For the past few weeks the American public have been gripped by an unbelievable story. An underdog who no one saw coming, defying every possible obstacle and prejudice to make history and become a national sensation.
Of course I’m talking about Lin-sanity! The story of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks improbably coming out obscurity to lead the down-and-out Big Apple losers on an electrifying winning streak. (Soon I’m sure to be coming to cinema near you in the not too distant future.)
The Oscars? The Artist?
No one’s really seemed to notice all that much.
There is certainly an awareness of The Artist. The silent one. The black and white one. The French Clooney one. But excitement? The general responses range from “No way I’m seeing that” to “I would of rather watched Singin' in the Rain again” to “I saw it and it's SOOO good. He’s great!”
“Brilliant” “Amazing” “Life-Changing!” Those words didn’t seem to come up very often. The Artist was a delightful movie that simply wanted to entertain. Mission mostly accomplished. But the Best Movie of the Year?
Compared to its competition, maybe. The Help was the only widely seen film but it was politically and racially divisive. Along with being a pretty mediocre film with a handful of excellent performances.
The Tree of Life? Too critically divisive: loved my many, vehemently hated by more. The Descendants? Too much of a downer. Midnight in Paris? Sweet, but too clever for its own good. Americans didn't line up to see War Horse, Hugo, or Moneyball.
And Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? Roundly dismissed by critics and audiences except, apparently, the 5% of voters needed to get its Best Picture nomination.
And so the Oscars arrived with some safe and not very exciting nominees. The host, Billy Crystal, the safe choice after last year's disastrous Franco/Hathaway experiment and after this year's brief flirtation with a decidedly less predictable Eddie Murphy.
(Which will live on as possibly the greatest what-if of Oscar hosting history - Tower Heist was a dud but there was still the hope Eddie would have set the room on fire.)
It's been so long, it's easy to forgive Crystal for coming across a little corny and out of date. Every new presenter seemed to offer a more viable choice for next years host: How about Tina Fey next year? Or Chris Rock again? Or Will and Zack? Or Christopher Guest & Co? No, it has to be Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, right? Jean Dujardin and Nick Nolte? Anyone? Anyone?
Crystal aside, the night was lacking in memorable moments, but made up for it with some sweet acceptance speeches and deserving winners. Hugo racked up the technical awards. Descendants and Midnight in Paris got their consolation prizes in the Screenwriting categories.
Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer, always the front-runners, accepted their statuettes with grace and class. Meryl Streep long ago became the only correct answer to “Greatest Actress Alive” and, collecting her third - and she claims last - Oscar (though I somehow doubt that), gave the most eloquent and charming speech of the night. She even outcharmed Dujardin; she's that good.
The real story might be how many international accents graced the podium with winners from as far away from Hollywood as Iran and Pakistan. And of course, the big winners: the French.
It's important to stop for a second and realize how monumental this is. The Academy voters are overwhelmingly American and on this night we gave one of our most coveted awards to the French.
Americans don't traditionally have a great love of the French. Not a hatred, mind you, but we don't feel warmly. They’re arrogant, they’re lazy, they’re so superior - don’t they remember that if it weren’t for us they’d be speaking German right now?
It wasn’t too long ago that there was serious talk in some quarters about renaming French fries to “freedom” fries and now, not only did a French film, with a French director and French star win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor; in doing so it beat a movie that's set in the aftermath of 9/11 AND a movie about how great white people are to black people in the South when helping them fight the really, really bad white people AND a movie set in Hawaii, arguably our prettiest state!
Granted The Artist was about how great Hollywood is (can't argue with that!) and there's no French spoken in it (thank goodness!). But what it boils down to is: We let the French win tonight! This is astounding!
Tea partiers should be rioting in the streets right now, demanding that movie be only be made by Americans for Americans.
But they’re not. At least I hope they’re not. And ultimately that’s a good thing. It just goes to show that the sterotype about Americans can be wrong. We are accepting of other cultures... as long as they love us first. We do like people with funny accents... as long as they sing and dance. We are that awesome.
So congratulations, America. Tonight, you’re the real winners.
Ernest Myers lives in New York. He was already friends with at least two people from France.