Who Gets the Oscar for Montage?

Dear Troy and Kim,

To pick up where Troy left off with the painful Oscar-coverage analogies: That ceremony was more padded than Eddie Murphy’s fat suit in Norbit. Early on, when Jon Stewart introduced the montage of “binoculars and periscopes in the movies,” it was meant as a joke about the kind of Oscars we might have seen if the writers’ strike had continued. But sometime during the bees-in-the-movies montage presented by Jerry Seinfeld’s CGI character from Bee Movie (who, I have to agree with Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum, is looking more and more like Satan, three months after the movie’s release), it became obvious that the producers really were using pre-taped filler to compensate for the lack of rehearsal time imposed by the strike! So much for the hopes I voiced in Friday’s post about a spontaneous, vaudeville-style Oscars. It was going to be montage night, from the numbingly long lineup of clips from every best picture since the awards began (in 1929!) to that PricewaterhouseCoopers “how we vote” segment, which felt like an in-house corporate video you’d be forced to watch during a weekend training seminar.

What drama there was came not from the ceremony but from the actual awards. Both female acting prizes were “wha?” moments, especially Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose. Kim, any thoughts on how she managed to sway the Academy’s vote from the favorite, Julie Christie? Was it just the young-over-old preference that traditionally prevails in this category? I was hoping that Helen Mirren had turned that around for good last year. (Though sexism and ageism reigned supreme last night: Witness Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill’s annoying “No, you be Dame Judi Dench” skit. What the hell’s wrong with being Judi Dench?) But even if there were going to be a young-actress dark horse—a dark filly—one would have thought Ellen Page, no? Still, Cotillard is spectacular as Edith Piaf, and her genuine shock at hearing her name was one of the evening’s high points.

I loved when Tilda Swinton slouched to the podium looking like David Bowie; she was a space alien in a strange asymmetrical black dress and casually brandished her award, which she promised to her agent because he and the statue had “really, truly the same head and, it has to be said, the buttocks.” And though I sort of begrudged Javier Bardem his best-supporting shoo-in—not because his performance wasn’t great, but, come on, No Country is so overpraised—he won me over with his shout-out in Spanish to his mother, Pilar Bardem, a well-known Spanish actress, who sat beaming in the audience looking utterly un-Hollywood in spectacles and folksy jewelry.

Jon Stewart’s opening monologue had one really good joke: a riff on Barack Hussein Obama’s politically unfortunate name that turned into a lament for the could-have-been presidency of “Gaydolf Titler.” (“What a shame—Titler had such good ideas!”) But at times, Stewart’s East Coast outsiderness made him appear ungracious in ways that must have offended the industry audience. After the editing award, when he cracked that “someone out there just won their Oscar pool based on a guess,” there was a beat during which I cringed for all the editors in the room. (And besides, as tech categories go, isn’t editor one of the glamorous ones?) 

But if Stewart was any part of whatever hasty backstage negotiations were responsible for getting Once’s Markéta Irglová back on stage to finish her acceptance speech for best song, I forgive him everything. That was the night’s best moment by far, along with the one in Glen Hansard’s earlier speech when he exhorted the audience to “Make art. Make art.” Hansard and Irglová’s lovely of performance of “Falling Slowly,” their halting DIY ballad, compared to Kristin Chenoweth’s studiously proficient belting of that big Enchanted number as an Obama rally compares to a McCain event. It was a glimpse of a possibility that the old (71-year-old party warhorses and chirpy blondes borne on the shoulders of male dancers)—may be giving way to the new (Kenyan-Hawaiian-Illinoisan activists and Czech/Irish songwriting teams). And for the first time since 1964, all four acting awards went to non-Americans. Are we seeing an opening up of the Oscars’ borders?