It was “Hugo” vs. “The Artist” during a long night at The Oscars. And in the end they both got the same number of wins: five. But the French black-and-white silent homage to Hollywood, “The Artist,” the first film since 1929 to win Best Picture, also won Director, Actor, Costume and Score. (“The Artist” is the first film since “Oliver!” to win Best Picture after winning the best Comedy Golden Globe.) “If ‘The Artist’ can help independent producers to be audacious, that’s a good thing,” said producer Thomas Landemann backstage. “All kinds of cinema should exist.”
Independent films won seventeen Oscars, total. And the awards show that is telecast in 200 countries was also live-streamed, for the first time, in China. Winners were also truly global, from French “The Artist” and British “The Iron Lady” to Canada’s Christopher Plummer, Iran’s “A Separation” and Pakistan’s “Saving Face.”
Michel Hazanavicius thanked not only his wife Berenice Bejo for inspiring and being the soul of his movie, but Uggie (who made a brief video appearance in his doggie tux and posed for cameras backstage) and the late director Billy Wilder. “I thanked him three times,” the French writer-director said backstage. “I could thank him a thousand times, he’s the perfect director and the soul of Hollywood. I love him.”
It was also a good night for reinvigorated and focused Harvey Weinstein, who may have lost best costume for “W.E.,” but won five Oscars for “The Artist,” two for “The Iron Lady,” and one for documentary “The Undefeated,” for a total of eight. His marketing team fought hard for every win; the campaign for “The Artist” was especially inspired, with a string of inventive visual elements. He also planted the seed that Streep was long overdue; that finally toppled front runner Viola Davis.
Nine-time host Billy Crystal returned in good form with his opening mash reel and monologue/number, in which he kissed George Clooney, impersonated Tintin, and asked “Hugo”‘s Martin Scorsese to return to his gangster roots. Co-producer Brian Grazer booked a number of comedians as presenters, who garnered some laughs, especially ga-ga Emma Stone and her straight man Ben Stiller and the chugging cast of “Bridesmaids.” And the Cirque du Soleil played well, soaring breathlessly over the no-longer-named Kodak Theatre. Bankrupt Kodak served to underscore the film industry’s transition from one mode of technology to another, as Hollywood honored archaic moviemaking and theater-going during its transition to digital production and distribution.
The two most hotly contested battles of the night were Best Actress and Best Actor. Resplendent in gold lame, Meryl Streep, after 13 nominations and only two wins, finally won a third Oscar for her tour-de-force performance in “The Iron Lady,” which also won Best Makeup. She has worked with the same makeup artist Roy Helland in the 30 years since her last win, for “Sophie’s Choice.” “I understand I may never be up here again,” she said. That may be why the Academy voters gave the Oscar to her, along with a standing ovation. Davis, who was the favorite for “The Help,” gave one thoughtful and candid interview after another on the awards circuit. She’ll be back.
“I thought I was so old and jaded,” Streep said backstage. “They call your name and you go into a white light, it was thrilling. I was a kid when I won this thirty years ago, two of the nominees weren’t even conceived. I understand Streep fatigue, and it shocks me that it didn’t override me tonight.” She never met Margaret Thatcher, who has retired from public life for the last two years. But she studied her. “The challenge was to imagine her present life, it was an act of imagination and there was a lot of freedom in that and responsibility to a real person. It was satisfying as an actor and artist to make a film that starts out about Margaret Thatcher and ends up being about all of us.”
Best Actor was won by SAG, Globe and BAFTA winner Jean Dujardin for “The Artist.” He is the first Frenchman to win, after nominees Maurice Chevalier, Gerard Depardieu, and Charles Boyer. “I love your country,” he said, reading notes (he did not win the Cesar on Friday night). “Formidable! Merci Beaucoup! I love you!”
Backstage, Dujardin was humble, saying he does everything for his wife and could never have imagined this. “I am not an American actor, I am a French actor. If I could make another silent movie in America I’d like to. I will always be a French actor in America.” The campaign was like a rollercoaster, he said in French, with both fatigue and elation.
George Clooney took it like a man. “The Descendants” won just one Oscar, for Adapted Screenplay. It was writer-director Alexander Payne’s second Oscar, and writers Jim Nash and Nat Faxon’s first. Payne dedicated the Oscar to his mother from Omaha, his date, and thanked her for letting him skip nursery school and go to the movies. Finally the film, while adored by some, was not beloved by all. “The Artist” was the consensus title.
Best Original Screenplay went to perennial no-show Woody Allen for “Midnight in Paris,” beating “The Artist” for its only win.
Scorsese’s $170-million 3-D “Hugo” garnered the most nominations, eleven, but was expected to lose key races to “The Artist.” Sure enough it scored early in five technical categories. The film started off with two big wins, for production design and cinematography. “This is for Martin and for Italy,” said set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo.
