OSCAR PAYS HIS DUES
One of the most surprising Oscar seasons in recent memory ended Sunday night with a tribute to lifers — to Hollywood heavyweights who were finally celebrated for a career’s worth of achievements.
The man of the hour, of course, was Martin Scosese—one of today’s most popular, beloved, and imitated American filmmakers. Not only did his The Departed earn Scorsese his very first Academy Award, but it also took home honors for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing—honoring another Hollywood legend: the long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker.
In fact, Scorsese seemed more moved by Schoonmaker’s award—fighting back tears—than he did for his own moment on the big stage. Presented with the Oscar by friends Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas, Scorsese humbly held out the Award and observed, in a frank, matter-of-fact way: “I’m so moved, so moved. So many people have been wishing this for me and my family; I thank you for this.”
That same sentiment was echoed by several of the night’s winners. Not only was Sunday night a crowning moment for Scorsese and Schoonmaker, but also it was for Alan Arkin, who won the hotly-contested Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as the cantankerous, drug-using grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine. Former Vice President Al Gore’s life-long work on the issue of global climate change was vindicated by the Academy’s enthusiastic celebration of his documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Of course, most of the favorites going into the Academy Awards walked away victorious. An emotional Jennifer Hudson accepted the Award for Best Supporting Actress moments before she took the stage and went note-for-note with Dreamgirls co-star Beyonce Knowles as they performed songs from the movie musical. Forest Whitaker accepted his Award for Best Actor in The Last King of Scotland with a speech that paid tribute to the communal magic only made possible by cinema. Helen Mirren, who was a Vegas lock for Best Actress for her performance in The Queen, accepted her Award with expected grace and humility.
But outside those categories, it was a year for the veterans. A rousing tribute to composer Ennio Morricone served as the ceremony’s centerpiece and honored the musician for a lifetime of great movie themes. Meanwhile, Oscar heavy-weight Milena Cantonero showed up New York fashion heavyweight Pat Field for Best Costumes in Marie-Antoinette, and veteran rocker Melissa Ethridge took home Best Original Song for her enviro-anthem “I Need to Wake Up,” from the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Outside of Best Picture, the two most competitive categories turned out to be Best Foreign and Animated Features. The favored Pixar hit Cars was snubbed in favor of the cute, box office penguin hit Happy Feet. And Pan’s Labyrinth, while landing atop many critics’ year-end lists, and taking home several Oscars for its artistry and imagination, lost the Best Foreign Film Award to Germany’s The Lives of Others, which finally opened in art houses across the country over the last month.
While the bloated awards ceremony was greatly helped by host Ellen DeGeneres’ populist humor and the palpable drama of which way the Best Picture see-saw would finally fall, the 79th Academy Awards may be remembered by the industry as the year that the Academy turned against the so-called “Oscar film.”
Recent years of Oscars have suggested that the Academy tends to reward only certain kinds of films—films based around grand, overlapping plot lines (Crash), tragedy themes (Million Dollar Baby), or big-budget spectacles (Chicago, Lord of the Rings). This year’s Awards put entertaining, accessible crowd-pleasers above all others.
It was not the tragedy of Letters From Iwo Jima that wowed voters, nor the globe-trotting complexities of Babel, the biopic charm of The Queen, or the Sundance espiegle of Little Miss Sunshine. No, beyond all that, is was the pure, star-driven entertainment value of The Departed, the light-hearted, family-friendly nature of Happy Feet, and the audience-oriented science of An Inconvenient Truth that prevailed overall.
For Scorsese, in particular, who has tried in the past to nab golden statues by making a biopic (The Aviator) and a sweeping, epic period piece (Gangs of New York), the Academy chose instead to praise him for a gritty, bare-knuckle, in-your-face street opera only he could produce.
In a notable change of pace, this was not a year of Oscar telling us what we should appreciate, but a nod toward the movies that audiences had flocked to, responded to, and established as the hits of the year.
2007 was not only a year that finally gave so many their long-overdue recognition, but also a year that gave all of us a say in the final verdict.