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This year the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to 10 films in order to better include the blockbusters, the movies people have actually seen, the ones that represent the populace as a whole. But then the awards turned out to be a rallying cry for the indies, as The Hurt Locker walked away with seven statues, and movies like Crazy Heart and Precious-- movies that were made before anyone knew if they would get distributed-- took their share as well.
In the background the whole time was would-be juggernaut Avatar, which took home three fairly minor technical prizes-- art direction, cinematography, and visual effects-- and likely left millions of fans wondering what in the world this tiny war movie was doing taking away all the awards from the movie they loved. It's a worthwhile question-- Avatar is doubtlessly the movie among this year's Best Picture nominees that will be most discussed in 50 years, and it's fair to assume The Hurt Locker's triumph over Avatar will be considered the way we talk about How Green Was My Valley topping Citizen Kane, or Annie Hall over Star Wars. The Academy has always moved in mysterious ways, far removed from the desires of the fanboys or the public at large. That's something that no amount of James Cameron whizbang CGI magic can ever change.
Even though Harvey Weinstein didn't exactly clean up tonight-- Inglourious Basterds' only win was Christoph Waltz when it deserved far more-- he can breathe a sigh of relief for himself and his kind. Indies are not dead, at least at the Kodak Theater. Movies that take risks beyond the financial and technological will still be rewarded here, and movies made for grown-ups with strong stomachs are still the prime currency. That's a sentiment that changes from year to year, of course-- sometimes they reward difficult masterpieces like No Country for Old Men, sometimes they go for the glitz of a Chicago-- but had Avatar prevailed this year, it would have cued a lot of hang-wringing, yet again, about the wholesale death of the indie film. It didn't happen. Everyone, Harvey Weinstein and anyone else, can be grateful for that.
As for the production of the ceremony itself, it felt longer than it has in recent years-- that Neil Patrick Harris dance number feels like it happened a month ago-- and there was no reason on this earth to deny the Best Original Song nominees the chance to perform but provide interpretive dances for the Original Score nominees instead. Letting Jeff Bridges ramble on as much as he pleased was a nice touch; cutting off the director of live-action short winner The New Tenants was obnoxious. Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were loose and enjoyable, except when they felt so underrehearsed and awkward that the tension between them no longer seemed intentional. Like I said, the Oscars are about finding your individual moments of joy. This year's presentation often felt so herky-jerky and amateur that the people who delight in schadenfreude were probably the ones finding the most joy of all.
And so it goes-- done with this year's Oscars, on to the next. The game hasn't been changed, really, and despite one particular history maker boasting both a directing statue and two X chromosomes, the awards this year represented what they always have-- films that stand up for something, and more importantly, are willing to campaign to prove it. As remarkable as it is to see a movie that made only $13 million in theaters win Best Picture, this year's prizes mostly represent business as usual-- solid Oscar campaigns with compelling narratives to back it up, and somewhere in the mix, an actually good movie to take it all home. That's how its always been done, and no matter how happy we may be tonight to see this or that favorite take home a prize, we all know that nothing this year changed it.