“It’s not an issue of film vs. digital,” says Richardson, who is back shooting on film on “Django Unchained.” “I hope film survives as long as possible. Virtually every film is digitized in one way or another. There are no limits for 3-D. It’s a tool not a gimmick.”
As the evening progressed, “Hugo” picked up three more awards, including Sound Editing and Mixing and Visual Effects for a total of five. The VFX team believed in using a mix of old fashion techniques such as miniatures and computer graphics, said Rob Legato; they tried to use many of the same effects that the film’s pioneer, Georges Melies, would have used.
The first award of the night for “The Artist” went to Mark Bridges for Best costume. Bridges looked at many silent films including “Show People,” starring Marion Davies, shot on back lot of MGM in the 20s, as well as ‘Sunrise’ and ‘City Girl.’ “We filmed it in color,” he said. “There was a chance the film in some markets would be shown in color.” When asked later if the film would ever be shown in that format, Langemann replied with a flat “No.”
Ludovic Bourse of “The Artist” took Best Score, having flown in last night from Paris after winning the Cesar. After “Hugo” had won five awards, “The Artist” started to catch up with Best Director Hazanavicius. “I forgot my speech,” he said. “I am the happiest director in the world right now.” He thanked everyone including Uggie. “Since this movie has been made its life is full of grace and brings us joy and happiness.”
Hazanavicius realized after three film festivals that audiences enjoyed the film and that it did not need to be sold or promoted, he added. “I hope I will make a movie here, once,” he said. “It will not be the next one.” He’s sticking with his French producer Langemann. He lists an impressive string of silent titles that inspired him, from the likes of Murnau, Borzhage and King Vidor.
Best Original Song went to Flight of the Conchords’ New Zealander Bret McKenzie for “Man or Muppet.” “Once you get to know Kermit he’s just a normal frog,” he said, “and like many of the stars here he’s shorter in real life.” He thanked Disney for “making movies with songs in them.” Backstage he praised Jason Segal for going “really deep with his performance.” What’s next? “I want to see if I can collaborate with Chris Cooper on a full-length rap album.” He feels that his song is not close to being comparable to the classic “Rainbow Connection,” which didn’t win the Oscar.
Editing is often a bellwether for Best Picture, and in a major upset went to David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which is not a best picture nominee. Fincher was not in the house, but Best Actress nominee Rooney Mara was all smiles.
Four first-timers vied for the supporting actress Oscar, which was won, as expected, by Octavia Spencer for “The Help,” accompanied by an unexpected standing ovation. “We wanted to make the movie that Kathryn Stockett envisioned when she wrote the book,” she said backstage. “If you can have a laugh as you experience the film, I have no trouble with that.” She sang: “I was a nominee but now I am a winner.” She went on: “Tonight I’m going to find my castmates, I am going to have a quarter of a glass of champagne. We all start projects in the next couple of days. This may never happen again.”
Supporting Actor went to “Beginners” star Christopher Plummer, as expected, after having won just about everything else. It’s his first Academy Award and he’s the oldest actor, at 82, to win an Oscar. The house also gave him a standing ovation. “You’re only two years older than me, where have you been all my life?” he said to the Oscar statue.
“Wasn’t Charlie Chaplin 83?” asked Plummer backstage. “An honorary Oscar is an Oscar. It has recharged me. I hope I go on for another ten years. I am going to drop dead wherever I am, on stage or on set. We don’t retire in our profession, thank God.”
The Best Documentary Oscar went to “Undefeated,” Weinstein Co.’s pick-up about a North Memphis high school football coach. Accepter Dan Lindsay said, ‘This is fuckin’ wonderful” on live television, and apologized for it backstage. “It came from the heart,” he said. “It was out of spontaneity and accidental.” Melissa Leo was the first to drop the F bomb, last year.
Best Animation goes to Gore Verbinski’s “Rango.” He told me on the red carpet that he hopes to do another one. ‘This is crazy,” he said in his acceptance speech. “The film was created by a bunch of grown-ups acting like children.”
Introed by a German-speaking Sandra Bullock, best foreign film went to Iran’s “A Separation.”
Writer-director Terry George won best live action short for “The Shore,” saying, “Now I don’t have to wait for a wedding to tell her how brilliant she is,” of his producer, daughter Oorlagh.
Best live action documentary goes to HBO’s “Saving Face,” the expected winner, the story of women in Pakistan who are attacked with acid, often by their husbands, and a plastic surgeon trying to help them. As the film was being made, Pakistani women successfully pushed the government to make the laws against such acts more harsh.
Animated film went to William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg for “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.”