Within minutes of the ceremony’s conclusion, venerable US film critic Roger Ebert noted on social networking site Twitter that it was the worst Oscars in his long memory.
The broadcast was just short of a debacle: poorly directed, largely unfunny, misguided and lacking any moments to linger in the memory. As if to concede that young hosts James Franco, the nominated star of 127 Hours, and Anne Hathaway, who featured in Love and Other Drugs, were miscast, the show’s producers wheeled out popular former host Billy Crystal to a standing ovation. Crystal introduced a holographic monologue by Bob Hope. That’s the way to make the kids feel secure.
The announcement of the winning films, too, provided little drama or frisson. The King’s Speech, no matter what individuals may think of it, was an obvious bet for best film, made more so by the decision to play Colin Firth’s climactic speech from the film over a montage of scenes from the other nominees.
Firth was an unbackable favourite for best actor, particularly after losing to Jeff Bridges last year. He delivered a classy, funny acceptance speech, opening with "I have a feeling my career’s just peaked", and concluding with self-deprecatory recollections of being a "child sensation" 20 years ago.
While some may have hoped Annette Bening would upset Natalie Portman for the lead actress prize, there was little doubt the Black Swan star would win for her give-it-all-you’ve-got performance as a psychologically troubled ballet dancer.
The same could be said of Melissa Leo and Christian Bale’s obviously shouty performances in The Fighter, which won them the supporting actor awards.
Bale emerged from his usual state of recalcitrance to charm his way through the awards season, and Leo’s gauche decision to place her own campaign ads in Hollywood press was overlooked. Even Leo dropping the F-word during her acceptance speech was a little humdrum, coming from the feisty star of independent film and the TV series Treme.
Toy Story 3’s win as animated feature was near certain; it was the Pixar studio’s sixth win in the category. Nor did it surprise that Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland won the costume category, although it was the first Burton film to do so.
The Australian winners were predictable enough, with Baxter a favourite for his editing work on the film about the founding of Facebook, The Social Network. Elsey was also a likely winner, sharing an Oscar with make-up legend Rick Baker for their work on The Wolfman.
The story of the night, though, was The King’s Speech. Nothing could stop this appealing, well-constructed film with its sublime performances. (Firth acknowledged Guy Pearce’s integral role as "Bertie’s brother").
Academy voters tend to gravitate towards performance films and The King’s Speech had an advantage over The Social Network which, while just as finely made, featured up-and-coming male stars playing dysfunctional brats. The King’s Speech also had a "trio of man-love" – as director Tom Hooper described himself, Rush and Firth – to be charismatic marketers of the film.
Sherman, the film’s Australian producer – whose credits include Disgrace and Candy, and who is producing the new film by Hunger’s Steve McQueen and Jane Campion’s new TV series – has revelled in the snowballing awards season. His influence and access to finance can only increase.
Until then, a groundswell of support was growing for The Social Network, at least among media types who need a contest, any contest, leading up to Hollywood’s greatest annual marketing bonanza.
And Sherman’s See-Saw Films, a collaboration with Britain’s Iain Canning, wasn’t quite the story Hollywood could back.
Already, some early US reactions to the Oscars have noted it didn’t spark the rejuvenation of American independent filmmaking some had hoped.
For all intents and purposes, the evening was dominated by Brits and Australians.
The night’s other quadruple Oscar winner, Inception, was made by British director Christopher Nolan (while bankrolled by the Warner Bros studio).
The broad mix of best picture nominees suggested a change in Hollywood thinking. Here were 10 films that mostly challenged conventions, and such films as Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The King’s Speech and True Grit played to an adult audience. They are not obvious mainstream fare, yet almost to a film they have proven wildly commercial.
It would be premature to regard the winning films as an indication of cinema’s future trends. After all, we expected to be swamped by collaborations with Indian filmmakers or subjects after Slumdog Millionaire’s success.
The effect of The King’s Speech will perhaps be most keenly felt here. While it is a British film with Australian producers (Geoffrey Rush is an executive producer) and not an official co-production, it shows what talent can be assembled and productions made with cultural co-operation. It also suggests, given Sherman and his partners didn’t go down the official co-production route, that current co-production treaties may be too burdensome.
Nevertheless, there appears to be a move towards more co-productions here. As financing dries up, it makes sense for filmmakers to broaden the potential pool of money. See-Saw Films awaits the release in May of its next film Oranges and Sunshine, about the export of English children to Australia, and starring Hugo Weaving, David Wenham and Emily Watson.
Then again, trends to be gleaned from the 83rd Academy Awards may be forgotten as quickly as the disrespectful tribute to Governors Award honourees Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Brownlow and Eli Wallach.
That may be a good thing for a ceremony that was short on ingenuity and suspense, while big on Australian success.