Martin’s Cruelty, Zeta-Jones’ Bosom, Etc.

Like Lynda, I was thrilled to see Adrien Brody and The Pianist walk away with three of the top four awards for which it was nominated. And I loved it when Martin Scorsese jumped to his feet to honor Roman Polanski: He must have been relieved as hell that he didn’t lose to Rob Marshall. The only thing more satisfying would have been for Harvey to be denied the final prize. Next year Miramax should open its doors to a team of inspectors—although not from the academy, which we know can be bought. I hereby volunteer for the job. Anyone want to lead a convoy into Tribeca with me?

Last night’s Academy Awards happened on the bloodiest day of the war with Iraq, but the show did go on. Actors often speak of “making a choice” and then “going with it.” The producers of this year’s telecast made a choice, but I wouldn’t say they went with it. There was an air of gritted teeth about the whole thing. Everything was halfway. The red carpet was famously rolled up—but wasn’t that a red carpet outside the Kodak Theater? Chris Connelly and company didn’t burble, “Who designed your gown?” to any of the strategically frowning actresses. But ABC went ahead with a “Frock Around the Clock” contest for the most-admired Oscar get-ups of years past. In lieu of tasteless production numbers, the show featured another Chuck Workman-like montage with snippets of 75 years of tasteless production numbers. It was the same as it ever was, only verveless.

True, as with Jack Nicholson’s climactic toast in About Schmidt, there was an element of suspense: We knew it could get ugly. And yet except for Michael Moore, it didn’t. Having spent the evening awaiting the explosions, I found the little pips about “peace” to be a bit of an anticlimax.

My anti-war friends thought that Moore was great while those in my own—feverishly ambivalent—camp weren’t so convinced. It would have been different, I think, if a non-blowhard had gotten up there and bellowed, “Shame on you!”—had put his or her career on the line to say that Bush was a liar. But that kind of boorish grandstanding comes too naturally to Moore, a man who didn’t have the intellectual honesty to add that Saddam Hussein is a “fictitious president,” too—and one who has killed a lot more people than George W. Bush and his father combined. Nothing has ever shaken my faith in my own politics like having Michael Moore in the same camp. When he invoked the Dixie Chicks, I’ll bet they wanted to stick their heads in an oven.

The Frida contingent said that Frida Kahlo herself would have opposed the war. Folks, Frida was a Stalinist, whose famous line about painting her reality and not her dreams was partly a sop to reassure the Communists that she wasn’t a gulag-worthy Surrealist.

Speaking of the gulag, what was the bug up Salma Hayek’s ass? Were she and Eddie Norton having a spat?

In contrast to the Stalinists, Adrien Brody struck a universal chord by evoking the “sadness and dehumanization of people in times of war.” He obviously went into the Oscars believing pundits like me, who said that it wasn’t enough that he’d given the best performance of the year by miles—he didn’t have a chance. He was as blindsided as we were. I loved almost everything he said—and it was great to see so many shots of his mom, my old Village Voice colleague, the great (and superhumanly nice) photographer Sylvia Plachy. He got away with shushing the orchestra, but he did seem ever so slightly entitled, like a Jewish American Prince, to stop the show while he dithered away. If he’d been any less brilliant, he’d have been insufferable.

On the other hand, Nicole Kidman was excruciatingly inarticulate: She must have missed a meeting that day with her army of handlers—proof of Lynda’s report that she almost didn’t go. But I watched her acceptance speech again in the morning, and except for the obligatory reference to 9/11 and “problems in the war,” she wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I even felt a measure of sympathy: It must be hard for someone of limited intellect to try to sort out so many conflicting feelings in front of billions of people in 45 seconds while trying to keep those weird asymmetrical straps from slipping off her lovely white shoulders.

The war didn’t seem to be a problem for Steve Martin, who chose not to let it interfere with his jokes. Some of them were bracingly cynical, but most were witless and cruel—except to Harvey, to whom Martin sucked up in the opening minutes. Think of it: The most obnoxious Oscar campaign in recent memory, and Martin tells the world that Chicago will win because it’s “a really good movie that everybody likes.” Hey, I thought it was a good movie, too. But that’s not why Renée Zellweger probably got more votes than Diane Lane and Julianne Moore put together.

Martin left Harvey alone, but he did give it to Colin Farrell. Now, it’s one thing for people like me to make light of Farrell’s notorious drinking problem or his boorishness. But to do it while presenting him at the Oscars is boorish on a whole different level. Farrell, introducing U2, had one of the class responses of the evening: “I want to say, ‘You have no idea how close to the truth you are, but that would be a lie.’ ” I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but since he was probably bombed out of his skull he showed incredible poise. Then Martin put up a mug shot of Nick Nolte.

Steve Martin, you are no longer my hero.

Presenters appeared before what looked like the giant warp-core drive from Star Trek, many of them wearing little silver peace pins that looked like Starfleet insignias. None, alas, tapped it and beamed out. Julia Roberts did tap her heart. She was about to read the name Conrad L. Hall for Best Cinematography, and she wanted us all to know that she was sad he has passed away.

Lisa Kudrow entered, looking lovely. Unfortunately, she was Mira Sorvino—proving once again that Ndugu has better nutrition than most of the young actresses in Hollywood. Mira used to be a tall, leggy gal with an alluring touch of baby fat in her cheeks. Those cheeks have now been cratered by twin meteors of starvation. Hilary Swank has also been dieting. Unfortunately, she couldn’t lose weight in her teeth, which now appear heavier than her face. Thank God for eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones and her capacious bosom, which a cameraman was kind enough to show us in close-up during a shot of some Chicago winners making their way down the aisle—also known as “the Chicago receiving line.”

But the madness continues. In clips from Unfaithful, Diane Lane can be seen furrowing her brow, which translates her character’s doubts into exquisite ridges. Those ridges now appear to have been ironed out—meaning one third of her face is now mute.

At least Kirk Douglas had a sense of humor about the toll of age and illness, directing his son to speak clearly and putting us all suddenly, happily, at ease. The only thing nicer would have been the two Douglases reading the name of The Pianist off that card. One could see Harvey saying, “Go, go, go” to Rob Marshall, pushing the reluctant loser onto the stage while remaining safely beyond the reach of the audience’s booing.

Virginia: How did you find the evening? And how was the company?