Pete Hammond

Before I focus on last night’s 83rd Academy Award winners, let me describe my conversations with the “losers”, only some of whom seemed to take the news in stride. Clearly, The Social Network filmmakers were licking their wounds. To the point that hands-on producer Scott Rudin didn’t even make the trip west for the awards. Clearly, they think they were robbed. In fact, as I traversed the Grand Ballroom of the Governor’s Ball, I kept hearing that precise phrase — “You were robbed” — said a few times to everyone involved. Executive Producer Kevin Spacey told me with bitterness, “Yes, I am very disappointed  about Best Picture. But I am just stunned that David Fincher didn’t win, just absolutely stunned. This just proves it is all about campaigning and nothing else. It’s just a popularity contest.” He used some other language, too, that could give Melissa Leo a run for her money. Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal, who really invested herself in Oscar season this year, hugged Best Picture presenter Steven Spielberg and thanked him profusely for the consoling words he said before announcing The King’s Speech as the winner. (“If you are one of the other nine movies that don’t win, you will be in the company of The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, and Raging Bull”, Spielberg reminded everyone.) To add insult to injury, Social Network producer Dana Brunetti told me that the Governors Ball security guard hassled his table after they were already inside, questioning their tickets (apparently they didn’t scan correctly) and becoming so belligerent that he nearly got into a fight with one rent-a-cop until security backed off.

Also upset was Biutiful director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who told me he thinks the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences needs to change the Foreign Language category rules so more people in the organization can actually vote on the final films than just the few hundred that are eligible now because they’ve seen all five films. He was clearly disappointed by Biutiful‘s loss to Susanne Bier’s Danish film In A Better World, but said he’s ready to gear up tomorrow for the next phase of his career after spending the past 9 months since the Cannes Film Festival talking up Biutiful.

Also disappointed was The Kids Are All Right‘s Best Actress nominee Annette Bening who told me she’d had an idea it probably wouldn’t be her night to win after three nominations but “I thought I might. I was hoping. Because we got this far with this little movie. But that’s showbiz.”

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross was happy for his four wins – 2 for Alice In Wonderland, and 2 for Toy Story 3 – but admitted to me he had been holding out hope for Pixar’s big grossing and well reviewed toon to win Best Picture. (His mantra all season had been, ‘If not this year, and not this picture, when?’)

Now for the winners. Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich had his shiny new Oscar engraved at the special stand which the Academy set up in a room near the ballroom. The King’s Speech Original Screenplay winner David Seidler had just done the same thing. (“I got it engraved now so they can’t take it away from me now!”) Sitting at the same table with his mother, whom he saluted in his acceptance speech, and his new Oscar, The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper tried to describe the night. “It’s such a feeling of relief. I’ve done it.  It’s been a long road but I can sit back and not worry about it now.  I can go on with my life and I have this.“  His mom told me she approved of his line, “Listen to your mother”.

But a director whom Hooper beat, The Fighter’s David O. Russell, was so ebullient you’d have thought he won. “Joel Coen just told me my movie was the best of the year. He can be a curmudgeon, too. That’s my prize,” he beamed.

When I headed over to the Weinstein’s  celebratory party at Chateau Marmont, newly Oscared producer Gareth Unwin shouted at me across the room, “Hey, we’ve come a long way since this started in Telluride! I just may not land my feet on the ground for another two months.” The Kodak Theatre orchestra tried to play him off the stage after accepting his Oscar but he just started talking. “It was like having a soundtrack for my speech. I liked it,” he told me.

When I ran into Harvey Weinstein just as the Oscar show was about to begin he was nervous. But I told him it seemed to me he was going to have a great night. For the most part there were no shockers and even no surprises. The wealth was spread out by Academy voters with The King’s Speech predictably grabbing four Oscars – for Best Picture, Best Actor for Colin Firth, Best Original Screenplay for David Seidler, and Best Director for Tom Hooper. Once again proving the DGA correlation. But the sweep which some (not me) were predicting for the British pic failed to develop as the Academy decided to give several films their due. The Fighter won both supporting Oscars for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale, the first time that double play has happened in these categories since Hannah And Her Sisters did it in 1986 with Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest. Odds-on Best Actress favorite Natalie Portman won for Black Swan.

