It was billed as the tightest Oscar race in years.
It was billed as the year when there might be an upset.
It was billed as a night when cinematic history could be made.
And it was billed as the night when the Oscars show passed its torch on to a new generation.
So how did the Oscars fare on all these counts?
Well, yes and no.
Was it really the tightest Oscar race in years?
Maybe it looked that way, at the start of the awards season when Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ made all the early running in the film critics’ circle awards.
But in the end, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences plumped for the same movie that the Golden Globes, BAFTA and even, the Cesars in France honoured: Ben Affleck’s well made, extremely tense Iran hostage caper movie, ‘Argo’.
‘Argo’ built up in January the kind of momentum that most Best Picture winners get and, in truth, that momentum may well have been turbo boosted by the Academy’s decision to freeze Ben Affleck out of the Best Director category.
For Affleck, a once maligned Hollywood lead actor, the Best Picture win was a vindication of sorts – a poke in the eye for those who wrote off his career and another for those who snubbed him for Best Director.
‘Argo’ also scooped Best Adapted Screenplay for Chris Terrio and for William Goldenberg’s Film Editing.
But Best Picture? I think not, when Austrian director, Michael Haneke’s profound and extremely moving ‘Amour’ was also nominated – a movie that conjured visual poetry out of the grimmest of subject matters, the inexorable decline of old age.
Haneke’s movie deservedly picked up an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture but it was always a stretch to think Hollywood would take a gamble and honour what was the best movie of 2012 with gongs for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Emmanuelle Riva for Best Actress.
The Oscars did, at least, show a capacity to surprise by giving Taiwan’s Ang Lee a second Best Director Academy Award for ‘The Life of Pi’.
Many, myself included, assumed Affleck’s absence from the nominees in this category meant Steven Spielberg’s coronation for ‘Lincoln’ was a sure thing.
However Ang Lee’s win was pleasantly surprising, as ‘The Life of Pi’ did push the boundaries of 3-D cinema with stunning visuals in much the same way Martin Scorsese’s Oscar nominated ‘Hugo’ did in 2011.
‘The Life of Pi’ has reaped huge box office returns in the process (it cleared the $500 million worldwide mark last month) and it also took awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Musical Score and for Claudio Miranda’s stunning cinematography – elbowing aside Armagh’s Seamus McGarvey for ‘Anna Karenina’ and Roger Deakins for ‘Skyfall’.
There was some consolation for the Spielberg camp, when Anglo-Irish actor Daniel Day Lewis made history by becoming the first actor to win three Best Actor awards – his previous wins were for ‘My Left Foot’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’.
This coronation also seemed inevitable after the Golden Globes in a category which should have had Jean Louis Trintignant among the nominees.
In his acceptance speech, Day Lewis once again showed himself to be a modest, yet witty actor – on being presented with his gong by Meryl Streep he joked he had been in line to play Margaret Thatcher while she was Spielberg’s first choice for Abraham Lincoln.
Day Lewis’s ‘Lincoln’ was very much a change of pace and tone for an actor who has tended to dazzle cinema audiences with notoriously combustible performances and while the movie itself may be a little dull, it is very much hoped he will be back again soon on the big screen – possibly shooting a Scorsese movie, ‘Sacrifice’ about Jesuit martyrs in the Far East with Benicio del Toro and Gael Garcia Bernal.
It would be a shame if, as the Sunday Times reported yesterday, he were to retreat instead to the seclusion of his Wicklow home for five years.
The other Oscars coronation that many expected was Anne Hathaway for her performance as Fantine in Tom Hooper’s musical ‘Les Miserables’ and she duly delivered in the Best Supporting Actress category.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Best Actress win for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ was a lot less certain – a good performance but I would have plumped for 86-year-old Emmanuelle Riva or, failing that, Naomi Watts in ‘The Impossible’.
But the Oscars for Hathaway and Lawrence (who stumbled as she went to collect her award) were very much a recognition of the next acting generation and there can be no doubt that both actresses will be contending for a lot more Academy Awards in the future.
From the outset, the Best Supporting Actor was the most difficult category to call – each nominee had already won an Oscar.
But in the end, just like ‘Argo’, the Academy went for a proven awards winner. Austrian Christoph Waltz had already bagged a Golden Globe and BAFTA for his performance as a bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino’s western ‘Django Unchained’.
There were Oscars too for Tarantino for his screenplay for ‘Django Unchained’ and Best Animated Feature for Disney’s ‘Brave’ despite some stiff competition from the more imaginative ‘Wreck It Ralph’, Aardman’s ‘Pirates!’ ‘Paranorman’ and ‘Frankenweenie’.
‘Searching for Sugarman’ nabbed the Best Documentary Feature as many predicted and Disney’s charming animated short ‘The Paperman’ also triumphed.
In the sound editing category, there was a surprise – a tie between ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and the 007 movie, ‘Skyfall’.
Adele also got to make room on her mantelpiece for an Oscar for Best Original Song for belting out ‘Skyfall’.
It seemed the Academy was determined to spread the love. Handing out gongs to every contender in the audience a la ‘The Late Late Show’.
Well, not quite. There was no Oscar for Benh Zeitlin’s delightful underdog ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ which did well to even figure in the nominations.
But the big question of the night was how did the Oscars show itself and its much heralded edgy host Seth MacFarlane fare?
Well, the answer to that very much depends on whether you like MacFarlane and his brand of humour in ‘Family Guy’ or the hit big screen comedy ‘Ted’.
Fans of MacFarlane must have thought during his opening monologue that he had got off to a subdued start but it soon livened up with a risky ‘Django Unchained’ joke about Rihanna and Chris Brown that drew gasps from some in the theatre.
He treated his audience to a gag inspired by Supporting Actress nominee Sally Field’s star making role as ‘The Flying Nun’ and a routine with sock puppets.
There were plenty of nods too to the song and dance routines of old, albeit with a typical MacFarlane twist – one song was about actresses doing nude scenes.
A wisecrack about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (if you pardon the pun) misfired, eliciting groans from the audience, prompting him to quip: “So, 150 years and it is still too soon, huh? I have a couple of Napoleon jokes coming up. You guys are going to be so mad!”
One of the highlights of the night was undoubtedly the unexpected appearance by video by Michelle Obama running through the Best Picture nominees and announcing the winner after being introduced by Jack Nicholson – a genuine surprise.
There was also a stirring performance of ‘Goldfinger’ by Shirley Bassey, as the Academy saluted 50 years of James Bond.
But the best Oscar moment was probably its most conventional – an epic tribute to the modern musical that deservedly earned a standing ovation, with Catherine Zeta Jones performing ‘All That Jazz’ from the 2002 Best Picture winner ‘Chicago’, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson singing ‘And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going’ from ‘Dreamgirls’ and Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe leading the ‘Les Miserables’ cast for one last rendition of ‘One Day More’.
Tom Hooper’s movie may not have walked off with the top prize on the night but this performance alone was a thrilling reminder of Hollywood at its biggest and brashest best.