Nostalgia ruled the night at Sunday's 84th Academy Awards ceremony. A silent movie, “The Artist,” and a movie about silent movies, “Hugo,” came away as the biggest winners. Meryl Streep, a familiar face at the Oscars, won her third award. And the show itself harked back to the good old days of the 1990s by re-hiring Billy Crystal as its host for the ninth time.
The show summed up the conflicting attitudes of Hollywood in 2012. The movie industry has been rushing headlong toward new technological gimmicks such as 3-D, digital cameras, higher frame rates and motion-capture animation. At the same time, Sunday's Oscars seemed to be looking yearningly backward to a legacy of glamor, artistry and classic cinema.
Time and again during the ceremony, there were signs that the movies are no longer what they once were. Crystal peppered his routines with nods to new developments like iPhones and Netflix, which have made movies cheaper and more widely available but have undoubtedly diminished the viewing experience.
“People watch movies on their phones,” Crystal told the audience. “Give me the big screen – the iPad.”
Moviegoers, however, aren't the ones doing the hand-wringing. Sunday night's ceremony could be seen as another sign of the split between old-guard Hollywood and modern audiences. The year's most popular films, effects-driven, tween-oriented extravaganzas like the latest “Harry Potter” and “Transformers” installments, were virtually absent from the broadcast. “Hugo” and “The Artist,” however, which scored well with critics but have underperformed at the box office, took home five Oscars each, far more than any other movie.
(It's worth noting that Oscar voters are nearly 94% white, 77% male and have a median age of 62, according to the Los Angeles Times, while people younger than 50 reportedly make up just 14% of the membership.)
The best picture Oscar for “The Artist,” the first silent film to win that award since “Wings” in 1929 (the first Academy Awards show ever) seemed tantamount to a collective sigh: “They don't make 'em like that anymore!” Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese's “Hugo” served as a fictionalized tribute to the real-life film pioneer Georges Melies (1861-1938). It closes with Melies being lauded at a gala and his forgotten reels of celluloid enshrined in an archive. (Only within Hollywood and critical circles could such an ending warm many cockles.)
One of the most telling moments of the evening came when Crystal joked that the Kodak Theater, where the Oscars are traditionally held, is now called the “Your Name Here Theater.” Earlier this year, Kodak, the century-old American company that manufactures film, declared bankruptcy.