From a happy Gary Oldman to unexpectedly great 3D to a dog who wore out his welcome, some indelible awards-season moments
Awards season has come to an end, the silent movie won it all – and for the first time in the three years I've been doing this for TheWrap, the movie that I predicted would win Best Picture in late August or early September did not win.
Of course, I hadn't seen "The Descendants" at the time I called it for the win, which might be an excuse – except that I had seen "The Artist," which I thought was thoroughly charming, but too light to actually be named Best Picture.
Wrong. With backing from the Weinstein Co. campaign machine, "The Artist" moved from improbable to inevitable in short order.
Meanwhile, a rough and crazy awards season swirled around it. Things went nuts the week that Oscar producer Brett Ratner self-destructed, and stayed that way because of relaxed Oscar campaign regulations that opened the floodgates to parties until nominations were announced.
And the season's final weeks felt endless, a monthlong slog to a preordained result.
Along the way, though, the 2011-12 awards season provided some moments to remember. Here are 10 of them, in no particular order.
1. Nine is the new five, or 10
A new system of determining Best Picture nominations went into effect last summer, promising to result in anywhere between five and 10 nominees. It ended up delivering nine, more than most Oscar-watchers were predicting.
The new rules also overhauled the way votes are counted, and created a system in which a voter's second, third or fourth choices came into play far less frequently than in the past.
The change created an air of uncertainty that dominated the conversation in weeks leading up to the nominations, but it also brought a messiness to the process – and I don't think most of those who participated in or watched things unfold felt that the messiness was worth the added suspense, or the chance for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" to squeeze into the field.
While I thought the 2009 move to 10 nominees worked pretty well, there's something elegant, simple and right about a field of five. It's probably time to quit experimenting and go back to the classic Oscar handful.
2. Gary Oldman, happy campaigner
The famously intense actor, who somewhat astonishingly had never even been nominated before, seemed like the last person to embrace the rigors of non-stop interviews, Q&A screenings and Grip 'n' Grin receptions that make up the Oscar campaign circuit. But Oldman was omnipresent during the season, and unflaggingly affable even when he was considered a longshot to be nominated for his subtle performance in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."
At one "TTSS" lunch, Oldman spent time talking to a couple of prominent Oscar bloggers at one table, then came to the table where I was sitting. "Apparently," he said with a big grin, "I'm now No. 6 in a five-man race."
By nominations morning, Oldman had crashed the top five – and he remained cheery and accommodating from beginning to end. "I made the decision to enjoy it," he told me two days before the Oscars. "And it hasn’t been difficult."
3. Max von Sydow's memories
It was a treat to meet and interview the 82-year-old Swedish-born actor, an iconic star who could have become the oldest person ever to win an Oscar for acting. (Instead, the guy who beat him, Christopher Plummer, earned that distinction.)
His stories about being typecast as "very religious and very philosophical" were amusing, but for me the greatest moment came at the end of the interview, when I asked him if he could sign a copy of the new Criterion Blu-ray of Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," one of von Sydow's first films, for my son.
He'd never seen that edition of the film before, and eagerly leafed through the booklet, transfixed by pictures of himself and Bergman in 1957. "This was a long time ago," he said in a whisper. "A very long time ago."
4. "In Darkness" at the Toronto Film Festival
"A Separation" absolutely deserved to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but another nominee provided an indelible moment when I saw it screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The film is Agnieszka Holland's dramatization of a true story from World War II, in which a sewer worker in Poland hid a group of Jews in the sewers of Lvov for 14 months while Nazi Germany occupied the city. After the grueling and emotional film played in Toronto, Holland announced that she had a special guest – and brought out Krystyna Chiger, the only living survivor from the group who lived in the sewers. Now 76, Chiger was a 7-year-old girl when her family took her below ground; she's a key character in the film, and her presence made the screening unforgettable.
5. The actresses who came up short
I don't really have a problem with Meryl Streep finally winning her third Oscar on her 17th nomination. And I think the other nominees – Viola Davis, Michelle Williams, Glenn Close and Rooney Mara – were certainly deserving.
But the women who didn't get nominated this year were such a fine and fierce group that I think they deserve another mention.
Kirsten Dunst in "Melancholia," Elizabeth Olsen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and Charlize Theron in "Young Adult" were all remarkable in movies that were tougher, weirder and more challenging than the films that did yield nominations, and I'm sorry the Academy couldn't find room for at least one of them.
Streep's post-Oscar suggestion that the Best Actress category should be expanded to 10 is silly and has no chance of happening, but I'd be hard-pressed to complain if it opens the field to performances like those.
