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From butt of jokes to Best Picture

Los Angeles, Feb. 25: Hollywood gave its top honour to Ben Affleck’s Argo at a song-and-dance-filled Academy Awards ceremony yesterday, completing a remarkable turnaround for a film that was once a long-shot contender.

But in a break from recent years Oscar voters also found a way to take care of a wide variety of movies, especially Life of Pi, which won four trophies, including the best director honour for Ang Lee. Les MisÚrables joined Argo in taking home three awards, and Django Unchained was honoured with two, including one for Quentin Tarantino for best original screenplay.

“I want to thank Canada,” Affleck said in a rapid-fire speech, a reference to that country’s heroics in saving the diplomats who were the subject of his movie.

Only a decade ago Affleck would have been a punch line at the Academy Awards, having taking an unfortunate career turn through flops like Gigli and Reindeer Games. But he has turned out several highly praised films in recent years, gaining prestige along the way. His ascent culminated with Argo, a tale of a cinematic cover for an escape from revolutionary Iran.

Still, Affleck was not nominated by the academy for his directing, making Argo the first film to win best picture without an accompanying nomination for its director since 1990, when Driving Miss Daisy won the best-picture Oscar.

When Affleck failed to receive a nomination for directing that helped rally support for Argo, which picked up a rash of honours on the awards circuit. Yesterday it also won Oscars for best adapted screenplay (for Chris Terrio) and best editing (for William Goldenberg).

Lincoln, considered the early Oscar front-runner, seemed to overreach by getting Bill Clinton to introduce a clip at the Golden Globes last month. Lincoln, the most nominated film going into the night with 12 nods, left with two statuettes, including one for Daniel Day-Lewis as best actor, his third in that category.

In a gracious acceptance speech, he thanked his “beloved skipper”, the film’s director, Steven Spielberg, and concluded by saying “For my mother”.

Seth MacFarlane, this year’s host, opened the 85th annual Academy Awards with a round of risky humour more akin to the Golden Globes, delivering a monologue that mocked himself as “the worst Oscar host ever” and joining with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles to perform a song-and-dance homage to topless scenes by female stars. “We saw your boobs,” they chanted to nervous giggles from the audience.

The Oscars also seemed to emulate the Grammy Awards, with more emphasis on centrepiece performances — by Adele, Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand, among others — than on the presentation of awards. The much-advertised musical tribute, which ran for 11 minutes, had it both ways, mixing clips from films with live performances by Catherine Zeta-Jones from Chicago, Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls and the cast of Les MisÚrables.

The producers made up time by hustling awards winners off the stage, doing it musically with a riff from Jaws in at least one case. Most winners seemed to adhere to the admonishments made by producers before the show to avoid reading prepared remarks.

The awards presentation at the Dolby Theatre here unfolded pretty much as expected, with voters spreading their awards across a variety of pictures. Anne Hathaway won best supporting actress for her role as an emaciated prostitute in Les MisÚrables. “It came true,” she said softly after climbing onstage.

Christoph Waltz won best supporting actor for Django Unchained.

 

 
 
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