Director Asghar Farhadi made some of the few mildly political comments of the night in accepting the prize for a notably unpolitical movie, thanking his countrymen.
“At the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture,” he said, “her rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”
Haven’t seen “A Separation” yet? You're not alone. Few of this year’s Oscar nominees, foreign or domestic, were among 2011’s box-office champs, a constant source of tension for the academy.
Varied efforts to seduce the average popcorn-buyer — the expansion of the best picture nominees from an elite five to a populist maximum of 10, last year’s hiring of youngsters James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts — have done little to boost sagging ratings.
A Los Angeles Times investigation into the demographics of the Academy — turns out the 5,765 voting members are largely white, male and some years past their moviemaking prime — ramped up the long-standing criticism that it’s out of touch with both the creative vanguard and multiplex tastes.
One of the few big crowd-pleasers represented Sunday was best animated feature “Rango,” the story of a loquacious chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp in his cartoon debut) making his way in the Wild West. Director Gore Verbinski explained its wide-ranging appeal: “It was certainly created by a bunch of grownups acting like children.”
The most lucrative movie of 2011 was “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” but it failed Sunday to win any of the three technical awards it was nominated for. The highest-grossing film series of all time ($7.7 billion worldwide) was nominated for 12 Oscars over the past decade but never won.
Even die-hard fans of the annual broadcast have found themselves bemoaning its desperate predictability. The ever-growing sprawl of movie awards in the weeks ahead of the Oscars — the Globes, the SAGs, the BAFTAs, all with outcomes eerily similar to the academy’s — have sapped the show of much of its suspense, even while making it much easier to win your office pool.
For those fans, the show offered a few little gifts of surprise. The creators of “Undefeated,” the inner-city high school football chronicle named best documentary, found its acceptance speech bleeped out after becoming the second winner in consecutive years to drop an f-bomb (see Melissa Leo’s best supporting actress win in 2011).
“I’d actually like to apologize for that. Not the classiest thing in the world,” TJ Martin told reporters backstage. “However, it did come from the heart.”
Whereas the editing team behind “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” found itself naturally speechless at the podium.
“We weren’t expecting this,” stammered Angus Wall, and it’s true — he and partner Kirk Baxter won last year, for “The Social Network,” and this year “Hugo” or “The Artist” were favored in their category. Both of them at a loss, Baxter, like a good editor, signaled to his partner to cut it short: “Um, thank you!” said Wall.
Argetsinger reported from Washington.