Hollywood’s Biggest Night: The 85th Annual Academy Awards
The early morning announcement of each year's Academy Award nominations has traditionally been a brief, dignified affair. Last month's live event though, could best be described as unprecedentedly rollicking.
Writer-comedian-singer Seth MacFarlane (who will also host the awards presentation on Sunday, February 24, making him the first to perform announcer-host double duty since Charlton Heston did so way back in 1972) and actress Emma Stone brought a welcome stand-up comedy vibe to the formerly straightforward affair with their frequently hilarious commentary on various nominees.
Their approach reportedly received mixed reactions from longtime Academy members, but I believe it bodes well for this year's show. If that weren't enough assurance, the telecast is being produced by gay dynamic duo, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan of Smash, Hairspray and Chicago fame.
As is the case every year, there were snubs and surprises when the nominations were compared to prognosticators' predictions. The biggest upset was in the Achievement in Directing category, where anticipated nominees Ben Affleck ("Argo"), Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty") and Tom Hooper ("Les Misérables") were sidelined by Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin for their superb Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, respectively, as well as David O. Russell for the bipolar-infused comedy, "Silver Linings Playbook."
The other two directors nominated are Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln") and Ang Lee ("Life of Pi"), both previous winners. I can't say I was surprised by Hooper's omission for his controversial adaptation, at least in movie-musical and musical-theatre circles, of "Les Mis."
I am personally delighted by the recognition of "Amour" and "Beasts" (which were two and three on my Best of 2012 list) not only in the direction category, but also among this year's nine nominees for Best Picture.
"Amour" also has the rare distinction of simultaneously being up for Best Foreign Language Film, which it will almost certainly win. Six of the other Best Picture nominees were essentially sure things, "Lincoln," "Life of Pi," "Argo," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Les Misérables," but ninth nominee "Django Unchained" represented something of a wild card.
While "Django" is being debated heavily for its graphic depiction of slavery and 19th-century racial politics, writer-director Quentin Tarantino obviously remains beloved by many Academy members. He is up for Best Original Screenplay and "Django" was also nominated for its cinematography, sound editing and terrific supporting performance by Christoph Waltz.
Waltz is a prior Oscar winner and, as MacFarlane and Stone did not hesitate to remind everyone during the nomination announcements, so is every nominee in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category this year. The others are Tommy Lee Jones for his scenery-chewing turn in "Lincoln," Philip Seymour Hoffman as "The Master"s debauched religious guru, Alan Arkin, for his memorable turn (primarily due to his movie-producer character's unprintable, signature line) in "Argo" and Robert DeNiro, who admittedly gave his most purely enjoyable performance in years in "Silver Linings Playbook."
Hoffman was honored with the Best Actor trophy in 2006 for his performance as gay writer Truman Capote in the aptly-titled "Capote." The Best Supporting Actress category likewise includes two past winners (Sally Field, as Mary Todd in "Lincoln" and Helen Hunt, as "The Sessions" vulnerable sex therapist), whereas the remaining three are all former nominees: Anne Hathaway, short-lived and histrionic in "Les Misérables," but virtually guaranteed to win; Amy Adams, who gave what I consider the best and creepiest performance in "The Master"; and Australian actress Jacki Weaver, as the well-meaning mom in "Silver Linings Playbook."
There are few surprises among this year's candidates for Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role, although Denzel Washington may have been to some. But to all of us who saw "Flight," his nomination likely seems most deserved. I haven't always admired Washington's work, finding an often-imperious air in many of his performances, but it works well here in light of his alcoholic pilot's battle with inner demons.
Washington does in "Flight" what I believe to be the most truthful work of his career to date. Meanwhile, gay favorite Hugh Jackman is nominated for his impressive take on "Les Misérable" hero, Jean Valjean. Among the women, Naomi Watts' performance in The Impossible strikes me as overrated, especially since her character spends half the movie in a coma.
I'm pleased, though, with the recognition of little spitfire Quvenzhané Wallis as "Beasts" Hushpuppy and Emmanuelle Riva as the dying wife in Amour, who also represent the youngest and oldest nominees ever in Oscar's Best Actress category. Jennifer Lawrence, 22, is now the youngest actress to be nominated as lead actress twice, for "Winter's Bone" in 2010 and the current "Silver Linings Playbook."
I want to give a very grateful shout-out to the music branch of the Academy for restoring five nominees to the Best Original Song category. When a tragically minimal two songs were nominated last year, it couldn't help but give the appearance that the category itself was in jeopardy-the members subsequently revised their consideration rules to assure more nominees in the future.
This year's contenders are great, with British songstress Adele nominated for her James Bond theme "Skyfall" (for which she recently won a Golden Globe) and even MacFarlane is included for his "Ted" song "Everybody Needs a Best Friend." My only gripe is that there was no love for past nominee Dolly Parton, who wrote several notable songs for 2012's "Joyful Noise." I thought her wistfully romantic "From Here to the Moon and Back" would be a shoo-in.
Speaking of Bond and "Skyfall," producers Meron and Zadan have announced that a special, 50th-anniversary tribute to the Bond series will occur during the Oscars telecast. Adele will perform "Skyfall" in an exclusive Oscar show performance, it's the first time she will have performed the song anywhere live and will also mark her first U.S. television performance since the Grammys last year.
It is rumored also that all six actors who have played the secret agent (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and the current Bond, Daniel Craig) will make appearances. "Skyfall" picked up five nominations in all, making it the most-honored Bond film in Academy Awards history. Meron and Zadan have also promised more musical numbers in general than the Oscars have seen in some time.
While there are no overtly LGBT movies among this year's honorees, a few at least tip their hat toward our community. The scary but sweet "ParaNorman," up for Best Animated Feature, has a hunky male character who turns out to be gay, as well as having an empowering "it's okay to be different" message.
Fellow animated nominee "Brave" also boasts a strong love-who-you-want-to-love theme in its plot. The Julia Roberts-starring "Mirror Mirror," last year's most intentionally campy film, scored a nod in the Best Costume Design category for its deliriously over-the-top outfits by the late Eiko Ishioka (who previously won in 1992 for "Bram Stoker's Dracula").
"How to Survive a Plague," which methodically yet inspirationally documents the formation of ACT UP during the initial years of the AIDS crisis in New York, is up for Best Documentary Feature and last but by no means least, openly gay Tony Kushner received a nomination for his Lincoln screenplay.
And so the final march to Academy Awards glory (for this year anyway) begins. Tune into ABC, Sunday, February 24 to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, most attractive escorts and most heartfelt acceptance speeches.