Just before the Oscars started last night my back went out. Doped up on Advil, I felt a pain in my neck an hour into the show that was so bad I couldn’t turn my head to the left. Towards the end of the telecast, my daughter developed a high fever, crushing headache, and the shakes. What gives? Some psychosomatic bodily reaction to our mixed feelings about the awards? Is Leah so empathic that her body broke down in deference to the surprise best picture winners whose speech was cut off abruptly by the dreaded Academy orchestra? Can I just say again how utterly obnoxious this practice is of giving all the winners the bum's rush with loud music cues? People kept lauding conductor Bill Conti last night and while I know he’s done amazing work on many Academy Award-winning films, his antics during the acceptance speeches are nothing to be proud of. I know he’s “just following orders,” but if I were him I’d quit the gig before going along with that asinine plan designed to shave a few minutes off the broadcast. This year it was worse than ever—the music started playing the minute the winners began their speeches and it would gradually rise in volume as they got closer to their end time. I’m all for short and sweet Oscar speeches (nobody needs to thank their financial advisors), but I would gladly see the show extended for 10 more minutes if that would prevent the humiliating spectacle.
Despite the fact that I thought there were lots of nice moments in last night’s show, here, in a nutshell, is why I HATE awards shows. For months I’ve been rambling on and on about how much I loved Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line.” As recently as yesterday I was saying how much I hope she and/or Joaquin Phoenix win an Oscar for their exquisite performances in that film. Then, last night, in something of an upset, Reese Witherspoon pulls it off and wins the Academy Award for Best Actress. In a split second, all of my feelings change. I feel crushed for Felicity Huffman and start thinking that her role in “Transamerica” was really much more complex than Witherspoon’s and that Huffman deserved the award more. I start thinking that Reese is simply too young to fully appreciate what has happened and that she hasn’t yet paid her dues in the same way that Felicity has. And that it’s not fair because she’ll have so many chances in the future but we all know there aren’t a lot of great roles for women over 40 unless you’re Judi Dench or cast as a victim of horrific abuse.
Is this just my own sickness? Rather than focusing on the honored few, I spent the whole evening feeling bad for the “losers.” Remember when the presenters used to say “and the winner is…” before they’d read the name in the envelope? This was changed several years ago to “and the Oscar goes to…” in some bit of P.C. lunacy because it was felt that the people who didn’t win would be traumatized by the original phrase. They got it all wrong. The people whose names are in the envelopes really are the winners, there’s no way around that, but what they should change is the name of the categories. BEST Actress? BEST Actor? I don’t think so! No wonder I turned on poor Reese—it’s like when parents elevate one of their children to star status, instantly making all of the siblings despise the honored child. There really is something wrong with a society that constantly needs to bestow an artificial “Best of” on every aspect of its culture.
I know the window of opportunity for discussing the Oscar telecast slammed shut hours ago. Writing about it a full 24 hours later is like reviewing the Ford’s Theatre production of “Our American Cousin” the day after Lincoln’s funeral. So I’ll limit my comments to what I considered the highlights of the show.
Jonny, We Hardly Knew Ye. Despite his mixed reviews, I thought Jon Stewart acquitted himself quite admirably. The show had a decent pace and several of his jokes made me laugh out loud (including the one about Dick Cheney accidentally shooting Bjork). I thought the faux political ads he introduced for some of the nominees was hands-down the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on an Oscar telecast. But why do the hosts always disappear about two-thirds into the show just when we need them the most? Oh well, at least the blatant sexism that permeated last year’s show was gone, as were any misplaced references to our troops in Iraq. I’ve given up hoping for a host that has everything it takes AND a movie career. Apart from Billy Crystal, I think Jon Stewart was the best of the recent bunch. If I were the producer I’d bring him back for another go—unless Bob Hope can be exhumed.
Andy Hardy Scores Again! After watching some Oscar telecasts, you might think that movies were a brand new invention with no history to draw from. I’m always grateful for montages of great film clips that remind us why we’re watching the stupid awards show in the first place. Such montages were in great abundance last night, from the very funny look at “gay cowboys” in movie history to the salute to film noir and the delicious taste of Robert Altman’s body of work. Any dip into the Academy’s vaults is okay by me, I wouldn’t care if it was an homage to Hollywood’s greatest anti-Semites. The way they incorporated the old clips into the opening of the show was nothing short of miraculous—that technology is getting so advanced that maybe next year Bob Hope can host the Oscars again! The only actual old-timers I saw in attendance were Mr. Andy Hardy himself, Mickey Rooney, looking a little bit like Darth Vader after Luke Skywalker removed his protective mask at the end of the first trilogy, and lovely Lauren Bacall, who despite a cringeworthy struggle with the TelePrompter, still exuded more class and old-time glamour than any of the taut twentysomethings in that theatre. I heard some people today speculating that Lauren must have been drunk. Come on—the woman is 81 years old, for God’s sake. My money is on an overzealous TelePrompter operator (Bacall wasn’t the only one to have trouble reading the lines) and possibly a worsening case of macular degeneration. Following the clips, Bacall was nowhere to be found and no mention was made of her again, as if she had been disappeared by the ghost of Mayo Methot, Bogie’s ex-wife.
