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Feb. 08 2012

Oscar buzz

By Reed Hessler | Posted in Host Blogs | No Comments

Two weeks ago I awoke to find my wife sitting by the television, quietly trying not to wake me after my night shift, while attentively watching the news. When I asked her what she was doing, she said she was waiting for the Oscar nominations to be announced, and was a bit impatient that they had not come on yet. This represents a historic first. I have always been the one to obsess over the Oscar nominations, and never before has my wife beat me to them. My wife Dyane says that the Oscars are to me what the Super Bowl is to most men.

When I was a child, I would literally count each day, beginning about a month in advance, before the Oscar broadcast would air. How thrilled I was in 1963 when my parents let me stay up to watch my first Oscar ceremony. I not only remember all five best picture nominees (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Longest Day”, “The Music Man”, and “America, America”, a forgotten Elia Kazan film), but I can describe the film clip that was shown from each of the five nominees (a victorious Lawrence parading over the captured Turkish train, Gregory Peck’s courtroom summation, Red Buttons as a paratrooper caught on a church steeple, Robert Preston singing “Trouble”, and the young Greek man at the dock yearning to emigrate shouting “America!” to a sailor on a ship). Columnist Marya Mannes (anyone remember her?) announced each clip and delivered the award. I still remember her grimacing after the violence in the two war films. Of course, “Lawrence” won. The clips were longer in those days, and no columnist would be chosen to deliver the award today.

In later years, I cheered when Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win the Best Actor Oscar, rooted for “Mary Poppins”, even though”My Fair Lady” won, was dismayed that “Tom Jones” was an adult film that I was too young to see, but a few years later managed to convince my parents to allow me to see Julie Christie’s Oscar winning performance in the adult film “Darling”.

Although my enthusiasm waned at times (I even missed some broadcasts in the seventies and eighties), independent cinema’s incursion into the mainstream in the 1990′s following Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” rekindled my interest.

I find myself making Oscar predictions about films I have never even seen, and I’m often right. One after another the award season honors are bestowed. The various film critics society awards are early indicators, as are the Golden Globe Awards, but it has been noted that the Hollywood Guild awards are the best Oscar predictors, since many of the voters are actually members of the Academy. This was the first year I watched the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which have been broadcast for the past decade. Indeed, every year I seem to discover more awards that I had previously ignored as I handicap the Oscar race.

As many have noted, it looks as if “The Artist” will be the likely winner of the Best Picture Oscar. The film is simply irresistable, even if you’re not, like myself, a lover of the silent films it so brilliantly and poignantly recreates.  My wife and I saw it on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, and I think our delight in the film was one of the reasons for her rising early the morning of the Oscar nominations.  As she commented, you walk out at the end smiling.

As for the acting awards, Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” may very well beat George Clooney for “The Descendents”. At any rate, the race is between them. And Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in “The Help” seem to be the front runners in the women’s acting categories.

French director Michael Hazanavicius would seem likely to snag the Best Director Oscar for “The Artist’. It is certainly a one of a kind movie. That is, unless the Academy wants to share the wealth and give the award to Martin Scorcese for his amazing work on “Hugo”. My wife and I loved “Hugo”, but we both agree that it is less perfect than “The Artist”.

Starting early in the year, I keep my antenna up for the first Oscar possibilities. Like many people, my wife and I were charmed by Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (I have been a Woody Allen fan ever since “Annie Hall”). Although it might be described as a “little film”, my wife and I were hoping it would have Oscar potential. In spite of his refusal to attend its ceremonies, Oscar loves Woody Allen. He now holds the record for Best Screenplay nominations with fifteen (beating Billy Wilder who had twelve). Sure enough, “Midnight in Paris” was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay. Although it will probably lose Best Picture to “The Artist”, I think it has a good shot at the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, which often serves as a runner up prize (especially since “The Descendents” and “Hugo” are both nominated in the Adapted Screenplay category; I expect that prize to go to “The Descendents”, which I have not seen).

So far, my wife and I have seen five of the nine Best Picture nominees, and will likely see two more before the awards are presented. They all seem very deserving of their nominations.

I was quite pleased two years ago when the Academy expanded the Best Picture category from five to ten nominees (this year it was between five and ten, with the number of nominees determined by each winning at least five per cent of the first place votes). Some have complained this diminishes the prestige of the nominations, but I say the more the merrier. Let’s face it; there are a lot more than five, or for that matter even ten films every year, worthy of being cited as the best film of the year. Two years ago, the quirky South African science fiction film and political satire “District 9″ received a well-deserved Best Picture nomination. Edgy science fiction films come out every year, (“2001″, “Blade Runner’, “Repo Man”, “The Dark Knight”, “Wall-E” for example) but they never get nominated in a five film category.

Personally, my favorite film of the year is usually some slow, enigmatic, existential Asian film that never even gets nominated for Best Foreign Film let alone Best Picture. “Poetry” from South Korea was as good as anything made in 2011. But don’t let me get started on the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Perhaps I’ll save that for some future blog.

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Reed Hessler

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Reed is WBJC's evening host. His full bio can be read here.

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