Rock of Ages

It was the year of Assisted Suicide.

Now, I am uncomfortable with the way in which assisted suicide was handled in Million Dollar Baby and The Sea Inside (I’m with the disabled activist group Not Dead Yet on this one), but it was almost worth it to stick it to Michael Medved and Rush Limbaugh—their bellicose stupidity surely helped to put both movies over.

I hope they play Chris Rock over and over on their radio shows—but no, they won’t, because Chris Rock was screamingly funny. As we speak, Frank Luntz is likely issuing directives about how to engage Rock in a way that won’t sound racist—and the answer will be to BLAME THE LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD ELITE FOR LAUGHING.

Meanwhile, we’ll remember Rock discussing how Bush was a genius: asking to keep his job while everyone was seeing “a movie that shows how much you suck at that job.”

No, they won’t be playing that much.

About 80 percent of Rock’s material was great, and, unlike Sean Penn, I didn’t mind that he stuck it to Jude Law and Colin Farrell, both of whom were way, way overexposed last year. As a producer, Lynda, I’m sure you deal with this: Someone becomes the flavor of the month and has to be cast in everything, whereupon no one ever wants to see them again. (I did respect Penn for speaking up in defense of Law—that was classy. But Rock ruled.)

The trip to the Magic Johnson Theater was spectacularly funny and brilliantly edited. And if that’s the only way we can see Albert Brooks on the Oscars, so be it.

On the Washington Post site, I was asked if there would be any upsets this year. I said, sorry to be so boring, but no. I was wrong about the score for The Passion of the Christ, but other than that, it was a great victory for conventional wisdom.

The trains ran on time. The winners got up FAST. They spoke FAST. Before they got off stage, someone else was COMING ON. Some VERY TALL women functioned as both eye candy and bouncers—looming over the winners and poised to carry them off. My wife said the onstage lineups of art directors, sound editors, etc., looked like firing squads; she also said it seemed one step away from those reality shows where everyone stands tremulously waiting to hear the good/bad news while the camera zooms in for the kill.

I’m sure Cates was hoping to finish up in under three hours. He should eliminate the performances of the nominated songs, which tend to be lousy and/or ghastly, unless Bob Dylan sings them.

Some moments from the evening that resonated for me:

On the red carpet, Laura Linney with her mermaid hair tried to frame some intelligent thoughts on the subject of Kinsey. “Human beings are complex creatures,” she concluded.

“You look great,” said Chris Connelly.

Of course, the red carpet is only about women’s clothes—and this year, if the gowns didn’t take one’s breath away, they surely took their inhabitants’ breath away. Consider poor lovely curvy Scarlett Johannsen squeeeezed into that hourglass number, looking as if she’d soon need smelling salts. (Outside, she said her greatest inspiration was the “classy and fragile” Judy Garland. She looked classy and fragile herself last night.)

Once again, most of the women looked thin to the point of starvation. Johannsen. Emmy Rossum. Blanchett. Prince. Not Kate Winslet, fortunately—she looked sublime. Not Julia Roberts, showing off her nourishing new-mom boobs.  

Low point of the evening: Beyoncé in enormous, suitably vulgar jewels singing that horrible Andrew Lloyd Webber song with the perpetrator right there at the piano. I loved it when some guy in a mask flitted on and off the stage: The whole number summed up Phantom so well.

The Johnny Carson tribute—which reminded us again of Carson’s supernatural poise. It’s too bad that Gil Cates didn’t come up with a Brando tribute, too. Sure, Brando spurned the Oscars, but Brando was nuts and spurned everything, including himself. He was also arguably the greatest film actor of all time and deserved more than three frames in the “In Memoriam” segment.

The obvious but funny Adam Sandler and Rock bit in the “absence” of Catherine Zeta-Jones—a good joke on the scripted banter that was mercifully absent this year.

The superb editor Thelma Schoonmaker telling Martin Scorsese, “You think like an editor when you shoot.” Many winners “share” their Oscars with collaborators, but Schoonmaker’s tribute was generous and true.

Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman were gracious and touching, although Swank should not use the word “humbled” when she means “honored.” Someday I’d like to meet the person who devises the music cues, to ascertain why the orchestra sent Freeman off the stage to the strains of the theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and The Next Generation). Was this a way of working in a tribute to the late Jerry Goldsmith?

Jamie Foxx singing out when he hit the mike, praising Ray Charles and Taylor Hackford, doing a dead-on, loving impression of Sidney Poitier, and finally paying tribute to his late grandmom, the acting teacher who whupped him when he didn’t do things truthfully.

Finally, there was the Lifetime Achievement Award for Sidney Lumet, a director who has not exactly packed theaters in the last couple of decades. I was surprised they dared to include clips of Equus, The Wiz, and Family Business—all truly terrible movies. But it was good to be reminded of Twelve Angry Men, The Hill, Prince of the City, and, of course, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. It occurred to me that whatever his lefty New York politics, he now had more in common with Clint Eastwood than with someone who might have been his natural heir, Martin Scorsese. Once upon a time, Scorsese took his camera into the streets. And even though his technique always bordered on Expressionism, he thrived on real locations and on actors who were clearly digging into themselves. Perhaps he needs to forget that he’s a virtuoso, pick up a little Lumet, and go back to that original place.

Have a great trip to Australia, Lynda, and thanks for joining me again.

Now utterly exhausted with this subject, I end with a pledge: For the remainder of 2005, I will not say or write the word “Oscar” again. I will henceforth eat Mister Mayer bacon, etc.