Last night was one of the most exciting Academy Awards ceremonies. Some of the excitement came from the incredible performances— Dame Shirley Bassey singing “Gold Finger,” Barbra Streisand popping up with “Memories,” and the powerful live performance by the cast of Les Miserables. The evening’s entertainment value had nothing to do with Seth MacFarlane’s steady stream of misogynistic jokes, which robbed the winners of precious speech time.
What made this year’s Oscars worth watching was the tight competition. Perhaps it’s because the nominated directors reached the height of their powers that 2012 was a year of instant classic films and art-defining performances. So it would seem appropriate that during last night’s spectacle of genius, we received some scraps of golden wisdom.
First up, Christoph Waltz. With his easy charm, sense of humor, and elegance, he would make a terrific Oscar host. The bad-European-television actor turned Tarantino muse gave an entertaining acceptance speech early in the night for Best Supporting Actor in Django Unchained. In his speech, Waltz relied on the film’s anchoring metaphor: a German fairytale that Waltz’s character shares to inspire courage and to build a friendship with Django. It’s a good metaphor for anyone who’s dreamed and striven to achieve the impossible dream, and forced to slay a couple dragons along the way:
“We participated in a hero’s journey – the hero here being Quentin. And you scale the mountain because you’re not afraid of it. You slay the dragon because you’re not afraid of it and you cross through fire because it’s worth it. I borrowed my character’s words so sorry… couldn’t resist. Thank you.”
Near the end of the evening, the tribute to those who “jumped aboard the glory train,” as they say in the South, was very moving. This year, Barbra Streisand, as mentioned, honored the greats by singing her classic Memories following a touching video tribute that featured industry legends. The highly quotable writer Ray Bradbury was honored, and featured in a clip from an old interview, saying: “The ability to fantasize is the ability to grow.” Enough said. Heavyweight producer Richard Zanuck, who brought us Jaws and Driving Miss Daisy, was also shown sharing his sentiments about storytelling: “The most important thing is the story, not the script, but the story.” In the age of storytelling, with the explosion of social media and greater reliance on word-of-mouth to discover new stories, Zanuck's quote stuck out as a reminder of the importance of function (telling a good story) over form (a good story can exist in a single tweet, an e-book, and of course in the collaborative art form of film).
Ben Affleck helped close the night, taking the prize for Best Picture as the producer of Argo, along with George Clooney and Grant Heslov. He acknowledged the first time he won an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, and the lessons he learned since then:
“And I'd just like to say, I was here 15 years ago or something and I had no idea what I was doing. I stood out here in front of you all and really just a kid. I went out and I never thought I would be back here. And I am, because of so many of you who are here tonight, because of this Academy, because of so many wonderful people who extended themselves to me when they had nothing to benefit from it in Hollywood. You know what I mean, I couldn't get them a job. I want to thank them and I want to thank what they taught me, which is that you have to work harder than you think you possibly can. You can't hold grudges. It's hard but you can't hold grudges. And it doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life because that's going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.”
As glamorous or handsomely bearded as Hollywood looked last night, it's nice to be reminded that its artists struggle and face mountains and dragons, too.
Image Credit: cliff1066™ (Flickr)