Dear Troy and Kim,
Last night’s Oscars harked back to the ceremony’s origins: It felt like an industry dinner, provincial and sedate. The product the guests spend the rest of the year selling is entertainment (or glamour, or catharsis, or whatever it is the movies are supposed to provide), but it could just as easily have been aluminum siding or fiberglass insulation. From the very mild ribbing of Ellen DeGeneres’ opening monologue—she didn’t roast celebrities so much as poach them gently in a white-wine sauce—to that final shower of gold confetti while the orchestra played “Hooray for Hollywood!”, an atmosphere of cozy bonhomie and cautious politeness held sway. There was none of the uncomfortable East Coast edge introduced by Jon Stewart’s presence as host last year, and DeGeneres hewed to the academy’s rumored request to keep politics out of her patter.
The upsets were so rare and so minor—Alan Arkin rather than Eddie Murphy for best supporting actor, the cinematography award to Pan’s Labyrinth rather than Children of Men—that they elicited “hmms” rather than gasps. And the whole affair unfolded with an unapologetic, magisterial slowness, like a three-day-long wedding in Rajasthan. Here are few moments plucked from the near four-hour blur:
- The “pity the clown” number performed by Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and John C. Reilly near the top of the show. It felt just the way a good industry-dinner skit should, hastily written and scantily rehearsed, but loose and funny (I loved when they rhymed “Ralph Nader” with “James Spader,” and when Reilly suddenly stood up in the audience and burst into a credible musical-comedy tenor.)
- The periodic vignettes in which the dance troupe Pilobolus tumbled into view behind a white screen to form their bodies into silhouettes representing various nominated films (and some non-nominated ones: Snakes on a Plane?). To me, these were the best part of the ceremony, and I strenuously reject any comparison with the Debbie Allen-choreographed dance sequences of yore. Piling up on top of other people and twisting your bodies into the shape of a Volkswagen bus (Little Miss Sunshine) or a row of penguins (Happy Feet) is a perfectly legitimate artistic endeavor that should have an awards show of its own.
- The distracting ubiquity of the phrase, “Well, do ya, punk?” among the iconic movie quotes that drifted by in the graphic that ran underneath each clip from a nominated film. Those words, of course, were uttered by Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry as a follow-up question to his classic thug-menacing query, “Do you feel lucky?” Last night, it was hard not to imagine the question as being directed by Clint toward Martin Scorsese, his main competition for the best director Oscar. Marty did feel lucky last night; you could tell from his genial response to DeGeneres’ goofing in the aisles, his tears when his lifelong collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker won the editing prize, and the bear hug he gave an inexplicably bald Jack Nicholson after finally landing his directing prize. I have no particular love for The Departed, but I’m not made of stone. It would have been too much to see those Groucho Marx eyebrows knitted together in chagrin as Clint strode past them to the podium once more.
- The choir of sound-effects artists delivering an astonishing medley of birdsong, chariot races, machine guns, steam trains—all reproduced using only the human voice. This idea had to have come from the same arty minimalist who booked Pilobolus for the silhouettes.
- Celine Dion, Our Lady of the Prominent Neck Tendons, performing the world premiere of a new Ennio Morricone song with her usual bizarre enunciation: ” I knee-uw I lee-oved yee-ou/ Before I knee-uw yee-ou …” Every time I see Celine, I’m struck by how much, in appearance and behavior, she resembles a devotional image of a medieval saint, one of those early Christian martyrs bearing her own eyes on a platter.
- Jennifer Hudson going back and thanking God again a second time in the middle of her list of thank-ees: “I’d like to thank the Academy … definitely have to thank God, I guess, again. … ” You couldn’t help but picture the Almighty as a disgruntled agent, watching the show from one of the B-seats in the back.
- Milena Canonero, costume designer for Marie Antoinette, admitting that she always wants to “get this doll” as she brandished her statuette. Sofia Coppola’s next movie should be a spoof of awards season titled Get This Doll.
- Helen Mirren bringing her pocketbook up on stage with her, awkwardly clutched under her left arm as she wielded Old Goldy in her right. At first I thought, sweetie, let Taylor Hackford hold it for you—that’s what less-talented-than-you director husbands are for! What are you going to need up there, your keys? A mint? And then I realized: She’s keeping the bag as a tribute to Elizabeth II, who she thanked in her speech for never wavering from “her dignity, her sense of duty, and her hairstyle.” Mirren has spent her career thinking about the details, perfecting the language of gestures and props—there’s no way she carried that purse up there by mistake.
Troy, Kim: How did it look from your seats?