The Bright Side: The Real Winners of Oscar Night

The general consensus is that the 84th annual Academy Awards were a giant mushroom cloud of boring, unfunny failure, dropped from the broken-down Enola Gay that is Billy Crystal. You know it’s going to be bad when there’s blackface in the first five minutes. In a Midnight In Paris send-up. With Justin Bieber. The song parodies were painful. (If creepy middle-aged dude is the vibe the Oscars want in a host, let’s make it someone likeable next year: Jeff Goldblum for Oscars host!)

That being said, the evening wasn’t a total loss. Here were the real winners of Oscar Night (sorry, Hugo). 
 
Chris Rock
As we mentioned in our morning links, he told the only truly funny joke of the entire evening. While talking about his career animation, Rock told the crowd: "If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra!" If only he had called Billy Crystal out on his B.S. while he was up there, too. 
 
Asghar Farhadi
"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment," Farhadi told the crowd. Of all the victories at this sad, sad awards show, Farhadi’s was the most important. A Separation was the first Iranian film to ever take home the golden statuette, and one for which he faced detraction in his home country. A reminder that film can be subversive and teach us things and inspire nations without ham-fistedness or celluloid gloss. 
 
Poop as a Plot Device
In the Best Supporting Actress category, it was in a pie (The Help) vs. in a sink (Bridesmaids) by Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy, respectively. Pie won. 
 
Octavia Spencer
Regardless of what you thought of The Help, it’s hard not to root for Octavia Spencer. She looked stunning, for starters. And she was genuinely excited—none of that Taylor Swift "Really? Me?" false modesty nonsense. And her speech was a real, wonderful, genuine Oscar moment – until she got cut off by some jerks. (Losers: Whoever Decided to Cut Off Octavia Spencer)
 
Bret McKenzie
We’re sad we didn’t get to see "Man Or Muppet?" performed, but one half of Flight of the Conchords took home a statuette for it and gave an adorable speech. It’s enough to make you hope he does another TV show, just so he can get one step closer to an EGOT. 
 
Team Christopher Guest
Although The Wizard of Oz thing was weird and sort of out of nowhere, you can’t really go wrong with Fred Willard, Christopher Guest, Jennifer Coolidge, and the whole Guffman gang. To come: who-is-christopher-guest.tumblr.com. 
 
Winner: Javier Bardem
In Alexander Payne’s acceptance speech for The Descendants, he said he dedicated the award to his mother because she insisted he do it after Javier Bardem dedicated an award to his mother. So, way to make Javier Bardem look like the the greatest son ever, Alexander Payne’s mom. 
 
Christopher Plummer
His speech and Octavia Spencer’s were the only true "Oscar moments" of the night. After he accepted his first Academy Award ever for Beginners (meaning, as the Internet pointed out, he has exactly as many Oscars as Three Six Mafia), he was whisked off into the Alps with his family by a cabal of friendly nuns. 
 
A.R. Rahman
His cameo in the all-star celebrity orchestra was a nice surprise. 
 
Ellen DeGeneres
Sorry, weird, bigoted parents group that tried to boycott JC Penney. You lost this round. And we, the viewers at home, got an ad campaign that was actually more entertaining than the awards themselves. 
 
Meryl Streep
Sure, everyone expected Viola Davis to win, and she probably should have won. But Meryl’s "whatever" was a breath of fresh air in a night full of ego-stroking and false modesty. She was even dressed like an Oscar. Haters gonna hate.
 
Uggie
The dog from Hugo didn’t get to go onstage after the Best Picture announcement. The most celebrated Jack Russell Terrier since Eddie on Frasier may also be the most overexposed thespian dog in recent years, but come on. There was a dog in a bowtie on stage at the Oscars. If "funny" and "entertaining" are nowhere in sight, at least give us something cute. 
 
People Who Love Hearing Celebrities Talk About How Much They Love Movies
So, uh, no one. 

2011 Oscar Nominations Go More or Less as Expected

With the speed of a lumbering engine powered by critical hubris and self-importance, the 84th Academy Awards nominations dropped into our newsfeeds this morning with predictable result. Did you know that people liked The Descendants this year, The Artist as well? Brad Pitt and George Clooney scored the requisite Hollywood heartthrob acting votes (they will lose to the no-name French guy who doesn’t talk), while Meryl Streep got her due for sticking around. Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese were also nominated, just like they always are. It’s another Oscar ceremony, y’all!

But not to sound cynical or anything. It’s somewhat surprising, though definitely nice, to see Terrence Malick get official recognition for The Tree of Life, even if there’s almost no way the hype-happy Academy will give their highest awards to a movie with more than a handful of inscrutably artsy scenes. Equally surprising on the other end is the inclusion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a movie that no one seemed to like but not for any inscrutably artsy reasons, simply because it’s kind of schmaltzy and not very good. Why not give the spot to something innocuous like Bridesmaids or even the last Harry Potter movie, if they’re trying to go commercial? Madness, it’s all madness. (I won’t even get started on Albert Brooks’ snub for Drive.) You can look at the important nominees below, or go to the Academy’s website for the full list.

