: Will he show up? Will he run onstage in disguise if he wins? Will he tag the Kodak Theater?
In the end, Oprah Winfrey opened the envelope and read "And the Oscar goes to 'Inside Job,'" so we'll never know what would have happened. And now many of the Banksys around L.A. have been taken down, defaced or cut out of walls for resale.
But it sure was fun while it lasted.
4. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro
I interviewed dozens of nominees, contenders and hopefuls over the course of the season, but this one was my favorite: Inarritu, the director of "Biutiful," and his longtime pal (and executive producer) del Toro, talking about the movie but using it as the jumping-off point for a spirited, savage dissection of what's wrong with Hollywood.
"I think it's catastrophic … the studios are being conservative and cowardly," del Toto said. Added Inarritu: "Many atrocities have been committed in the name of entertainment."
We went well over our allotted time before finally stopping so they could pose for some photos. But they insisted on continuing the interview after the photos, even though del Toro said his wife was going to be mad at him when he finally made it home. I trust she forgave him, because the interview was certainly a highlight for me.
5. Natalie Portman finding her moment
The "Black Swan" actress won almost every Best Actress award over the course of the season, and at first she had a tendency to get too giggly and uncertain in the spotlight. But when it mattered most, on Oscar night, Portman nailed it: she was composed but clearly emotional, her words were heartfelt but dignified (sorry, Melissa Leo) and she somehow made a list of thank-yous sound classy and fresh.
(An aside: my second-favorite Portman moment came at the Critics Choice Movie Awards, when she thanked her parents from the stage – whereupon the camera cut to the table where her parents Avner and Shelley were sitting. But her parents were on the far side of the table from the camera; my wife and I were in front of them, in the foreground of the shot. We got a few "I didn't know you had a daughter" comments afterwards.)
6. Debra Granik embracing the insanity
Every season, you can watch certain people recoil from the demands of the campaign trail, and then slowly learn to relax and make peace with an unreal and exhausting environment. Last year it was Best Actress nominee Carey Mulligan, who gradually learned to enjoy (or at least tolerate) the attention; this year, the most obvious example for me was the retiring, softspoken and intense director of "Winter's Bone," Debra Granik.
Mind you, I didn't see her actually enjoying it until the very end of the season. An indie filmmaker to the core, Granik did lots of interviews (where she seemed comfortable) and went to lots of parties (where she didn't), and she always gave off the sense that as hard as it was to make low-budget movies, she found it much harder to sell them.
But when I saw her on the red carpet on Oscar afternoon, she was beaming, and laughing about her fancy dress and her big hair and her presence in the midst of all that flash and bling. "I feel like I'm in drag," she said with a laugh. "My stepfather asked me if it was feminist to get dressed up like this, but I'm just putting on a costume to have a good time."
7. Oscar-winner Trent Reznor
I remember when it was a shock that Johnny Cash had turned a Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt," into one of the finest recordings of his career – and a nice surprise to find that the song's composer, Reznor, was gracious and appreciative and loved Cash's version.
But even then, when it became clear that Reznor wasn't exactly the tortured, anguished dark prince his music had occasionally suggested, I would never have thought he'd be the kind of guy to write a film score for a mainstream film (with partner Atticus Ross), find that score embraced by the Academy, and be genuinely touched by that recognition.
But he was, and suddenly the film-score Reznor seems just as essential, and just as true to who he is, as the dark rock god Reznor.
8. Lee Unkrich's tweets
Last Oscar season, "Up in the Air" director Jason Reitman was the nominee who really embraced social media and had fun with it. This year, although "Social Network" producer Dana Brunetti has been a constant presence on Twitter, the most entertaining nominee has been "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich, who first tweeted every detail from the making of his movie, and then chronicled awards season 140 characters at a time, with lots of photos to boot.
Many of those photos (at @leeunkrich) found one of characters in the movie, Big Baby (right), enjoying the various events along the road. (He even had his own hash tag, #BigBabyAwards.)
Unkrich ended the season the way he started it: on Monday, he tweeted a page from his high school yearbook in which his teenage self had written "C U AT D ACADEMY AWARDS!"; a photo of himself sleeping with his Oscar ("Who's this strange guy in my bed?"); two shots from the Governors Ball; a photo from the show ("Did this actually happen? I have absolutely no recollection of Justin Timberlake bowing down to me."); a shot from the hotel of him and Colin Firth tapping Oscars; another photo of his Oscar strapped into an airplane seat; and finally one of the entire Pixar staff toasting the Oscar.
9. Randy Newman's honesty
Everybody loved the acceptance speech that 20-time nominee and two-time winner Newman gave on Sunday, in which he mixed self-deprecation with a jab at the Academy for only nominating four songs in his category, suggesting that they wouldn't dare do that if there wasn't enough good cinematography.
But Newman has always been an open, blunt, funny guy, less interested in giving political answers than in poking fun at any situation in which he finds himself. (And if that makes him come across as something of a grump, so be it.) He did the same thing in an interview with TheWrap just after his nomination, admitting that he thought he had a chance to win ("wanting to honor Pixar might somehow bestow it on me"), that it wouldn’t be a mistake if he did win, and that he didn't submit his musical score to the Academy because he didn’t write some of it and didn't think it was one of his best.
10. Javier Bardem's Best Actor nomination
I thought Bardem's staggering performance in "Biutiful" was the year's best, and people like Sean Penn and Ben Affleck seemed to agree. But when Bardem was passed over by both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, I decided that I needed to at least try to start a conversation, so I wrote a piece entitled "Will Somebody Please Nominate Javier Bardem?"
A month later, Academy voters did just that. Support from actors like Penn and Julia Roberts helped turn the trick and land Bardem the rare nomination for a non-English language performance.
It was my favorite Oscar nomination of the year, and for the rest of the season Bardem went out of his way to give me more credit than I deserved.
Honorable mention: Darren Aronofsky's scarves, which I would have put on this list except that Vulture already did a good job of rounding up the sartorial accoutrements of the Oscar-nominated director. And Annette Bening, who did the classiest job imaginable of smiling, applauding and watching Natalie Portman walk to the stage, over and over.
(Randy Newman, Natalie Portman and Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross photos courtesy AMPAS)