Batman Loves Mammy. I loved George Clooney’s acceptance speech, especially his mention of Hattie McDaniel’s ground-breaking win in 1939, at a time when black people still had to sit in the back of theatres. My other favorite speech was the one given by South African director Gavin Hood, whose “Tsotsi” won as Best Foreign Film. The minute he shouted “God Bless Africa!” I burst into tears, especially when they showed the South African contingent that had accompanied him (sitting—gulp!—in the back of the theatre). Then when he spoke in some African language I cried even more. For some reason, whenever a winner speaks in their native tongue (or in sign language as was the case with Louise Fletcher and Marlee Matlin) I find it terribly moving. During Ang Lee’s lackluster speech (who made him repeat that “I wish I could quit you” line?), I only perked up when he launched into Chinese at the end. For all my moaning about the significance of the Oscars, I realize that the attention they bring to certain films really "works"—now I can't wait to go see "Syriana" and "Tsotsi."
Meryl Streep Is God. I was so happy to see Robert Altman get a much-deserved lifetime achievement award. His film “Nashville” is my all-time favorite and it was a thrill to see “Nashville” star Lily Tomlin up there presenting the award. I’m used to seeing Tomlin’s unique brand of Altmanesque delivery and offbeat humor, but who knew that Meryl Streep (star of Altman’s upcoming “Prairie Home Companion”) could match Tomlin note-for-note? The two of them perfectly simulated the overlapping dialogue and nonlinear craziness of a classic Robert Altman film. Streep never once glanced at the TelePrompter, she had her part down cold. Honestly, is there anything that woman can’t do? I don’t think so. As far as I’m concerned, you could cast Meryl Streep as the lead in “The Hattie McDaniel Story” and she’d be entirely believable.
At Least They Tried. In my desperate longing for more humor in the deadly show, I have to hand it to Ben Stiller for his goofy green-screen special effects bit (maybe it went on too long but he’s sure got guts!) and to Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell for appearing in front of a billion people wearing crazy makeup and false eyelashes (I bet that was the kind of thing both of them did in high school). And kudos to Jennifer Garner for recovering from her near disastrous fall on her way to the podium and having the wherewithal to retort, “I do all my own stunts.”
There weren’t nearly as many moments of horror as in years past. As usual, the production numbers for the Best Song nominees provided the evening’s most ghastly moments. First, Dolly Parton provided endless fodder for every living room in America and beyond. Did she have some ribs removed to get that waist? What’s going on with those legs? How many surgeries has she had on her face? Did Michael Jackson’s doctor do her nose? I love Dolly, and still think she’s a great singer and songwriter, but I wish she hadn’t turned herself into a blow-up doll. Still, unlike many plastic people in this town, Dolly readily admits to every visit under the knife and, God love her, she likes the results. But when they showed the brief clip from “Nine to Five” it was even more poignant to see how “natural” and pretty she looked back then.
Um…was it absolutely necessary to torch an actual car on the stage of the Kodak Theatre while Kathleen Bird York sang that song from "Crash," complete with zombies moving in slow motion around the burning vehicle in what seemed like an homage to Debbie Allen’s dance numbers of yore? Ditto the Oscar-winning song from "Hustle & Flow" that glorified a soap opera vision of pimps and hos. Let’s just compare the beginning of the 2006 Oscar winner for Best Song:
You know it's hard out here for a pimp (you ain't knowin)
When he tryin to get this money for the rent (you ain't knowin)
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent (you ain't knowin)
Because a whole lot of bitches talkin shit (you ain't knowin)
Will have a whole lot of bitches talkin shit (you ain't knowin).
It's fucked up where I live, but that's just how it is
It might be new to you, but it's been like this for years
It's blood sweat and tears when it come down to this shit
I'm tryin to get rich 'fore I leave up out this bitch
I'm tryin to have thangs but it's hard fo' a pimp
But I'm prayin and I'm hopin to God I don't slip, yeah.
with the beginning of the song that won the award in 1936:
Some day, when I'm awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you,
And the way you look tonight.
Yes you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
And the way you look tonight.
Which song would you rather have playing at your wedding?I spent most of my rant about last year’s Oscar telecast bemoaning Chris Rock’s offensive comments about the physical attributes of co-presenters Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. I hated to see these talented women reduced to such stereotypes. Should I admit, then, that when Salma Hayek walked out on stage to present an award last night, my eyes practically bugged out of my head like one of those wolves in an old Tex Avery cartoon? Now that is old-school glamour. Salma could hold her own with the likes of Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth any day of the week. But even more embarrassing was what happened a few minutes later. During a muted L’Oreal commercial, I piped up, “Oh, there she is again! God, she’s beautiful!” Oops. It wasn’t Salma Hayek, it was…Penelope Cruz. In any event, I’m looking forward to Hayek’s three movies coming out this year and Cruz’s four (including “Bandidas” starring both of them). Let’s start an Oscar buzz. After all, the only Latina to ever win an acting award was Rita Moreno and that was 45 years ago.
I thought this year’s set was hideous in a Beverly Center multiplex kind of way. And I was ridiculously off with my Oscar predictions, getting only one of the acting awards right and both of the writing awards. But enough—the Oscars are history, it’s time to start the campaigns for the 2007 Academy Awards. So far, the best actors I’ve seen are the dogs in “Eight Below.”