Thomas Langmann, Michel Hazanavicius

Producer Thomas Langmann, left, and director Michel Hazanavicius accept the Oscar for best picture for "The Artist" during the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The 2011 award season ended with a bang last Sunday with the 84th Academy Awards providing a stunning salute to a magical year of movies. After the bewildering pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco last year, the Academy managed to redeem itself by bringing back the greatest of living Oscar hosts, Billy Crystal. Needless to say, Crystal hit it out of the park for the ninth time, maintaining just the right balance of wit, edge, and respect the Academy looks for in a master of ceremonies.

Crystal brought back many of his trademark hosting traditions, such as his Oscar melody and opening montage, where he locked lips with George Clooney. While much of this was expected, it was as entertaining to observe as ever. Unlike so many other Oscar hosts, Crystal didn’t merely disappear after the first 30 minutes. He was a fundamental presence throughout the entire show, never failing to keep his audience entertained.

For the most part this was a great night for comedic presenters, with Chris Rock delivering a hilarious stand-up routine on animated features, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinanakis bashing cymbals together in Brangelina’s face, Robert Downey Jr. claiming that he turned down “The Descendants,” and those wacky “Bridesmaids” presenting the short subject awards. Who would have guessed that the funniest presentation would come from an overly excited Emma Stone, making Ben Stiller look like the strait man as she pitched potential comedic Oscar routines. The one segment that didn’t entirely work was a Christopher Guest short film involving a screening for “The Wizard of Oz.” This just felt unwarranted and ran out of gas pretty quickly. But at least good old Fred Willard managed to score some laughs with his “Flying Monkeys” comment.

Director Don Mischer assembled a visually dazzlingly night composed with a glorious set. The old-school Cineplex design truly captured the nostalgic feeling so many 2011 movies conjured. The special presentation by Cirque du Soleil, while maybe a tad out of place, was still astounding to observe. Even in the worst Oscar ceremonies, you can always rely on the Academy to provide a touching In Memoriam segment. This year was no exception as Esperanza Spalding and the Southern California Children’s Chorus saluted Elizabeth Taylor, Whitney Houston, Steve Jobs, and a couple dozen other artists you’ve likely never heard of.

As for who won the big prize of Best Picture, I’m happy to say that the victor was my favorite movie of 2011, “The Artist.” The film became the first silent picture to win Best Picture since “Wings” in 1929. It just goes to show that if a silent movie can win in this day and age anything is possible … except for maybe a superhero movie or comedy winning Best Picture. “The Artist” won four additional awards, including Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius, and a highly deserving Best Actor award for Jean Dujardin.

Tying “The Artist” for most wins was Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which received Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound and Sound Editing. These are all well worthy wins seeing how “Hugo” was the best-looking movie of 2011. It’s also quite intriguing that the films that won the most Oscars this year both put an emphasis on the silent movie era.

Alexander Payne achieved his second Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Descendants.” He accepted the award with co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash of “Community.” Now that “Community” has an Oscar winner on staff, maybe NBC will be influenced to give that underappreciated show a fourth season. Best Original Screenplay went to Woody Allen for “Midnight in Paris,” his most financially successful film ever. It’s just too bad Allen didn’t show up because this will probably be his last chance to accept an Academy Award.

The most shocking win of the night wasn’t in the Best Picture or Best Director categories, but Best Film Editing. Where every Oscar analyst was predicting either “The Artist” or “Hugo” to take home the gold, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” pulled off a major upset. This marked the second win for Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, who both won last year for “The Social Network.”

Gore Verbinski of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies scored the Best Animated Feature award for “Rango” while “A Separation” received Best Foreign Language Film. While those wins were fairly predictable, there was somewhat of a surprise in the Best Documentary category where “Undefeated,” a documentary about the Manassas Tigers, proved to be undefeated.

I’m still in a frenzy about how the Academy only nominated two Best Original Songs this year. On the bright side though, they did give the award to the hilarious “Man or Muppet” from the “The Muppets.” It’s additionally awesome that we can now call Bret McKenzie of “Flight of the Conchords” an Oscar winner. If only they would have had Jason Segel and Walter perform the song live.

Perhaps the most touching acceptance speech of the evening was Octavia Spencer winning Best Supporting Actress for “The Help.” Even though Spencer must have known she was the frontrunner, she couldn’t help but breakout into tears. It was a great moment for character actors everywhere. Equally uplifting was seeing Christopher Plummer win for “Beginners.” This makes Plummer the oldest actor to ever win an Academy Award at age 82. Come to think of it, the Oscar ceremony is only two years older than Plummer.

If there was one inexplicably undeserving recipient it was Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady.” I know that I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but this was undoubtedly the most overrated performance of the year. Her impassive portrayal of Margaret Thatcher hardly compares to the four other actresses nominated or Streep’s wide body of superior work. It’s saddening to think that Streep’s landmark third Oscar derived from a hollow and uneven movie. The notion of Streep playing the former British Prime Minister must have been too alluring for Academy voters to ignore though. “The Iron Lady” also won Best Makeup, which truly should have gone to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.”

Aside from the love for “The Iron Lady,” this was a mostly fun telecast of humor, spectacle, and worthy winners. At times some of the speeches were rushed and the awards themselves were handed out rather quickly. On the whole though, this was Oscars finest outing since Hugh Jackman hosted three years ago. As for the upcoming 2012 Oscars, don’t expect “The Vow,” “This Means War” or “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” to have their names announced.

Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, Reach him at

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