Within hours of The Artist becoming the first French film to win the Best Picture Oscar, at the end of a glittering night for the silent, black and white film, the streets around the Hollywood & Highland Center, known as the Kodak Theatre until the photographic company went bankrupt last month, have reopened after a week.
But the awards season has been going on far longer than that; The Artist became a hot favourite as far back as mid December, when the Golden Globe nominations were announced; it went on to collect 2 of the main awards – Best Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy.
The Globes are a notoriously clumsy indicator of success in their main categories, as they divide the films and lead-acting into Drama and Comedy-or-Musical, meaning that two films come out as winners, in effect, doubling their chances of “getting it right.” And even so, in the past ten years, out of the 20 Best Picture Golden Globe winners across the two categories, only four have picked up the Academy Award. More reliable indicators of Oscar success are usually the Guilds representing the different areas of the business, such as the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild.
But this year, while the DGA and the WGA correctly predicted their winners, SAG seemed to dash the hopes of Meryl Streep, whose Golden Globe for The Iron Lady set her up as the early awards season favourite, when it gave its Best Actress award to The Help’s Viola Davis. Clearly, enough of the non-acting members of the Academy thought differently and managed to swing the pendulum back towards Streep.
Streep’s win was one of two surprises of the night. The other was Woody Allen’s return to favour as he took the Best Original Screenplay for Midnight in Paris, an award that had been expected to go to The Artist. Allen had won the Writers Guild Award, but that was thought to have been only because The Artist’s writer, Michel Hazanavicius, didn’t qualify for the WGA Awards, as he’s not a member of the guild. In the event, Hazanavicius had to be content with a Best Director Oscar, while Allen ended awards season as he began it at the Globes – the only winner not to turn up to collect his little gold man in person.
The most nominated film, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, ended the night with the same number of Academy Awards as The Artist, five, but all in the technical categories, including cinematography, sound editing and visual effects.
As the momentum of Awards Season nears its climax, after a series of ceremonies across the world, voted for by critics, journalists, the public and – of course – the peers of the film-makers, the Academy tries to drum up interest across the whole spectrum of its many categories.
In a barbed attack on some other ceremonies, whose awards are limited to the big names, the Incredibles and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol director Brad Bird told an audience at an event to honour the short film nominees that the Oscars were a celebration of cinema, not a TV show. “Every key part of the process should be celebrated,” he insisted. The Live Action short category gave Britain its only significant Oscar of the night as veteran film-maker Terry George collect his first Academy Award for directing The Shore, about the reconciliation between two men from George’s home city of Belfast, who haven’t seen each other for twenty five years. At an after party hosted by the Irish Film Board, asked why someone who’s already had two Oscar nominations for writing feature films had returned to making shorts, George told UKscreen that he didn’t see it that way. “It’s not going back to making shorts. This is a story I wanted to tell and I didn’t want to pad it out to be a feature and we couldn’t afford to do that anyway. It worked best as a short.” The Shore was produced by his daughter, Oorlagh George – her first time in the role. Hours after collecting her Oscar, she was still buzzing, describing how she’d gone up to the official Academy after-party, The Governors’ Ball, with the cast of the Bridesmaids, before being entertained by Harvey Weinstein. Look out for his name on her first feature.
The Academy lays on similar events to drum up public interest in other categories that don’t share the limelight of the major prizes; Feature Animation, Documentaries, Make-Up and the Foreign Language event. At a press photo-call for the directors of the nominated Foreign Language films, only four of the five turned up. The Israeli nominee, Joseph Cedar, who made Footnote, was asked whether it would be good for Middle East diplomacy that both Israel and Iran shared nominations in the competition. “In theory yes,” he began. “But in practice, only one of us is here.” But Asghar Farhadi did turn up for the big night, when his film, A Separation, repeated the success it’s had across the board, from the Golden Globes to the BAFTAs and the Independent Spirits Awards. He told the audience including celebrities, Academy members and nominated film-makers that the honour would help his country celebrate a “rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”