6. The cast of "The Descendants"
George Clooney wasn't always around, but the rest of the cast of Alexander Payne's wonderful film was everywhere to be seen during the long awards season, from Toronto Film Festival appearances by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller to the constant awards shows, parties, Q&As and events attended by Woodley, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Nick Krause, Robert Forster, Beau Bridges and even Patricia Hastie, who played Clooney's comatose wife.
Even though he was on crutches and in pain following leg surgery, Lillard showed up for a Wrap Screening Series Q&A; even when Woodley was bypassed by Oscar Supporting Actor voters and "The Artist" began its roll to victory, they remained upbeat and enthusiastic. (If you could bottle Woodley's positivity, you’d have … one enormous bottle o' positivity.)
"I've never been on a winning sports team before," Greer told me after the Golden Globes, "but now I think I know what it feels like."
7. Uggie … for a while, at least
The canine lead in "The Artist" won the Palm Dog award at Cannes, and was trotted out on numerous occasions throughout awards season, including two brief appearances on the Oscar show. The Jack Russell terrier was charming and cooperative everywhere he went – when TheWrap shot him with his human cohorts for one of our OscarWrap print editions, he hit his marks first time and every time.
Not to deflate the Uggie-mania too much, but I should point out that when I met him, I was warned not to touch the makeup that was covering the brown spot on his head. (Uggie's had work done!) And from his appearance at TheWrap's screening series to his final comments onstage at the Oscars, director Michel Hazanavicius was dismissive of his canine star's talents. Even when he thanked him after "The Artist" won Best Picture, Hazanavicius added, "He's not that good."
So by the end of the season, I have to admit that my loyalties had shifted to Cosmo, the dog from "Beginners." That film's director, Mike Mills, never bad-mouthed his canine star – who was apparently so great to work with that after the shoot, Ewan McGregor went out and bought a dog.
8. Michelle Williams' speeches
The Best Actress category, it must be said, had the best speakers. Viola Davis was always eloquent, and Meryl Streep can even sell self-deprecation after 17 nominations. But my favorite was Michelle Williams, who didn't win as often as those other two, but who rose to the occasion every time she did with some of the season's most touching, open and heartfelt speeches.
Whether it was her Palm Springs International Film Festival speech talking about trying to find her way "in a world where sameness and safety has a monetary value" or her Spirit Awards tribute to "a room full of misfits, dropouts, loners … like me," she always seemed to think hard about what brought her to this position, and find something beautiful and new to say about it.
I also loved the moment at the Palm Springs International Film Festival when Williams and Jessica Chastain came to TheWrap's special photo area inside the Palm Springs Convention Center, and immediately began trading stories about the summer they spent together in the Williamstown Theater Festival.
"You always wore that gray hoodie," Chastain recalled, laughing. "You were so indie even then."
9. 3D – Who knew it could be so good?
I didn't go into this awards season a fan of 3D, and I still don't like it most of the time. It's too dark, plain and simple, and those glasses pull you out of the movie when the idea is to bring you into it.
But when I drove to Covina to see the qualifying run of Wim Wenders' dance documentary "Pina," I found the first film that to my mind justified the 3D. Wenders brilliantly used the technique not to throw things in your face or give you vertigo, but to create the spaces in which Pina Bausch's extraordinary dances were taking place.
And a month later, Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" did the same thing with the huge Paris train station in which his action was set – though he also used the technique in marvelously playful ways, including a closeup of Sacha Baron Cohen's face that might be the best single 3D shot I've ever seen.
(It was also the last time I liked looking at Sacha Baron Cohen's face, but that's an item for another, snarkier list.)
10. "Man or Muppet"
The Best Original Song category is a conundrum. It's saddled with restrictive rules that are completely biased against even the best end-credits songs, and dependent on a scoring system and a body of voters so picky that only two songs made the cut this year. And when the Oscar show's producers made the decision not to perform those two songs on the show, I had to wonder if the category is even worth retaining.
And yet in the last 20 years, the song category has been responsible for Oscars going to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Eminem, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Ryan Bingham – a roll call of smart choices and great songs.
This year, voters had the choice between a Latin music legend, Sergio Mendes, and half of the New Zealand music/comedy duo (and HBO series) the Flight of the Conchords – and they chose Bret McKenzie, the Conchord, for a song from "The Muppets" that was, for my money, the best and funniest musical moment in a film last year.
When I spoke to McKenzie on the red carpet, I asked him if winning an Oscar would completely mess up the Flight of the Conchords' lovable-loser persona – and immediately, he and "Muppets" director James Bobin came up with a brilliant solution: if they ever have the opportunity and the time to shoot a third season of "Conchords," they'll simply set the Oscar on a table in the cramped apartment shared by McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, and never even attempt to explain why it's there.