Inception with four Oscars and Alice In Wonderland with two triumphed in technical categories. Toy Story 3 picked up two. And one-time frontrunner The Social Network settled for three including Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin, Original Score, and Film Editing. For a moment, the latter looked like it might pull off an upset, that is until Hooper pulled off Director near the end of the show. And that was basically that. Foreign Film winner, Denmark’s In A Better World from Susanne Bier, was the most accessible and “Academy friendly” of all the nominees — and those are the ones that have triumphed in this category in recent years despite Academy attempts to get edgier.

But back to Best Pic. This year proved that, if there’s a movie the Academy really loves, then no amount of critics awards for a rival movie is going to sway members from voting their heart. And that’s clearly what happened in the case of The King’s Speech over The Social Network. As for major surprises, sadly in this internet age of 24/7 Oscar punditry and so many precursor awards leading the way, the Academy Awards winners are almost pre-ordained, taking some life out the ceremony itself.

As for the show itself, co–producer and director Don Mischer, a 15-time Emmy-winning veteran of these kinds of big ticket spectacles, told me he was generally pleased. “We’ll see what they say about it tomorrow. There were some unnerving surprises like Kirk Douglas going on and on presenting Best Supporting Actress. Bruce Vilanche suggested we bring him back next year as the host.”

Highlights for me from my vantage point in the second mezzanine of the Kodak Theatre were the filmed opening with that funny Inception takeoff, the faux movie musical bit, and the traditional In Memoriam segment which was nicely done (even though it left off a few deserving names as usual) with sweet accompaniment by Celine Dion’s rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile. Fox co-chair and Academy Executive Branch Governor Jim Gianopulos told me after the show that he fought to prevent the Kodak audience from applauding for their favorites by means of a stern warning during the commercial break prior to the segment. “It was becoming an embarrassing popularity contest. We got it right this year,”  he said, satisfied. I also liked the attempt to merge Hollywood and Oscar’s history with classic clips as well as a stunning ever-changing set that had style and glamour. Billy Crystal’s bit was too short but Bob Hope’s Oscar monologues was a technical marvel and fun.

Acceptance speeches were dignified but none really stood out. There were only two standing ovations: for Kirk Douglas, and for the three recipients of the Governors Awards who appeared at the Kodak — Eli Wallach, Francis Ford Coppola, and Kevin Brownlow. Toy Story 3 winner Randy Newman was amusing in his acceptance while Inside Job’s Best Documentary winner Charles Ferguson was political when he pointed out that not a single person accused of wrongdoing in the financial meltdown of three years ago has gone to jail yet. Colin Firth got laughs for his deftly worded speech.

As for the hosts, I thought Anne Hathaway’s warmth came through and her singing drew high marks. She also came out during commercial breaks and had fun with the audience, which may be one reason that the Kodak viewers had a better time during the show than home viewers. For instance, right after Melissa Leo let loose with her F-Bomb,  Hathaway offered a sushi plate to an audience member in the top balcony by claiming, “This is not just supermarket sushi. As Melissa Leo might say, ‘This is real fucking good sushi!’” The likeable Franco seemed a bit overwhelmed by the gig, though, which threw off the balance with his co-star. Clearly hiring them was an attempt to ‘young up’ the Oscars but with mixed results. Comedians are still probably the best bet for Oscar hosting in the future, but this was a nice try from producers Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen.

At the Governors Ball in the Grand Ballroom afterwards, reviews for the show were generally upbeat, at least from those I surveyed. Fox co-chair Tom Rothman called it, “The best show in years. It was terrific, elegant, and smooth. And the best thing about it was that it was movie-centric. I also loved James and Anne and am happy we have both of their movies [127 Hours and Love And Other Drugs] coming out on DVD on Tuesday!”

But Roadside Attraction’s Howard Cohen was not overwhelmed by most of the show, though he liked the opening and the closing. Indeed, many of the bigwigs I talked to pointed to the show’s finale with the kids chorus singing Over The Rainbow as a highlight.

Darren Aronofsky said overall the it was “good because it was my generation”.Annette Bening said she particularly liked the way the orchestra was used on stage. Christopher Nolan and his producer wife Emma Thomas also said they really liked the show, with Thomas singling out Hathaway for special praise. “We have Anne in our next film [The Dark Knight Rises] and now she will never be able to tell us she can’t make fast costume changes.”

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.