When the nominations for the 85th Annual Academy Awards were announced, there was a sense of American triumphalism, of the United States reminding itself that it was indeed the most powerful nation on the planet. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, about one of the country’s architects, led the race with 12 nominations. Argo, a dramatic ode to American ingenuity and gung-ho filibustering against Iran, received seven nominations. And Zero Dark Thirty, an account of the CIA-led operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, ended up with five nominations. These were the three films routinely discussed by Oscar pundits everywhere, and Life of Pi, with its impressive tally of 11 nominations, was largely considered a shoo-in for consolation prizes in the technical categories — for Best Visual Effects, or Best Cinematography. In the end, Ang Lee’s film won the most awards of the evening — four, including one in a major category, for Best Director. The closing words of Lee’s acceptance speech said it all: “Thank you Academy. Xie xie. Namaste.” For the night’s biggest winner was a film sourced from a Canadian novel, shot in India, Taiwan and Canada, and completed on computers across the world. The American entertainment industry’s biggest night, ironically but not unsurprisingly, turned out to be a celebration of the rest of the world. It was a far cry from the years when Hollywood’s sole acknowledgment of the world outside came through the token Best Foreign Film category.
The evening offered two other surprises. One was Quentin Tarantino’s win for Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained, which received censure from certain quarters for its incorrect depiction of antebellum American history. Its win over the more “historically accurate” Zero Dark Thirty — barring the controversy over the utility of torture — offered its own kind of commentary. The other upset was Jennifer Lawrence’s win (Best Actress, for Silver Linings Playbook) over Jessica Chastain, who was considered the front-runner for her performance in Zero Dark Thirty. Put differently, the neurotic heroine of a romantic comedy was deemed worthier than the woman who dedicated years of her life to bringing down Osama. Otherwise, things went according to plan. Argo won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The acting awards went to Daniel Day-Lewis, Anne Hathaway and Christoph Waltz. One of the problems with the Academy Awards ceremony is that it comes at the end of a long line of other awards, and there is rarely any change in who wins in a particular category. To keep things alive, the emcee Seth MacFarlane, injected steady doses of rude humour. He even made a joke about the Lincoln assassination. Truly, nothing about America is sacred anymore.