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2011 Oscar Review

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The 83rd annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards ceremony took place on Sunday, Feb. 27. Commonly referred to as the Oscars, the event has been televised yearly since 1953.

This year many critics - including heavy hitters such as Roger Ebert and Rolling Stone's Peter Travers - are proclaiming the show to be the worst Oscars yet.

I'm not going to concur with that sentiment, though. I was born the year the ceremonies were first televised and have been watching the event for as long as I can remember. I began writing movie reviews in 1985 and have critiqued every Oscar show since.

I thought this year's (still too long) presentation moved at a quick pace. Thankfully absent were the usual interminably boring song-and-dance production numbers. Most of the acceptance speeches were fairly short, although there were a few times when television viewers could hear the music playing. That's the signal for the honoree to shut up already, stop gushing feigned praise and give someone else a chance.

There were a couple of laborious moments, most notably the bit that inserted singing dialogue into nonmusical films. The opening montage, where the hosts were digitally inserted into a number of films, was clever and fast paced, though.

Melissa Leo, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in “The Fighter,” dropped the F-bomb - which, thanks to the seven-second broadcast delay, was beeped - but that wasn't the most annoying part of her speech. She seemed to ramble, gave a royal glance to the people in the balcony seats, assuring them she loved them, too (thanks, movie star!), and after thanking her friends and family, said that most of all she wanted to thank the Academy. Really? You love them more than your family? That's Hollywood, I guess.

Critics also have taken aim at co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco. The Oscar folks had prepped the press with promises that this year's ceremony would be “hipper.” Maybe that wasn't the case - Hathaway was luminous but seemed a bit forced, and Franco, frankly, seemed stoned. But they were affable and didn't overplay their hand. They didn't annoy, but maybe they also didn't dazzle.

Former Oscar host Billy Crystal - judging by the crowd reaction - was a welcome relief when he took over for a few minutes. I was never wowed with him when he was the   
official master of ceremonies, and all I could think when they dragged him out Sunday was, “Where is Ricky Gervais (who hosted the Golden Globes) when we really need him?”

Before Crystal's cameo, an entirely out-of-place Oprah Winfrey graced the ceremony with her Oprahness. Had I been a writer on the show, I would have simply had her say - in her patented Oprah singsong voice - “Look under your seats! You all have an Oscar! And you're all going to Branson!”    

Enough about the ceremony. The films, actors, producers, directors and technical departments were all top flight this year. It was the best group of nominees in a long while. I saw all of the 10 films nominated for best picture and wouldn't have been upset if any of them had won.

I did predict “The King's Speech” as the winner, and it's probably my favorite film of 2010. All of the nominees - from the low-budget (by Hollywood standards) “Winter's Bone” to the mega-million dollar productions “Toy Story 3” and “Inception” - had the main element that makes a great film great - a compelling story. “127 Hours” was a virtual one-man show, the true story of a young man who was trapped in the desert for five days.

“The Social Network” was a (mostly fictional) account of the guys who invented Facebook. “True Grit” was a remake of a classic Western. “Black Swan” was about a tortured artist. “The Fighter” had many of the same themes as “Black Swan.”

“The Kids Are All Right” didn't win any awards, but that doesn't mean a whit to a film as good and original as it was.

Best Picture was a great field, and I'm glad the Academy has expanded the category to ten films.

Colin Firth had a total lock on Best Actor for his stuttering monarch in “The King's Speech.” It also took home Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay honors. Natalie Portman, like Firth, was a guarantee and won, without surprise, for her role in “Black Swan.”

The weirdest thing this year was the fact that Christopher Nolan wasn't nominated for the Best Director Oscar for “Inception.” The film had eight nominations, including Best Picture, and won four, but Nolan was snubbed. Tom Hooper won for “The King's Speech,” and as good as his work was, I was hoping David O. Russell might sneak in for “The Fighter.”

Francis Ford Coppola won the most prestigious Oscar of the night when he received the Irving Thalberg Award for lifetime achievement. Director Jean-Luc Goddard, actor Eli Wallach and film historian Kevin Brownlow also received special Oscars. Coppola reminded everyone that while an Oscar is certainly a cherished award, many great films -
including “Raging Bull,” “Citizen Kane” and “The Red Shoes”- failed to be honored as best picture.

All of this year's awards are now a matter of public record and can be found online.

It was a great year for movies, and I thought the awards ceremony itself was better than usual.

I know many people relish in the pre-show red-carpet moments and the vacuous interviews with the stars. I can't take it. This year “Project Runway” guru Tim Gunn (I've never seen the show and never will) was channeling Charles Nelson Riley while questioning celebrities in regard to what they were wearing.

But the moment that struck me the most didn't really have to do with movies or fashion. It was at the end of the Lena Horne tribute. There had been a clip of her singing. She had an amazing voice, was a striking beauty and had to battle racism throughout her brilliant career.

The quote from her read, “It's not the load that breaks you down. It's the way you carry it.”   

I'll remember that as the high point of the 2011 Oscars. And I'll keep believing that movies can, when done properly, teach us as much as they entertain us.[[In-content Ad]]

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