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Academy Awards: A year of beauty and nostalgia

By Johnny Dorrello
On February 13, 2012

The 2012 Academy Awards nominations were awash with nostalgic odes to the past giving such films as "The Artist," "Midnight in Paris" and "Hugo" all nods. Each of these films had one thing in common, a romantic viewing of what film was in all its beauty and simplicity before Hollywood became what it is today. It used to be that movie going consisted of bogus bow ties, women dressed to the nines, and a full orchestra playing along with the film. It would be cliché to describe this time period as classy, though one can almost smell the cologne and visualize the thin mustaches of the gentlemen wearing it.

Meanwhile, the working class wore suits and everyone had a favorite pomade. Insert your Dapper Dan joke here. This period of 1925 to the mid 1930s saw the reign of silent film as it peaked in all of its quietly desperate glory while films with sound waited in the wings, their development on the cusp of innovating film history. The aforementioned films take us back to some of that glory which we will explore.

Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" is a French film whose score provides a charming swag nearly hiding the fact that it is a silent film and causing a modern fellow to want to go about learning the Charleston. Its stars stepped into their larger than life roles in a way that made a viewer instantly feel like one of their adoring fans portrayed in this sepia toned picture. Jean Dujardin plays a silent film star at the peak of his career. Dujardin, a splitting image of Guy Williams, the original actor to portray the masked avenger Zorro, plays the role so to the tooth that the thin mustache of yesteryear he wears transcends itself from a stage prop/make up piece and becomes a charming and plausible fashion choice. Pack your bags we're moving to Portlandia.

"If you want to be an actress you have to have something the others don't," Dujardin says as he places a fake mole on character Peppy Miller's face.

Berenice Bejo plays the love interest, Peppy Miller and carries a quaint spunk about her that perfectly matches the flapper like persona she was tasked with encompassing. With shortly cropped hair and a flapper hat to boot, she won over the audience with a wink and a smile. John Goodman surprisingly seemed to be born to play the role of the larger than life, greasy haired 1930s manager who seemed to have been born with a cigar in his mouth.

In the days of silent film, overacting became a necessity as the only tools an actor had back then were their personality and look about them. They lacked voice, color, and Michael Bay. So saying these actors are talented is an understatement.

The second nostalgic film up for countless nominations was Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," starring the walking satirical mastermind Owen Wilson and the always lovely Rachel McAdams. The film follows the disgruntled writer Gil and his obsessions with the golden age, a romantic time in history when everything great lived and drank in Paris, if you will. Quite science fictionally, Allen sends Gil back in time for a rustic adventure in 1920s Paris. Needless to say, Gil runs into Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso and Dali' just to name a few. The film is a beautifully rendered episode of the twilight zone complete with probably the greatest film portrayal of Papa Ernest Hemmingway. If you fancy yourself a Hemmingway fan, seeing this movie may or may not make you cry based on your maturity level in relation to the ability to admit when a movie made you cry. Just me?

The last and arguably quaintest cinematic piece of nostalgia that received an Oscar nod was Martin Scorcese's film "Hugo." This insightful delight makes the Hallmark channel look like Spike Television. The film's undertone and theme of orphans of all ages, shapes and classes trying to make something of themselves in 1920s France perfectly synthesized with the limitless charm of Paris in the Golden Age.

A fantastical telling of an orphan who runs into history's first special effects master, George Mellies, the film is full of such amazing color and saturation that it could be theorized to have been edited by fairy like creatures whose main source of food are glitter and glitter alone. But don't let me be misunderstood, like everything Scorcese, there is a universality about the film which makes it accessible to all who have ever loved and lost. Sacha Baron Cohen, most notoriously known for his portrayal of Borat, portrays a semi serious character, with equally comedic and skillful acting. Like a typical Scorcese masterpiece, this film comes with multiple layers of meaning, undertones, and themes, most notably the film's obsessions with clocks and its relation to man's past, present and future.

"A year of Nostalgia!" exclaimed UWT's Doctor Claudia Gorbman in a lecture to her French cinema class concerning the Academy awards. Although film has always evolved in a somewhat linear fashion, from people running from a film of a train arriving at a station to people yawning during a Spielburg action scene, film's destiny may continue to move exponentially towards the skies, transcending the limitations of our bodies and what it is to be human. But 2012's nominees were anything but, which implies a future of appreciation and simplicity much needed in our age of CGI.

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