I’m so glad the task of an Oscars wrap-up devolves to me first, because, this way, what meager material the broadcast had to offer is mine to hog. So I’ll grab the best bits first, pick them over lovingly, and chuck the bones back at you. For me, the whole thing felt like a poorly rehearsed evening of dinner theater—hosts stiff, jokes stale, prizes preordained—that suddenly ended in a twin trumpet blast of pure joy. (Unfortunately, the song that trumpet went on to play was “I Am Woman,” but for those first two notes, boy, did it sound fine.) Of the final two Cameron vs. Bigelow categories, best director and best picture, the first seemed like a gimme, the second a distant dream. That she won both—both!—approached an out-loud-whooping, couch-punching, hey-do-we-still-have-that-New-Year’s-Champagne level of great.
We all know what Kathryn Bigelow’s double victory against James Cameron meant. Its meaning was overdetermined by so many circumstances: their genders, of course, and the fact they were once married to one another, but most of all by the two different moviemaking worlds that The Hurt Locker and Avatar represent. Bigelow beating Cameron was small beating big; art beating commerce; independent beating studio; small, restrained, thoughtful chamber piece beating giant, obvious, jerkwad extravaganza (and I say this as a non-Avatar hater, indeed a proud Avatar-enjoyer).
All of these meanings in turn redound to Bigelow’s femaleness—sorry, Kitty, I want to move beyond the need to make that point as quickly as possible, but they do. If you’ll just let me represent for my tribe for a moment here, Troy—and I know it’s a feeling many men share, too, but, still—it’s unbelievably gratifying to see a woman who does fine, small-scale work triumphing over a man who erects massive monuments to his own vanity. Bigelow’s victory makes it seem like hard work is worthwhile, because someday someone will recognize it, no matter how loudly that asshole at the center table is talking about himself. And that’s not a message for women alone (even if more of us are likely to get seated at the shitty tables).
The other high point was Jeff Bridges’ drawling, Lebowskian speech as he accepted—or casually swung by and picked up—his best actor award for Crazy Heart. What can I say, I just enjoy the man, with his crinkly smile and his short honking laugh like a bicycle horn.
I’m trying to peer back through the misty Bigelow-shaped glow to remember all the things I didn’t like, which is to say the entire ceremony up to the last 10 minutes. Alec and Steve—especially Alec, oddly enough—looked uncomfortable and nervous. Their opening dialogue was poorly conceived—instead of delivering punch lines to the crowd, they awkwardly lobbed them at each other—and throughout the ceremony, they disappeared for stretches of time so extended we genuinely forgot they were supposed to be our guides. When they appeared in a sight gag, watching the awards on TV under a shared Snuggie, the joke hit a little too close to home.
The absence of performances for the best song nominees was also an unalloyed evil (even if most of this year’s nominated songs were noxious kitsch). That break-dancing choreography to the orchestral versions of the best scores—well, to say it brought back the old Debbie Allen story-ballet days would be paying it too much of a compliment. And, of course—this is always the case—the differential applause during the they-died-this-year montage is an affront to all human decency. Can’t they just ask the audience in advance to hold applause till the end of the clip reel? The current practice is barbaric. You find yourself measuring the volume of the hand each dead star gets—why wasn’t Michael Jackson’s louder?—then realize how little applause would accompany your own meaningless demise.
Go ahead, Troy, be my Elinor Burkett (the redhaired lady who Kanye’d the best documentary short director and finished his speech for him in what had to be the evening’s most bizarre moment). Shove me out of the way, grab the mic, and tell the nice people which was the best Oscar gown of all time.