It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since a baby faced Ben Affleck, his voice cracking, accepted the Best Original Screenplay Oscar with Matt Damon for “Good Will Hunting.” Since then, Affleck’s career has had more ups and downs and twists and turns then all the rides at Disney World combined. And when he wasn’t nominated for his outstanding work of directing “Argo” (ironically he went on to win almost every other prestigious directing award, including the BAFTA and the DGA) he became an underdog again. Affleck and company climbed back atop the Oscar mountain last night when “Argo,” which Affleck also produced with Grant Heslov and George Clooney, took home the Best Picture trophy at the 85th Annual Academy Awards. Though it seemed to some that “Lincoln” was the favorite, I knew a month ago that the backlash in Hollywood over Affleck not getting the director nomination would help the film cross the finish line first. Remember: actors make up the largest branch of the Academy, which means they have the most votes. And every actor secretly wants to direct. So when one of their own was denied the wagons were circled.
The night saw a few certainties as well as a few surprises. I wonder how many people’s Oscar pool was blown when Christoph Waltz was named Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Django Unchained.” It was Waltz’s second Oscar in three years, having previously won for “Inglorious Basterds.” Like he did then, Waltz thanked the films writer/director Quentin Tarantino, even finishing his speech with a few lines from the script.
“Brave” was the surprise winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, with the award going to co-directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. The moment had to feel special for Chapman, who was removed from the film during production. The first “I knew it” award of the evening went to Anne Hathaway who won the award as Best Supporting Actress for “Les Miserables.”
Speaking of “Les Miz,” several members of the cast took to the stage to belt out a medley of hits from the show, resulting in one of the nights prolonged standing ovations. Another was reserved for Dame Shirley Bassey, who showed she still has the pipes as she belted out the theme to “Goldfinger.” Her performance was the highlight of a very tepid salute to the 50th Anniversary of James Bond. The prevailing rumor was that all six actors who portrayed Bond on screen (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig) would appear but alas it didn’t happen. Still, they could have done a lot more then just show a few clips. However, Adele killed when she sang her theme song from the latest Bond epic, “Skyfall.” Later in the show she and co-writer Paul Epworth deservedly won the award for Best Original Song.
Another musical moment occurred when, during the annual “In Memoriam” segment, Barbra Streisand came out to sing the Oscar winning song “The Way We Were” after talking about the man who helped write it, Marvin Hamlisch, who passed away last year. Of course there are always omissions in this segment but two of the biggest I noticed were Larry Hagman and Andy Griffith. I was glad to see that a film critic (the great Andrew Sarris) was included in the montage. Hope for me to one day appear on the Oscar telecast. A tearful Chris Terio thanked Ben Affleck while accepting his Best Adapted Screenplay award for “Argo.” He pointed out that it had been 15 years since Affleck had won his award and thanked him for giving him the same chance he had gotten. Tarantino won his second Original Screenplay Oscar (he also won for “Pulp Fiction”) for “Django Unchained.” In typical QT style he made sure to pay homage to his fellow nominees and declare 2012 the “Year of the Writer!”
The night also saw only the sixth tie in Academy history when Paul Ottison (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Per Holberg and Karen Baker Landers (“Skyfall”) tied in the Best Sound Editing category. I felt bad for first announced winner Ottison because when he asked presenter Mark Wahlberg for the envelope he refused, presumably because he needed to read the names of the other winners. He did give the envelope to Landers but hopefully the Academy will make up another one for Ottison. “Life of Pi” snagged many of the technical awards it was nominated for and took him a major prize when Ang Lee was named Best Director.
Best Actress went to Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” (she also won the Independent Spirit Award in the same category the night before). Best Actor was pretty much a given as Daniel Day-Lewis became the first actor to receive (3) Oscars as Best Actor. Of course, in my opinion, this should have been his fourth – his performance in “Gangs of New York” is amazing. Day-Lewis gave one of the evening’s more moving speeches, thanking his co-nominees as well as his wife. It is well known that when he takes a role Day-Lewis pretty much inhabits that character 24 hours a day. He thanked his wife Rebecca who, after 16 years of marriage, has “lived with some very strange men.”
That brought us to the final award of the evening and a surprise presenter when Jack Nicholson turned the “and the Oscar goes to” line over to First Lady Michelle Obama, who made the announcement, proclaiming “Argo’ the years Best Picture.