Tuesday, March 9, 2010

‘Hurt Locker’ takes home top prizes at the Academy Awards

What this year’s top film has in common with The Little Theatre

To a cultivated film viewer like myself, the first clue as to the direction the night would take began with The Hurt Locker’s win for Best Original Screenplay. With the win for Best Editing (which nearly always goes to the winner for Best Picture) they had the night locked so to speak, though it took another hour to officially declare so.

Thus, in a historic night for Hollywood, “The Hurt Locker” took home six Academy Awards, including Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow who became the first woman to take home the prize in the 82 year history of the Oscars. “There is no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime,” said Bigelow as she accepted the award.

In what has been wildly considered a David vs. Goliath scenario, “The Hurt Locker”, a small indie film seen mostly by an art-house audience, not only won the evening’s top award but did so by defeating the highest-grossing film of all time, the 3-D juggernaut “Avatar”. James Cameron’s $300 million blockbuster managed to take home three awards, all for technical achievements, much to no one’s surprise and certainly deservedly so.

The irony of course is that, in a move designed to bring in more interest and viewers to the Awards show, the Academy opened the Best Picture category to 10 nominees so that more populist fare like “The Blind Side” could be included. Yet the richly layered, tense Iraq War tale of a bomb-disposal unit, “The Hurt Locker,” was the critics’ (and I am guessing the bulk of Little audiences’) choice all season yet goes down in history as the lowest-grossing winner for Best Picture. The reason for the win, however is simple, this film and its fierce and smart director were the best, period. The taut suspense of the film, its fully developed and smartly paced screenplay rife with human drama, all in the hands of the expert Bigelow made for a truly exceptional film. I can’t help but love the fact that when a woman finally took home the prize for Best Director, it wasn’t for a weepy drama or cute romantic comedy but for a wholly balls-to-the-wall, action film with a purpose and a heart all at once.

What I also find worth noting, both as a discerning film viewer and as someone who works within the world of independent cinemas, is that “Hurt Locker’s” win is also a victory over the Big Box Cinemas as well. That a film which could barely find a distributor at one point and who played almost exclusively in places like The Little beat out a film that is the darling of the mainstream chains like Regal Cinemas is a hopeful indicator that the trend of multi-plex domination and indie theatres’ demise may be shifting. Did the $10 a ticket, $7 for popcorn, 18 screen behemoth’s show “Hurt Locker”? when it was released late last summer? Nope, but The Little Theatre did, long before the momentum of the awards season hoopla began.

The rest of the evening on Sunday, belonged to several familiar faces as predictable wins and one not quite as predictable win were revealed.

Best Actor

In what has become an all too common case of the Academy fixing a mistake from the past, Jeff Bridges was named Best Actor for his memorable portrayal of an aging country singer seeking one last shot at the big time in “Crazy Heart.” Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dude as much as the next gal, and I do think he gave a rich and complicated performance, but he really should have won year’s ago for any one of his four previous nominations. But the Academy couldn’t ignore this error any longer, especially with such widespread respect in the industry for Bridges. On the other hand, you ignore all the history and compare individual performance to performance, Colin Firth’s heartbreaking and exceptionally complex portrayal of a man discovering the joy of life, through planning his death in “A Single Man” wins out for me. I recently watched the film a second time and was reminded why his performance and the film have stayed with me ever since.

Best Supporting Actor and Actress

As expected, both Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Mo’Nique (“Precious”) took home statues in the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories for playing truly vile human beings. For her stunning portrayal of the impoverished , cruel mother in “Precious,” Mo’Nique accepted the award, thanking the Academy for “proving it can be about the performance and not about the politics,” a subtle dig at the harsh criticism she received for not attending the many events typically attended by a nominee in order to garner support for their respective films which was then viewed by critics as a snub to the Academy.

Best Actress

The Best Actress category had shaped up to be a showdown between popular A-list darling Sandra Bullock for her fiery turn in “The Blind Side” against sixteen-time nominee and two-time winner Meryl Streep. But it was Bullock’s night to celebrate as another example of the Academy rewarding the person more than the individual performance (incidentally Bullock also took home the Worst Actress Award at the Razzies on Saturday) The problem for me is that I think if the Academy had just waited a little longer Bullock would have turned in a much more award-worthy performance, but, you know she did dye her hair, get an accent and play a character against type so let’s let her have it. What the hell the Academy is waiting for from Meryl Streep in order to give her first award since 1983 for “Sophie’s Choice” is beyond me.

