We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
When I wrote about my favorite Oscar-winning performances of the past decade, I said it’s best not to get too worked up about the Academy Awards. I did add that it is more fun when I agree with them. Of course I didn’t agree with every decision last night. For example, the very good Argo is far from my favorite film of the year, and I felt Tony Kushner’s screenplay for Lincoln deserved it over Chris Terrio. Sure, I wish Skyfall had brought Roger Deakins his long-awaited first Oscar, I’d have loved to see ParaNorman beat Brave, and I don’t think Silver Linings Playbook is the one Jennifer Lawrence will be remembered for. Even so, accepting that no one will ever be happy with all the winners, this newest slate is alright by me.
It isn’t really all about who wins and who loses. It’s the moments, the spectacle of the whole thing. He won’t be appearing in the TOP 7, but after a rocky start I thought Seth MacFarlane did just fine. He wasn’t memorable like Hugh Jackman was in 2009 – here’s where I admit I know all the words to Jackman’s opening number – but he was far from being a James Franco-level train wreck. Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum charmed us with some dancing while MacFarlane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe delighted with a little "High Hopes." The boys from The Avengers had some fun presenting, whereas Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy’s interminable bit during the animated categories may still be going on. The show ended with a major surprise – no, Ben Affleck didn't win Best Director on write-in votes. Jack Nicholson took the stage and introduced Michelle Obama. The First Lady classes up any room she is in (even if she’s in it via satellite) and announcing Best Picture for Argo was no exception.
All those were still fresh as I wrote this in the wee hours of the morning, but below we have my TOP 7 things from the 85th Academy Awards.
7. A Good Game of Oscar Bowling
Reason: Yeah, yeah, I can hear the groans now. I know nobody likes a braggart, but what's the point of playing this game we call predicting the Oscars if we can't do a little gloating when we do well? I don't have much else, so these are the types of things I have to hang on to! The last couple years I got around 75%, so even I'm a little surprised to have gotten 88% in a crazy year like this. 21 out of 24 is all well and good (yes, I'll be taking full credit for getting the Skyfall side of the Skyfall/Zero Dark Thirty sound editing tie). What I'll be hanging my hat on, though, is bowling a 278 in Oscar Bowling, the game created by TSR's Jeff Bayer. Nick Allen got some friendly ribbing in calling his picks "undoubtedly the most correct," so I'll leave it with this: Nick, Jeff... valiant efforts all around, but better luck next year.
6. James Bond Tribute, Performances, and Victories
Reason: My familiarity with the James Bond franchise as a whole is far from complete, but I thought last night's tribute was one of the highlights of the show. (While I'm all for seeing Halle Berry introduce things, it is a shame that Die Another Day is her affiliation with Bond.) Dame Shirley Bassey coming on stage to do "Goldfinger" was a real highlight. She started a little shaky, but by the end she was belting it out and making me want to watch Goldfinger again. Later in the show, Adele looked stunning and flawlessly performed her nominated song from Skyfall. She capped it off by turning that nomination into a victory, giving the film two wins. All in all, not a bad night – or year – for 007.
5. Daniel Day-Lewis Makes History
Reason: Once it became clear that Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was an unstoppable force, I knew last night would be special. Not only would he become the first male to win three Best Actor trophies, he'd be receiving it from another three-time winner, the legendary Meryl Streep. After going through the clips – and showing the endearingly aloof Joaquin Phoenix looking like he might be preparing for an I'm Still Here sequel – I didn't even know Streep had opened the envelope. It was just a formality, and Day-Lewis took the stage clothed in immense power to give a charmingly goofy speech, though one that ended with a lot of heart. I'm with Day-Lewis. Somebody get on that Meryl as Lincoln Oscar juggernaut.
4. Quentin Tarantino Had Their Curiosity and Their Attention, Wins Number Two
Reason: I liked The Hurt Locker an awful lot, more than Zero Dark Thirty, but I was none too pleased when Mark Boal defeated Quentin Tarantino and Inglourious Basterds (far and away my favorite film of 2009) for Best Original Screenplay. As this year's Oscars approached, I feared the possibility of Boal once again winning the statue I felt belonged to Tarantino. (I will say, I wouldn't have complained if Michael Haneke had won. I am glad he finally has an Oscar to his name, though, winning Best Foreign Language Film for Amour.) Luckily, Charlize Theron and Dustin Hoffman called it for Mr. Tarantino and I was free to celebrate with no reservations. Tarantino thought it was pretty cool to get an Oscar from his neighbor, Theron, and I think it would be pretty cool if they work together. I might not agree with Tarantino's claim that all the nominated screenplays were great, but the original screenplay winner certainly was.
3. Christoph Waltz Wins for Django Unchained. That's a bingo!
Reason: Let's set the stage. Seth MacFarlane had just finished hanging out with William Shatner, singing some nonsense about boobs, and, in the night's biggest surprise, making Tommy Lee Jones smile. Last year's Best Supporting Actress winner, The Help's Octavia Spencer, came on stage and went through the Best Supporting Actor nominees. All previous winners. The smart money was probably on Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook or Lincoln's Tommy Lee Jones. Me? I've never claimed to be smart, so I predicted Christoph Waltz as the endlessly enjoyable Dr. King Schultz. His name was King. He had a horse. And now he has another Oscar. Waltz's lovely speech was one of my favorites of the night, particularly the way he thanked Django Unchained's own Siegfried, Quentin Tarantino. Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio's Monsieur Calvin J. Candie, Mr. Waltz is not an abysmal winner. To think, four years ago I would have said "Christopher Who?" Now the two-time Oscar-winner is one of my favorites. I hope the Tarantino-Waltz union never ends.
2. Chicago and Dreamgirls and Les Misérables, Oh My!
Reason: There are few things I love more in this world than a great musical. Everything about them brings me so much joy – even the sad ones like Les Misérables. Last night's musical tribute started with Catherine Zeta-Jones doing her fierce Velma Kelly thing, strutting around the stage for "All That Jazz." Then Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson showed off her pipes while singing "And I Am Telling You," the song that played a big role in her winning an Oscar. My favorite non-award moment of the night had to be the cast of Les Misérables performing together. My love of Tom Hooper's hugely emotional film is no secret, and seeing Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Samantha Barks, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Aaron Tveit, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter doing "One Day More" gave me chills. I sometimes feel like I'm alone when it comes to loving Crowe's performance as Javert. Last night was no exception. "One Day More" never fails to lift me up, and seeing it live on the Oscar stage did that and then some.
1. The Dream Came True for Anne Hathaway
Reason: This was pretty much signed, sealed, delivered the moment the first teaser for Les Misérables was released. Her rendition of Fantine's big number, "I Dreamed a Dream," is stunning, full of devastating emotion. I well up every time I hear it (full disclosure: this happens with a lot of Les Mis songs). Fantine's entire arc in the film is gut-wrenching, and Hathaway plays every note perfectly. If I was redoing my list of Oscar-winning performances of the past decade I'd put her behind only Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. I didn't always love Hathaway's acceptance speeches throughout this season, but I thought she delivered a winner last night. Gracious, full of class, and I loved how she started it with, "It came true." She had to know it was hers, but it still must have felt like a dream. Her Jean Valjean, Hugh Jackman, looking on with pride and joy only made the moment better. Here's to many more!
So, now that that's out of the way, what do we think is winning at the 86th Academy Awards? I call George Clooney's The Monuments Men.