Best Picture
The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Actor in a Leading Role
Demian Bichir – A Better Life, George Clooney – The Descendants, Jean Dujardian – The Artist, Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Actress in a Leading Role
Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis – The Help, Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady, Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Directing
Michael Hazanavicius – The Artist, Alexander Payne – The Descendants, Martin Scorsese – Hugo, Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris, Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life

Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branaugh – My Week with Marilyn, Jonah Hill – Moneyball, Nick Nolte – Warrior, Christopher Plummer – Beginners, Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Actress in a Supporting Role
Berenice Bejo – The Artist, Jessica Chastain – The Help, Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids, Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs, Octavia Spencer – The Help

Yes We Cannes: The 11 Most Exciting Movies at This Year’s Fest

To the dismay of everyone within earshot of my desk, my excitement will not be quelled about how totally major this year’s Cannes Film Festival is going to be. In addition to new awards-contenders from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Michel Gondry (who didn’t make the list, only because I couldn’t find much on his latest film, L’epine Dans le Coeur), the sun-soaked Riviera festival will premiere Sam Raimi’s return to death and evil, as well as Jane Campion’s first major release since the Kiwi director tried, disastrously, to make Meg Ryan edgy in 2003’s In the Cut. Penelope Cruz hugs a lot of people in Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces, Ang Lee takes Woodstock and Brad Pitt screams, “Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps … and I want my scalps!” Oh, and the late Heath Ledger might just get another Oscar. After the jump, the festival’s, if not the year’s, most anticipated films (with trailers).

Agora by Alejandro Amenabar. From the director of The Others and The Sea Inside comes a historical drama, starring Rachel Weisz and Max Minghella, about Hypatia of Alexandria, the Egyptian philosophy professor who fell in love with her slave. Minghella tells BlackBook, exclusively, “Rachel’s performance in the film is, objectively speaking, quite spectacular. Performances in historical films can so easily stray into frigidity, but she injects everything with warmth and modernity, which I really believe is a principle reason why the film is as accessible as it is.” Of his working relationship with Weisz, he adds, “I felt completely comfortable around her. We grew up on the same street in London, and now in New York our apartments are directly opposite one another — which is fantastic for voyeuristic reasons, but also a bizarre coincidence. Maybe it’s our shared geographic history, but I feel very at home around her.”

The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke. While it certainly would have been interesting to watch Haneke eke out another version of Funny Games, the master of torture’s latest project sounds incredible. Courtesy of IMDb: “Strange events happen at a rural school in the north of Germany during the year 1913, which seem to be ritual punishment. Does this affect the school system, and how does the school have an influence on fascism?”

Taking Woodstock by Ang Lee. Of course the director who turned Jewel into a cowgirl, Kevin Kline into a swinger, Eric Bana into a monster, and Jake Gyllenhaal into a pederast would eventually set his sights on Woodstock. Starring an incredible cast that includes Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Live Schreiber, and Jonathan Groff, audiences surely won’t be able to quit it.

Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino. Unless you’ve been living under a very large, Brangelina-proof rock, this one needs no introduction. Still, I’m going to overlook the misspelling, and bypass the backlash by moving ahead to the backlash backlash, and just the love the guts out of this movie. Tarantino and Nazis? It’s almost better than Darryl Hannah and an eye-patch.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky by Jan Kounen. Forget Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Tautou for a minute, and watch Anna Mouglalis transform into the gamine Rue Gambon icon as she navigates a relationship with composer and pianist Igor Stravinsky. And keep an eye on Mouglalis: up next, she’ll star in 2010’s Serge Gainsbourg biopic.

Drag Me to Hell by Sam Raimi. Full disclosure: I saw an unfinished version of this. And, as a huge Evil Dead fan, was excited to see what the director of Spider-Man might do with his return to full-on horror. Alison Lohman plays a banker who pisses off a geriatric gypsy, which leads to one of the best catfights ever to appear on film. That said, some of the effects felt a little amusement-park ride-y, but I’ll reserve judgment until watching the final cut.

Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodóvar. This is the return of “Penelepedro,” the unstoppable force of director Pedro Almodóvar and Penelope Cruz, who last captivated audiences with Volver in 2006. It’s got a film noir feel to it, centers on love and a car crash that leaves the protagonist blind, and features a soundtrack that includes Cat Power and Uffie. It sounds near perfect, really.

Map of the Sounds of Tokyo by Isabel Coixet. From My Life Without Me to last year’s Elegy, Coixet has proved herself a masterful storyteller, which is why we can’t wait for “a dramatic thriller that centers on a fish-market employee who doubles as a contract killer.” Tokyo stars Oscar-nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi, who, in my opinion, is one of today’s most revelatory onscreen chameleons.

Bright Star by Jane Campion. Kiwi director Jane Campion is to dark drama what Amy Heckerling is to romantic teen comedy — no matter how tragically their recent films have bombed, I still get excited when their names are attached to new projects. Like this one. Starring Paul Schneider and Abbie Cornish, Bright Star chronicles the love affair between 19th-century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, before Keats’ early death. Actually, I just got sort of bored writing that, but, hey, at least it doesn’t feature Meg Ryan getting her nasty on. Plus, Campion made The Piano, so she’s more than capable of a comeback.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus by Terry Gilliam. Doctor Parnassus might just be the most exciting of all of the offerings at Cannes this year. Yes, the last time Gilliam and Heath Ledger worked together, they created The Brothers Grimm, which was very much so. And yes, Gilliam’s last film, Tideland, was ugly, misanthropic, and bloated. But after Ledger’s tragic death, actors Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law stepped in to play the same character in various dream worlds. Plus, Tom Waits channels the devil, supermodel Lily Cole plays a damsel in distress, and Christopher Plummer transforms into the 1,000-year-old title character. Intriguing is a gross understatement.

Thirst by Park Chan-Wook. The director of Oldboy is back with a thriller about a religious man who turns into a vampire! That’s all you need. Oh, and this trailer.
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