Solid story takes top prize at the Oscars, as it should

Illustration by Rachel Razza

Ah, the Academy Awards — the night where little androgynous golden statues recognize the best in the film industry. The whole spectacle is terribly political and terribly long, but for a movie fanatic like me the Oscars is one of the few annual televised events I really look forward to. For those who are unaware, the 82nd Academy Awards took place last Sunday, March 7.

Now, it’s true the event has dulled a bit in recent years. A drop in viewership confirmed that. This year however, was different than past years.

To start off, there were 10 nominees for best picture, as opposed to the usual five (there haven’t been 10 nominees since 1943). Why the change? As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last year, the idea was to allow for films that would normally dominate other categories to have a shot at the big one. Had this been done last year, “The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E” most likely would have had a chance. Instead, “The Blind Side” managed to get a nod this year. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was pretty good. It just wasn’t Best Picture good.

Another difference in this year’s awards was in the presentation of the best original song nominees. In past years, the songs were performed live on stage throughout the evening. Remember when Robin Williams performed “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”? I don’t remember either, as this was ten years ago and I was not yet an avid Oscar viewer. I did however watch it the other day on YouTube. But I digress. It was performances like this that always kept the Oscars entertaining even when they hit their dullest moments. Unfortunately, no such performances occurred this year. There was an interesting dance number in the middle, as well as a tribute to horror films, but it wasn’t the same. The only thing that came close to making up for the missing performances was Neil Patrick Harris’s song and dance at the beginning of the night.

There were also some very memorable moments of the evening. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win best director and Geoffrey Fletcher became the first African- American to win a screenwriting Oscar. On the uncomfortable yet somewhat comedic side, a woman pulled a Kanye West and interrupted director Roger Ross Williams, who was in the middle of his acceptance speech for best documentary short. Needless to say, nobody knew what to think. Ben Stiller also emerged on stage as a Na’vi from “Avatar” complete with a tail, ears and yellow contacts. This was funny, but my favorite of Stiller’s Oscar appearances is from a few years ago when he pranced around on stage in green spandex, insisting only his body was invisible due to special effects. Still, he came close to topping this when he started hissing at James Cameron in alien language.

For the record, the Nielson Co. (these are the people who measure T.V. ratings) reported a 14 percent increase this year in viewership. At 41.3 million viewers, this was the highest rated Academy Awards in five years.

But let’s be perfectly honest for a moment. The main reason viewership went up was not because of changes in the program, but because hugely popular movies such as “Avatar” were nominated alongside the smaller ones. A similar spike may very well have been achieved last year had “The Dark Knight” been nominated for best picture.

Ironically, it was the little movie that dominated the night. “The Hurt Locker” came nowhere near “Avatar” in box office earnings but far surpassed it in Oscar winnings. While I know more than a few people who were disappointed by the results, I rejoiced. No, “The Hurt Locker” was not my personal favorite (this was “District 9,” which I knew wouldn’t win but rooted for anyway), but as a great story it deserved the honor it received. This little movie that could reminded me that when it comes down to the wire it is about the story, not the special effects or the money.

People often forget that.