Before I plunge headlong in this piece..a few questions..
What was Angelina Jolie’s leg doing on the Oscar stage? What? What? What ? Did it mistake the podium for the set of a Mr and Mrs Smith sequel ? Was it trying to distract attention from her emaciated arms? And that husk? Inexplicable. I almost expected her to whip out a gun from an invisible stocking and aim at the camera.
How do you explain Ms Streep? That radiance like there is a benevolent volcano within her, lighting up every pore of her being? 17 nominations? Three Oscars? Endless stream of accolades? A rock solid marriage? Grounded kids? Untarnished humanity? Ever increasing brilliance? How does she do it all? And so well? In retrospect it is easy to see how she does it. By never losing sight of what really matters. Relationships. Friends. And her craft. In that order. How many Oscar winning husbands and wives thank their spouses first? And have 30 year partnerships with their make-up artists? This woman is a master class in life and how reassuring that while so many actors get trapped in their own success, she keeps redefining it and herself with every film.
And also why don’t we have more women like Tina Fey in the entertainment business who never leave home without their smarts or their femininity as they create real moments of truth and humour on camera and even off it, have no use for vanity even when they are wearing heirloom gowns?
When will the Academy stop torturing Martin Scorsese?
Will Woody Allen ever attend an award show?
Will George Clooney have a new movie, more laugh lines and a new girl-friend at the next Oscars?
And finally, why can’t Indian award shows EVER get it right? Will they ever realise that to put up a spectacle is different from making a spectacle of yourself? That the love for the movies is really what it is all about? That beyond a point the sight of a Shahrukh Khan doing an umpteenth take on Raj, Rahul and Don or playing Chiffon Chameli in drag dilutes the dignity and elegance of a show that should be less about canned laughter, edited applause, expression inserts and item songs than about honouring cinema and those who make it with passion and single-minded commitment?
The 84th Academy Awards were about just that. The magic, thrill, life and DNA altering impact that cinema has on us and it was such a fabulous idea to let the men and women of the movies speak about what drew them first to films that made them want to be on film. To have George Clooney’s mother reminisce about the time when he was a struggling actor and reassured her with a killer line, “I am the best known unknown actor in LA.”
Freeman recalling King Kong, Adam Sandler recalling Sean Connery’s chest hair and Hillary Swank, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Barbara Streisand and many more actors just talking about how films, the right kind can heal, transport, elevate, inspire and change lives. Right from the moment when Mr Morgan Freeman’s malted baritone willed the red, ornate curtain to rise, we were back at the times when movies were a thing of mystery and magic and like Philip Seymour Hoffman put it, were about the gut, not just the brain.
An older, rounder, quieter Billy Crystal kicked the show off with a hilarious montage and was predictably reliable even if more sedate than last year’s embarrassingly bad hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Early online reviews were panning the pacing of this show but we in India know a thing or two about that. Don’t we sit through the painfully tasteless, endlessly long and prerecorded shows where actors ham, skits drag on and the same hit songs are replayed and remixed and redanced to every single time in the multiple award shows that have cropped up with boggling categories like International Icon Award, Best Couple Award and Best Scene Award? There is a mandatory Rekha ji moment, the usual suspects as hosts and performers and it is hard to distinguish one show from another.
What is really confusing to me is how can anyone who genuinely loves the movies was not moved by the montages that the Academy put up this time? Of films we have loved, actors we have celebrated and mourned, moments we have replayed in our minds a million times? What’s with the cynicism that won’t even let the romance of the films be? If they don’t celebrate cinema at the movies, where will they do it? At the Super Bowl?
Every Oscar ceremony is remembered however for its unscripted moments and for me that moment was when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy after winning an Oscar for her documentary Saving Face powerfully sent a message across to the troubled women of not just Pakistan but the entire sub-continent to hang onto their dreams. An articulate and strong woman from Pakistan with an Oscar in her hands, and Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian director accepting the Best Foreign Film award on the behalf of his people who “respect all cultures and despise hostility and resentment,” are the kind of miracles that only the movie business makes possible so the cynicism can wait.
This year the Academy attempted to truly honour the multi cultural strands in cinema that is no longer about just one nationality but many and so there was Michel Hazanavicius, a French director paying a stunning, minimalistic and yet moving tribute to the silent era of Hollywood and conjuring the happy ghost of Billy Wilder in his acceptance speech for The Artist. Stranger and more wonderful things have happened at the Oscars.
We watch the Academy Awards not just for entertainment which may or may not be in short supply but to watch how people’s dreams come true. How The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a 15-minute animation film can win an Oscar for writer-director William Joyce, and co-director Brandon Oldenburg and turn two grown men into fanboys who grew up with the kind of movies they wanted to make and cannot now believe their luck that they have joined the ranks of the film makers they once idolised.
We watch the Oscars to smile with an 82-year old Christopher Plummer who is just two years younger than the Academy Awards and after a lifetime in the business won his first trophy for a film that is ironically and fatefully called The Beginners!
We watch the Oscars to see an Octavia Spencer moment who despite her inarticulate speech conveyed with her tears what it is to be a black woman actor with a golden statuette in her hands.
We watch the Oscars for the heart-felt tributes paid to departed greats, to see spectacular performances like the one Cirque du Soleil presented today, to hear an untrained musician like Ludovic Bource take away the Academy Award for the best original score in The Artist and say, “And to all of you, please accept me because I’ve got so much love to give. I’ve got so much love to give to you.”
The show made me cry, it made me want to watch movies again with an open heart and a sense of wonder and despite issues of pacing and with or without the debate about Mr Crystal’s flat repartee, I could not have asked anything more from this night. America’s politics may leave a lot to be desired but on this one night, the world was just a pop corn bag away from the taste of shared humanity at the movies. If America took its movies rather than its war ships and its guns to the world, it would win so much more than just the label of a global bully. It would be called The Artist. The biggest honour known to humanity.
Reema Moudgil is the author of Perfect Eight (http://www.flipkart.com/b/books/perfect-eight-reema-moudgil-book-9380032870?affid=unboxedwri