Statue of Limitations

Oscar cuts back. 

The 2001 edition of the Academy Awards was fast, clean, unmemorable. The risks were few, the payoff small, the Best Picture prize (it went to Gladiator, despite a Best Director win for Traffic’s Steven Soderbergh) somehow both shocking and anticlimactic. The evening seemed to be building toward something more harmonious than a bunch of anonymous suits seig-heiling and then paying tribute to a glowering loser—director Ridley Scott, who stroked his beard like a man who wanted to tear off his face and run screaming from the theater.

There were no major embarrassments apart from Julia Roberts, who is less actressy on the big screen than in life (thank heavens) and who stroked herself in a different place than Scott. Roberts got away with her whoops of self-worship because she is, after all, Julia Roberts, and because people pay big money to see stars masturbate in public. She was helped, no doubt, by her striped gown, which was bound to leave people divided—including Roberts, who was sliced down the middle by two black lines that met at her breastplate and plunged to the floor like a divining rod. I came around to liking everything but the train that frequently tripped her up, especially the absence of jewelry around that swan neck. Björk had to attach an actual swan to achieve nowhere near the same effect.

“Move it along” was this year’s credo. That meant no Chuck Workman montages, no tacky production numbers apart from the dinner-theater ballet that accompanied the Crouching Tiger,Hidden Dragon song and seemed so out of keeping with that arty movie. Steve Martin will be better the next time he hosts but was still a nifty presence—genuinely satirical and bone-dry, like something from a WASP Borscht Belt. His “ordinary people” story about dinner with Tom, Mel, and Julia was a heartwarming classic. And if I grimaced at his joke about Russell Crowe making a pass at poor, cosmetically over-tightened Ellen Burstyn, it was worth it to see Crowe seethe. He looks like such an angry, uptight “bloke,” especially confined by those tails and incongruously poofy locks. It should have been easy to predict that when he and Oliver Reed started a movie together, when it wrapped one of them would be dead.

The evening began promisingly on the red carpet with a burnished Jennifer Lopez—hair lightened, skin darkened, looking like an Oscar statuette with nipples. Later, however, the director unforgivably refused to beam her breasts to 800 million eager viewers. Julian Schnabel flaunted his wife’s enormous mammaries, but you had to turn to the E! channel to see them in astonishing close-up and to watch Joan Rivers interview Schnabel with no idea of who he was. When Marcia Gay Harden won for Pollock and thanked academy members for having watched their tapes, I had a brief surge of hope for Schnabel’s star, the brilliant Javier Bardem. But I doubt the average academy member made it to the end of Before Night Falls—Winona Ryder, of course, excepted. This she announced to an air of remarkable indifference.

What can I think back on with pleasure?

Catherine Zeta-Jones sucking in what’s left of her tummy while a thought balloon appeared above Michael Douglas’ head to the effect of: “I own that, and you don’t.”

Amy Madigan screaming when Marcia Gay Harden—in Ava Gardner mode—won. A guest at my house asking if the two were lovers. Much drunken discussion of gay Hollywood and Scientology. Theme: Steve Martin’s “We’re all gay.”

The costume designer of Gladiator shooting a look of displeasure at her companion when her name was called out and walking with enormous fatigue to the stage. Theme: The difficulties women at the Academy Awards have walking.

Angelina Jolie stripped down to a white pants suit and huge lips. Angry about something—not being able to mention her brother? Theme: The number of presenters who left the stage looking grim or pissed off.

The number of women in my living room who say they’d sleep with Benicio Del Toro. The number of men who say likewise. Theme: We’re all gay.

The way CT,HD cinematographer Peter Pau finessed the Mainland China-Taiwan thing by thanking Chinese people the world over.

Kate Hudson a Da Vinci Venus with golden ringlets. Speculation in my living room that a shiny spot on her face was a well-disguised zit. Speculation in my living room that the shiny spot that is her mom’s face is from Madame Tussaud’s.

Chow Yun Fat’s assertion that, “Cleator chheling clows turn from skin to bonmesh in the woll of spesh effex” and Michelle Yeoh saying crisply, “That’s right.”

No one with a clue what Dino De Laurentiis is talking about.

Juliette Binoche in ropelike pearls towering over Jack Valenti like a dominatrix.  

Bob Dylan looking like Vincent Price and thanking his record company and the studio—as if he’s just some guy!

Cameron Crowe hugging Russell Crowe: related or gay?

Julia Roberts thanking screenwriters Richard LaGravenese and Susannah Grant, only one of whom received credit (and an Oscar nomination).

Michael Douglas strolling onstage (thought balloon: “I’m the big dog, I’m the top dog”) like a man prepared to hand out an award to his own movie. Opening the envelope and saying “Gladiator” faster than Ridley Scott could stroke his beard, Russell and Joaquin could bear hug, and I could switch off the television.

Thank God it’s over.