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By Alex Lynchehaun
Sunday’s Oscar ceremony saw months of campaigning, hype and backslapping come to a climax. Under Billy Crystal’s watchful eye, The Artist was anointed as the greatest cinematic achievement of 2011, Jean Dujardin emerged as a new star and Meryl Streep further cemented her place in the pantheon. Those who were able to endure Crystal’s painfully poor opening segment and song were treated to several hours of tortuous acceptance speeches, dire comedy skits and unconvincing looks of surprise from the eventual winners.
The night’s big winner was The Artist with five awards including best picture, actor and director. Hugo also took five but was mainly victorious in technical categories such as visual effects and sound mixing. As such, Michael Hazanavicius’ silent comedy can lay claim to being this year’s critical darling. With wins for best film at almost every event of the season and the Oscar cherry on top it has been a good few months for everyone associated with the French hit.
Moreover, Jean Dujardin’s predictable selection as best actor was only the latest in a long line of trophies this winter. His turn as George Valentin, a fading silent movie star, has been widely acclaimed. Having scored success at Cannes in May, he walked away with statuettes at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Screen Actors’ Guild.
Yet the man who has really swept the board is not Hazanavicius or Dujardin. It is Christopher Plummer, playing a 75 year old who comes out as gay following his wife’s death. The film, Beginners, received little other attention but Plummer’s turn as supporting actor saw him triumph at basically every ceremony throughout the season. Aged 82, Plummer has been overlooked for most of his career but appears to be enjoying an Indian summer and has now capped it off with the biggest prize in the industry.
Meryl Streep’s turn as Margaret Thatcher was well received, even when the film was not, but her award was in hot contention from Viola Davis, star of The Help. Davis and Streep have split the awards over the past months, but the Academy sided with the veteran actress to deliver her 3rd win from 17 nominations, a full 32 years after her first triumph.
The film that disappointed most was probably The Descendants, which failed to pick up either best film or best actor, despite being hotly tipped for both. Clooney’s performance as a Hawaiian lawyer coping with his wife’s coma and infidelity followed up another Oscar nominated turn in Up in the Air and was seen as a serious contender. Alexander Payne’s adapted screenplay did at least pick up a gong, while Woody Allen took the original screenplay prize.
Yet while The Artist and Hugo have prospered, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Drive, two of the year’s best films, went largely unrecognised throughout awards season with only a handful of nominations and no major wins. Once again, the entire season served only to reinforce the sense that in order to win prizes, good backing is more important than great filmmaking. The Artist may have had Gallic charm on its side, but it also had the might of the Weinsteins. Nonetheless, when people look back at 2011 it’s likely there will be one film that sticks out. The season just gone was dominated by The Artist.