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Monday, February 28, 2011

Two Award Shows. One Weekend. A Whole Lot of Portman.

On Saturday night, The Soup and Community funnyman Joel McHale hosted the Film Independent Spirit Awards. The following night, charmingly dorky Anne Hathaway and (purposefully?) aloof James Franco hosted the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. The two shows shared many of the same nominees—Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, and Winter’s Bone; however, different films seemed to steal each show. One thing is for sure, though: audiences and Hollywood alike love Natalie Portman.

Black Swan Cleans Up at the Spirit Awards
I saw Black Swan when it first hit theaters nationwide, and the haunting film captivated me. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. The ballet thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky won every award it was nominated for at the Spirit Awards, including Best Feature. Five-months-pregnant Natalie Portman, who had already accepted the BAFTA Film Award and the Golden Globe for her role as Black Swan’s Nina Sayers, accepted the honor for Best Lead Actress.

Other winners included James Franco for Best Male Lead in 127 Hours, Dale Dickey and John Hawkes for Best Supporting Female and Best Supporting Male in the gothic Ozark piece Winter's Bone, Tennessee drama Get Low for Best First Feature, and Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko for Best Screenplay for The Kids Are All Right.

Controversial Exit Through the Gift Shop (is it a documentary or simply a huge prank?) received the award for Best Documentary, and much to viewers’ disappointment, mysterious street artist Banksy did not show to claim his prize. Instead, the film’s main character Thierry Guetta (AKA Mr. Brainwash) accepted the award on Banksy’s behalf.

Shop the winners:

The King’s Speech Tops the Night at the Oscars
Now it’s time for Oscar talk. I hardly critiqued the Spirit Awards because, honestly, the show was solid all around. Maybe it was the Jameson whiskey served on the red carpet, but the Spirit Awards just felt more intimate and honest.¹ The Oscars, on the other hand, were not good, to say the least. I mean, we expect a long runtime, but this year was excruciatingly slow.

James Franco seemed to be channeling Saul Silver from Pineapple Express, and Anne Hathaway, determined to pick up the slack, tried way too hard. Presenters’ dialogue was monotonous—except for Kirk Douglas, who arguably stole the entire show²—or chopped short due to out-of-place tributes to former Best Picture winners. Banter between presenters was generally soulless (except for Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.), and acceptance speeches were mostly ill-prepared. Case in point: Melissa Leo.

There were a few highlights. Nervous Robert Stromberg, who accepted the award for Best Art Direction for Alice in Wonderland, opened his acceptance speech with "Why didn't I lose those 20 pounds?" Luke Matheny, who accepted the award for Best Live Action Short, God of Love, “similarly lamented his lack of a haircut. He then thanked his mom, who was in charge of craft services, and the lovely sounding girlfriend who scored his film.”³ David Seidler, Best Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech, and Randy Newman, Best Song for Toy Story 3, also gave entertaining speeches.

The reason why the show was truly a bore, though, was the predictability of it all. As forecasted in just about every Oscar picks article, The King’s Speech ran away with the show, pulling in Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Actor. Natalie Portman, who, as stated above, has been raking in the awards for her performance in Black Swan, was one of the easiest picks to make in one’s Oscar pool. During her acceptance speech, she sweetly thanked her fiancé, Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied, for giving her the most important role of her life: motherhood.

Throughout the evening, favorite after favorite waltzed up to the podium and graciously accepted their awards. Even the Academy’s attempt at “going rogue” was completely expected. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross produced an incredible score for The Social Network, and while the two are Hollywood outsiders, it was entirely expected for the Academy to go with this “unconventional” nominee. With so many questioning the genuineness of Exit Through the Gift Shop, it was no surprise it didn’t win Best Documentary.

The lackluster show, though, should not be confused with the caliber of the nominees. There were some incredible films this year, and the competition was steep. As Steven Spielberg pointed out, being a Best Picture nominee is quite an accomplishment. Whether a film wins or not, nominees join the ranks of some of history’s greatest cinematic works, and that is why, no matter how bland the show might get, the Oscars are still worth watching: films receive much-deserved honor and mainstream exposure.

Shop the winners:

¹ Film Independent’s Spirit Awards: Do Black Swan’s Wins Mean an Oscar Coup Tonight?

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