In what was, for me, the only real upset of the evening (since I already predicted that “The Secret in Their Eyes” would pull an upset to win in the foreign film category) was Geoffrey Fletcher winning Best Adapted Screenplay for “Precious” over the perceived frontrunner and my pick, Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air” which went home empty-handed. The win was a historic one at least, as Fletcher became the first African American to win an Academy Award for writing.

I highly recommend that everyone see the winner for Best Documentary, “The Cove” about a daring attempt to capture on film, the horrific capture and slaughter of dolphins by Japanese fisherman…an attempt that nearly cost the filmmakers their lives. The film is currently available on On Demand.

The ceremony itself proved a bit troublesome under the direction of Adam Shankman. While I am indeed a fan of his show “So You Think You Can Dance” and the film “Hairspray,” this year’s show was far too much like a Vegas act on crack. Too many sequins and kick-lines do not a classy Oscars make. And while I adore Neil Patrick Harris, why on earth would you start the show with a song and dance number from someone other than the host? Perhaps they were trying to please the folks who wanted Hugh Jackman to be at the helm once again. Which brings me to Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, this year’s co-hosts. Thought they did have a few moments of true hilarity- Martin mentioning that Waltz’s character in “Inglourious Basterds” was trying to track down all the Jews, proclaiming, “Well here you go….the motherload, “ while gesturing to the audience. But I was expecting much much more from these two great comic talents. Their trade-offs of lines in the opening monologue did not seem to work well and their timing was not there throughout the entire evening- a real killer in the world of comedy.

In the end though, a historic evening for Kathryn Bigelow and her “The Hurt Locker” made for a truly inspired end to an extra long awards season and one that Little audiences can take pride in, for nearly all the nominees were and are seen on our screens at The Little!

A few added thoughts on the evening.
In a total Kanye move, the director and producer of “Music by Prudence,” Roger Ross-Williams, the winner in the documentary short subject category was interrupted by a seemingly crazed woman named Elinor Burkett in a bizarre moment that left everyone scratching their heads. The backstory is this: Turns out the two had a falling out nearly a year ago resulting in a lawsuit and Burkett was removed as a producer and Williams given ownership of the film yet Burkett still qualified as a producer under Academy rules. However it was Williams who was to speak if the film won, though it seems Burkett disagreed. She claimed that she was not included in all the pre-awards events and was not going to let that continue.

Kudos for including the heartfelt tribute to the late John Hughes. He was too important and his contribution too great to just be included in the In Memoriam section. When I was lowly student in film school, all my classmates worshiped at the alter of Scorsese and the like while I credit Hughes for my love of film from an early age. Some days I still wish I could be Watts in “Some Kind of Wonderful” and articulate the world around me like Hughes did. Bravo.

On the other hand, forgetting to include Farrah Fawcett in the In Memoriam is unforgivable.

Doing the Robot to a music from “The Hurt Locker,” and the rest of the interpretive dance section probably not something that will repeat next year.

What the hell was the deal with all the blue ribbons on the men’s tuxes and all the blue dresses? One bit of note though is that the dress and gardenia worn by Mo’Nique was an homage to Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar in 1939- who wore the same color gown and flower in her hair.

Charlize Theron’s dress? As a friend remarked, “She’s got cinnamon buns on her boobs.”

Sorry but the Oscars is no place for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Lautner, you had no business being there. That goes for you too Amanda Seyfried. At least Zach Ephron was in a worthy film this year in “Me and Orson Wells.”

Those overwrought and long intros to the 10 Best Picture nominees were unnecessary, a montage would have sufficed. Especially since 8 of the 10 stood no change in hell of winning, yes “I’m mostly talking to you “Blind Side” and “District 9.”

Of the four producers of “The Hurt Locker” why were only three (including Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal) on hand to accept the awards? That is due to the Academy campaign violation by producer Nicolas Chartier, who, in the weeks leading up to the awards, had emailed is friends privately encouraging them to vote for his film and not the mega monster “Avatar.” As a result, he was disinvited from the ceremony, but was given lots of acknowledgement by Boal and Bigelow. The irony is that this kind of thing happens EVERY year- and Harvey Weinstein has been the worst offender and yet never cited.

Did anyone notice that they are returning to using the phrase “And the winner is” instead of the more so-called polite phrase of recent years, “ And the Oscar goes to..?”


  1. Clearly, a well-informed critique. Impressive analysis!

  2. I completely agree with you regarding Colin Firth's performance in A Single Man. Absolutely superb!