Oscar commentary is outsourced to the always-splendid Peter Suderman:
The half-calculated, half-panicked seesawing between self-important Art and anxious populism means that the Oscars aren’t really an indicator of quality anymore, but rather an indicator of Oscarness. Oscarness does, admittedly, overlap with quality (see last year’s awards), but it is not the same thing. Undoubtedly, the biggest triumph for Oscarness this year was Sean Penn’s Best Actor win for his portrayal of Harvey Milk. It’s part political statement, part Hollywood politics, and part bias toward the self-important and showy. I thought Milk was a fine film, especially the first hour, and Penn was striking in the lead role, but he never never feels when he can Emote, never talks when he can Speechify, never acts when he can Act.
That, along with his politics — ostentatiously lefty, but safer (and better looking) than Michael Moore — makes him perfect for Oscar night, especially when the other option is picking a has-been freakshow in a brilliant but little-seen, and frankly sort of odd, comeback role. It’s not just that Mickey Rourke deserved an Oscar tonight, though he did. It’s that the Oscars have already forsaken any opportunity to be about pure artistic merit, and because the gilded self-congratulation of Oscarness, along with the Oscar-gaming it encourages, is producing diminishing returns both at the Nielsens and at the box-office, they badly need another angle.