The 84th Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), honored the best films of 2011. The ceremony took place on February 26, 2012, at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood, California, and was televised live in the United States on ABC.
Sunday night’s Oscars presentation did not reach the same audience as this year’s Grammy Awards, shown earlier this month on CBS, and fell far short of that show in terms of reaching the young adult viewers most prized by advertisers.
The good news for the Oscars, according to what are known as fast national ratings, is that the number of viewers who watched the show did increase, from what was considered an alarmingly low 37.9 million last year to 39.3 million this year. Some of that is surely attributable to bringing back the very familiar Billy Crystal as host.
A French film, “The Artist,” picked up five Oscars, including those for best picture, best actor and best director. Two other films with strong French connections, “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris,” won an additional six awards between them.
For filmmakers, movie production officials and even some politicians, the haul was a clear endorsement of the so-called French cultural exception — the idea that filmmaking and other arts should be protected from the ravages of a market economy, through financial support and other means.
“The Artist,” a most romantic homage to 1920s Hollywood, is a French film. So its mini-sweep of the Oscars on Sunday night plunged France into a warm bath of national pride. And it solidified the image of Jean Dujardin, the first Frenchman ever to win the Oscar for best actor, as the archetypal French lover in the style of Maurice Chevalier and Yves Montand.
In a way, I understand how ”The Artist” — a neat little stunt whose charms wore thin after about 45 minutes — swept almost unopposed to Best Picture at the Academy Awards last night. Like Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, it profited from the weakness of the competition: Whereas last year was an excellent year for the movies, this year piled disappointment upon disappointment. First-rate directors turned in middling work (Scorsese with “Hugo,” Spielberg with “War Horse,” Fincher with “Dragon Tattoo,” Eastwood with “J. Edgar”), much-anticipated films landed with the thud (“Iron Lady”), and even the smarter hits (“Moneyball” and “Contagion,” for instance) were effective without being memorable.
Making good on a few days of manufactured commotion, Sacha Baron Cohen arrived at the Oscars red carpet in full “Dictator” regalia. Surrounded by female bodyguards and sporting an obviously fake beard and a fluctuating accent, he spilled what he claimed were Kim Jong-il’s ashes on an unsuspecting Ryan Seacrest – at least, Mr. Seacrest said it wasn’t planned – and left, pulled away by (real) security.
For as much as we all love to complain about the red carpet — grumble, grumble, grumble — this year the dresses, at least among the strapless brigade that constituted the early arrivals, seemed spectacularly bland. At the same time, the red carpet looked the same as it always does, since actresses are so afraid to take a risk, like wearing a short dress, say, that the biggest topic of conversation between commentators tended toward whether the color of the night, go figure, was going to be black or white. (Black, if you were judging by Jonah Hill’s experiment to determine if monochromatic dressing is indeed slimming.)
It seems odd that even the younger guests felt compelled to wear long dresses with pools of fabric around their feet.
Even “The Artist,” which seems so fresh, works as a fantasy for older Hollywood men — a star facing decline finds new vigor from the love of a younger, trophy wife.
For a town that prides itself on tinsel and titillation, the night was pretty tame. Angelina Jolie showed some leg, Jennifer Lopez showed quite a bit of cleavage, but the raciest moment may have been when Sandra Bullock introduced the foreign-language film award in German.
There were other signs of Hollywood of yesteryear, though a few seemed less retro than regressive. For all of Hollywood’s supposed political correctness, some of the bigger awards went to movies with an oddly atavistic way of righting social wrongs. “The Help” rues racial wrongdoing but put a white heroine in the foreground — a little like the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Similarly, Christopher Plummer, 82, won for the supporting actor award for playing a gay father in “Beginners.” That character, too, is shown through the prism of a straight leading man, Ewan McGregor. The industry congratulates itself on its big, progressive heart but it’s the progressivism of a 62-year-old white man — the median age of Academy voters, according to a study by The Los Angeles Times.
ABC estimated that this year’s Academy Awards broadcast, with two sparsely seen movies, “The Artist” and “The Iron Lady,” sweeping the top categories, drew about 39.3 million viewers, up 3.7 percent from last year. That’s about 13 percent of the United States population. Among adults 18 to 49, viewership was flat, at 14.9 million.
“I think that’s become the normal,” Tom Sherak, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said of the more modest audience for the Oscars. Mr. Sherak noted that the ceremony faced competition on Sunday from TNT’s presentation of the N.B.A. All-Star game.
"Each awards show has a different personality style-wise, and people have learned to dress accordingly," said Sarah Bernard, host of "The Thread" on Yahoo!'s Shine. The Academy Awards calls for classic, formal attire, she said, but celebrities can have a little more fun with the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Grammy Awards, which allow for edgier ensembles.
But even a classic look isn't a surefire way to keep the scrutiny at bay. See, not taking a fashion risk is a risk in itself, Bernard said, adding, "It's important to mix it up."