The 84th Academy Awards found Hollywood returning to its roots Sunday night, delivering a show filled with nostalgia for filmmaking's golden age.
It started with the hosting duties. After 2011's attempt to make the show young and edgy by bringing in Anne Hathaway and James Franco fell flat, the Academy apparently decided to play it safe this year. And nothing could be safer than returning to nine-time host Billy Crystal. From his opening musical montage to his gentle, industry-deprecating jokes, Crystal kept the tone polite, professional, and, above all, old school.
The evening's two biggest winners carried on the those-were-the-the-days theme. Hugo, which honors the artistic achievements of 1920s French filmmaker, George Méliès, scooped up nearly all the technical awards early in the night, winning cinematography, art direction, sound editing, sound mixing, and visual effects (see "Here for a purpose," Dec. 17, 2011). The Artist, a black-and-white silent film that chronicles how the rise of the talkies brings about the fall of a Rudolph Valentino-esque star, dominated the second half of the show. Along with Best Director, Best Actor, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score, it took home the biggest prize of the night, Best Picture, marking the first time a silent film has won the honor since the first Oscar ceremony in 1929. (See "The Artist," by Michael Leaser, Feb. 11.)
This year's winner for documentary feature, Undefeated, also revealed a renewed championing of old-fashioned love-your-neighbor values (see "Coach & father," March 10). In the last few years, the winning documentaries have tended to focus on politically divisive themes and eccentric subjects (for example, An Inconvenient Truth and Man on Wire). In contrast, Undefeated, which follows a volunteer football coach who assumes leadership for a losing high school football team in inner city Memphis, celebrates individuals giving of their time and talents within their communities. The love and discipline coach Bill Courtney offers his players not only increases their chances of winning games, it also increases their chances of getting out of poverty and building successful futures.
Alas, it seems that while the reminiscent telecast may have proved popular with older viewers, it did little to attract their kids and grandkids. While this year's overall ratings were up slightly from 2011, the number of viewers in 18-to-49 category stayed flat.