Best Picture – Musical or Comedy: The Artist
Continuing to steamroll the competition, The Artist added an important prize to its already impressive haul of critics’ circle awards with Sunday’s Golden Globe win, improving the odds that it will be taking home the Oscar in February. As this year’s critical darling, The Artist certainly has a strong resume. The pitch-perfect story of Silent Cinema’s unceremonious end overflows with the bubbly energy and visual flair that typified the Golden Age of the Silver Screen. Propelled by the bravado of star Jean Dujardin, the uncanny amalgam of Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert, and by writer/director Michel Hazanavicius’ masterfully conveyed ’20s tone, The Artist bolsters a delightful aesthetic reminiscent of the romantic comedies of Marion Davies.
However, while these attributes raise this picture to the level of “very good,” they also keep it from achieving greatness. To be blunt, The Artist has a hard time elevating itself above pure nostalgia. As an aficionado of silent film, I’d say that the most impressive aspect is the authenticity of this simulacrum. Despite a few distinguishing moments, though, The Artist remains a mere re-creation of a bygone era that lacks subtext and too often borrows from other films on the subject, especially Singin’ in the Rain (1952). And while Hazanavicius’ love and lamentation are both palpable, The Artist never blazes its own trail, which is one of the requirements of a great picture. At its best, it’s an introduction to silent film for those who’ve never seen one.
Despite such problems, The Artist has become a runaway hit with critics, and this situation won’t likely end soon. With only a slightly stiff competitor in the form of Midnight in Paris, one would have to imagine it won the comedy/musical category convincingly.
Best Picture – Drama: The Descendants
Writer/director Alexander Payne’s movies generally teeter between dry wit and dry shit. Like Sideways (2004) and About Schmidt (2002), The Descendants tells the tale of an upper-class white man, Matt (George Clooney), suffering from loneliness and alienation. Venturing out with his two daughters in order to meet the lover of his comatose wife, Matt’s journey marks Payne’s most clearly emotional narrative. Unfortunately though, too often Payne’s most resonating moments fizzle before reaching impact, while the meandering quest plot bogs down his pacing. Striving to tie together themes of death, family, and land, The Descendants fails to strike a harmonious timbre, which, perhaps most damning of all, makes it entirely forgettable. With other more deserving nominees such as the critically-touted Hugo, the crackling Ides of March, the uplifting The Help, the epic War Horse, and the masterful Moneyball, The Descendants’ win continues the Golden Globes’ grand tradition of remaining completely irrelevant in the award season landscape.
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo
I’m pleased that Martin Scorsese won for his marvelous direction of Hugo (2011). It’s truly astonishing how effortless Hugo feels as it interweaves silent film scenarios in a traditional Hollywood narrative that uses 3D imagery. Scorsese’s acceptance speech was humble and funny, again highlighting that he finally made a film that children can watch, though it’s by no means a children’s film.
Best Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris (2011) has a wonderful screenplay by Woody Allen. It’s obviously gimmicky, but it creates a number of fantastic scenarios that give actors the opportunity truly to invest in their performances. The film was a delight for exactly this reason. I would have liked to see Carnage (2011) on the short list – it was the funniest film of the year in my opinion – but Midnight in Paris is certainly a wonderful choice.
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: George Clooney, The Descendants
I am a George Clooney apologist. I love the guy and always have since seeing him in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998). That said, I thought his work in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (2011) was – like the film as a whole – damn good, but it didn’t reinvent the thespian wheel or anything. On the other hand, Michael Fassbender’s performance in Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011) floored me. While I felt the writing on the film was a bit weak structurally, I thought that it allowed Fassbender to play his performance as a sex addict more subtly than Clooney’s bereaved widower. It’s more in the face and the glance with Fassbender, whereas Clooney’s performance is often verbal. I’m far from displeased with Clooney’s win, but I think Fassbender has been underappreciated.
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
I have yet to see three of the films nominated in this category (Albert Nobbs, The Help, and The Iron Lady). I’ve heard that Meryl Streep is great as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011), but – and this is my main beef with biopics – it seems to be more about the impersonation than about the interpretation. Let’s just cut to the chase and hand Frank Caliendo a lifetime achievement award! But, all facetiousness aside, Streep is often amazing, but Tilda Swinton’s performance in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) is, like Fassbender’s, a risky one that provides a tremendous payoff. Of course, the Hollywood Foreign Press (HFP) isn’t known for embracing polarizing art…they just want to sit next to George Clooney and Meryl Streep.
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Considering the nominees here and the films that I’ve seen in this category, I think that the HFP awarded the right lead actor. Jean Dujardin’s performance in The Artist (2011) was rock solid – a finely crafted homage to the classical period of silent film. I was also pleased to see Brendan Gleeson nominated for the little Irish gem, The Guard (2011). I’m not sure, however, why Ryan Gosling made the nominee cut in this category for Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) over Ed Helms from Cedar Rapids (2011).
The only nominated performance in this category that I saw was Kristen Wiig’s in Bridesmaids (2011). I’ve heard Michelle Williams is quite strong in My Week With Marilyn but I find it odd that it was nominated as a comedy or musical when it is rather clear that it’s a drama. Oh well, rational thought is not a defining marker of the HFP. After all, they nominated Angelina Jolie last year in this category for The Tourist (2010).