The Oscars brought something to our attention last night: the past is better than the present, and the present really shouldn’t try to win awards.
These Oscars are indeed your father’s.
Let’s start with the host. Billy Crystal secured his ninth, count ‘em, NINTH, stint as host this year. While older generations recognize him as a long-standing host, younger folk find themselves asking “what has Billy Crystal done lately?”
And when Crystal wasn’t ushering in a series of montages nostalgic for the ‘20s, the biggest awards were set in the past. The Artist took the Oscar for best costume design because current Hollywood pines for the flapper dresses of Prohibition. Midnight in Paris took best screenplay for being jam-packed with literary darlings of another age. And The Help, well… True, Octavia Spencer, the best supporting actress with a standing ovation, is a young 39, but her portrayal of a maid in the segregated ‘60s of The Help earned her the Oscar.
Any attempt at modernization was just insulting. Even when Justin Bieber made a cameo in the opening segment, Crystal made a tounge-in-cheek remark that he was only there to please a young demographic. The singer, who unfortunately holds the title of king of 2010s pop, couldn’t stand alone in the eyes of the academy, legitimized only by his portrayal of Frank Sinatra.
But the standout says it all. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, the 1930s, train-obsessed story of an orphan, dominated. Among its accolades: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Art Direction. The period piece obscured Transformers, killed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo more times than not, demolished our generation’s aesthetic masterpiece Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in visual effects and Art Direction.
Need further proof of Hollywood’s nostalgia epidemic? Meryl Streep took Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, the controversial 1980s British Prime Minister. This win hearkens back to Helen Mirren’s win as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. Hollywood simple cannot resist when a nominee plays a ghost of presents past.
Even a seemingly “modern” highlight of the night was Flight of the Conchord’s lead-man Bret McKenzie winning Best Original Song for “Man or the Muppet.” But the progressive folk-rocker’s victory was a throwback to Jim Henson’s 1950s Muppets.
But maybe it was all worth it. The Artist took best picture, and it deserved it. It relied on talent, verve, and joie de vivre. Will we ever know if it was Jean Dujardin’s old-timey good looks or the sheer novelty of a black and white film that earned the statuettes? Probably not. But what we can rely on is that films that pack a punch, whether it emotional or technical, will walk away with that golden statuette, and we will all applaud.