At the 2013 Oscars: A night of Hollywood as theater

In the end, all that debate over which Washington-centric procedural would go big at this year’s Oscars (“Argo?” “Lincoln?” “Zero Dark Thirty?”) was for naught. They all won, a little bit.

“Argo,” Ben Affleck’s story of the L.A.-CIA plot to rescue U.S. Embassy workers during the Iranian hostage crisis, took home best picture at Sunday’s ceremony, as well as two other awards: film editing and adapted screenplay. It marked the first time since 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy” that the director of a best-picture winner failed to receive a nomination for his own contribution to the film. (Last night, the directing award went to unexpected winner Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” who thanked the Academy in multiple languages: ”Thank you. Xie xie. Namaste.”)

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Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ took home best picture at the Academy Awards. Ang Lee takes best director for 'Life of Pi' - as Seth MacFarlane plays a little naughty in his first Oscar hosting gig.

Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ took home best picture at the Academy Awards. Ang Lee takes best director for 'Life of Pi' - as Seth MacFarlane plays a little naughty in his first Oscar hosting gig.

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And — surprise! — was this also the first time that a glittery-gowned first lady was Skyped in from the White House in order to help Jack Nicholson present the top prize?

“You can’t hold grudges,” said a bearded Affleck as he accepted, in his producer role, the best picture award. “It doesn’t matter how you get knocked down again, because that’s going to happen. But you got to get back up.”

Earlier last fall, “Lincoln” was seen as presumptive top film, hoovering up 12 nominations — including a nod for director Steven Spielberg. But the snubbing of Affleck seemed to rally the voting populi around the erstwhile underdog film, whose 1970s plot was modernized by 2010s buzzwords: Benghazi. Tahrir Square. Movember moustaches.

“Lincoln” still finagled two awards, including Daniel Day-Lewis’s much anticipated third best-actor award. (His first two were for “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood.”) The win made Day-Lewis the first actor to acquire three Oscars in the leading actor category, and also broke the “Spielberg Curse”: Until Sunday’s ceremony, no actor in a Spielberg film had ever won that award.

“I really don’t know how any of this happened,” he said. Oh, Mr. Lewis. You’re at your most Method-y when playing bashful.

“I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher,” he deadpanned, after accepting his statue from Meryl Streep. “Meryl was Steven’s first choice for Lincoln.”

Jennifer Lawrence was also playing Meryl Streep — at least the breezy awards show version of her. “This is nuts!” she protested, after winning best actress for her portrayal of a damaged wannabe dance champion in “Silver Linings Playbook.” She remembered to wish fellow nominee Emmanuelle Riva a happy 86th birthday.

How classy those actress winners were on Sunday. Can-do, chirp-chirp Anne Hathaway took home the supporting actress award for her tremulous, bald performance in “Les Miserables” on Sunday evening’s Academy Awards ceremony. Some said she was owed it for, if nothing else, enduring the ensuing transitional haircut. Some said she was owed it for, if for nothing else, her take-one-for-the-team co-hosting duties with a somnolent James Franco two years ago.

Either way, the win was symbolic of the Hollywood as theatah theme that permeated the program — Hathaway herself representing everyone’s high school thespian president. Like me. Love my art.

“It came true,” she said, cradling the statue. (Yes! It came true! You dreamed a dream!) One can’t blame her for trying to deliver the hairbrush-as-microphone mirror speech favored by teen girls everywhere. It was, after all, her first win.

The best supporting actor award, on the other hand, went to second-time winner Christoph Waltz — the Austrian-born actor whose theatrical training actually was in the theater. His turn as a bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” was as cartoonishly heroic as his character in 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds” had been cartoonishly evil.

“We participated in a hero’s journey, the hero here being Quentin,” Waltz said in his acceptance speech. “You slayed the dragon because you’re not afraid of it.”

As this year’s Oscars approached, the evening was hailed as a showcase of Hollywood-in-Washington (Hollyton? Washingwood? Los Sequesterlos?), with big nominations for “Argo,” “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” all of which laud the D.C. back-door brokering that voters claim to haaate, but viewers apparently love.

But the awards were ultimately spread among a far more disparate group of honorees.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” the movie that launched a thousand torture debates, only ended up with one award — a rare tie, with Bond movie “Skyfall,” for sound editing. “Skyfall” also won for original song, treating the audience to an Adele/podium encounter: “I love you, bay-bey!!” she called to her “man.”

And, another early winner did have a Washington connection, although it wasn’t the one that viewers had predicted: Washington residents Sean Fine and his wife, Andrea Nix Fine, won best short documentary for “Inocente,” their chronicling of the struggles of a homeless immigrant.

“She was homeless just a year ago, and now she’s standing in front of you, and she’s an artist . . . and all of us are artists.” Sean Fine said, as he squeezed a blushing, flabbergasted Inocente Izucar on stage.

Oscarologists spend weeks leading up to the awards ceremony dabbling in over/unders and if/thens and but/maybes, trying to hone their predictions enough that it becomes unnecessary to even watch the 31 / 2-hour telecast. (Straight to the photo galleries, America! Everything you really need to know about the Oscars is encapsulated in Halle Berry’s dress.) A few days ago, even accuracy meister Nate Silver rung in with his wonkified, sabermetrixed take on the evening.

As a result, everyone already knew that sobfest “Anna Karenina” would take home the prize for costume design. Still: “This is absolutely overwhelming,” said Jacqueline Durran, thanking her children in a delightfully British acceptance speech. “They’re completely oblivious to this,” she insisted. “They’re fast asleep in England.”

Oh, no no no, mummy. Some dear nanny let them stay up a wee bit late.

As a result, everyone already expected “Life of Pi,” a lush tale about a young Indian boy’s fantastical journey across the sea, to take home early visual awards. “The irony is not lost on us that in a movie about questioning what is real, most of what you see is fake,” said Bill Westenhofer, acceping the honor for visual effects. Claudio Miranda, he of the flowing silver Fabio hair, accepted the cinematography award for the film. (We caught up with him on the red carpet beforehand and asked who styled his mane. “Bed de la Morning,” he said.) The film also won for original score.

Everyone expected that “Searching for Sugarman,” the decades-long quest of a South African fan to track down a Detroit music legend, would take the award for Best Documentary.

Everyone most certainly knew that Austrian tearjerker love story “Amour” would win the award for best foreign-language film — it had transcended its language boundaries to also be nominated for best picture. That did not make director Michael Haneke’s speech any less pleasing to listen to. “Zank you very much vor zis honor . . . Zank you to my vife,” he said. “Zank you to my actors. Zank you.”

Dan Zak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

 
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