A historic win, a glaring omission, a rude interruption, tears of joy and some killer one-liners—all part of the lengthy live telecast of the 82nd annual Academy Awards on ABC.
Despite the predictability of all four of the major acting awards, the David vs. Goliath smackdown between “The Hurt Locker,” with its miniscule box office take and “Avatar,” the highest-grossing film ever, drew more than 41 million viewers—the highest since 2005, when “Million Dollar Baby” was the top pic.
It’s great news for the television industry that all of the major tentpole events so far this calendar year have done boffo ratings. The Golden Globes, the Grammy Awards, the Peoples Choice Awards, the Super Bowl—which set a record--all way up over past years, even in this age of audience fragmentation.
But back to the Oscars. Opening the show with Neil Patrick Harris doing a song-and-dance number was inspired and attention-grabbing right out of the gate, but the tune disappointed. Still, it won’t hurt his well-deserved new rep as the go-to guy for awards show hosting duties.
The Steve Martin-Alec Baldwin hosting duo also emerged eminently employable. But it was touch and go for a moment as they bantered with the likes of a moody George Clooney, a radiant in white Meryl Streep and the regal Helen Mirren—momentarily evoking the ghost of David Letterman’s doomed “Uma/Oprah” schtick and Chris Rock’s repeated dissing of Jude Law. You’ll recall neither host was asked back.
Baldwin looked a bit nervous until he landed a one-liner about a cutaway of James Cameron earning $3 million. One of Martin’s gut-busters was about Streep’s Nazi memorabilia collection. The two had the audience laughing with their 3-D glasses gag, swatting away some Avatar-ish animations with bug spray, a cutaway of them in Snuggies watching the show and a pre-taped bit on their restless night before the Oscars in a hotel room bed together.
The unpredictability of a live show always adds to the drama and these are some of the moments, bad and good, that are sticking with me:
--The interruption of the acceptance speech by the producer of the documentary short “Music by Prudence.” OMG, was this a Kanye West-type stage takeover? Roger Ross Williams was just expressing his gratitude when a woman—unknown at the time to be another producer on the film and the co-winner--took the mic and went off about how a man wouldn’t let a woman talk and then ranted on until they were played off. Shocking! “The Daily Show” put it best last night, as Jon Stewart likened her to a lady who looked like she ran the snack bar at his synagogue’s Purim festival and John Oliver more pointedly asked, “What kind of classless bitch would interrupt an Oscar acceptance speech?” Probably a type who’ll never eat lunch in this town again. Elinor Burkett—who dropped out of the project but was still a credited producer--has quickly become a joke punchline, especially after she explained that Williams’ elderly mother prevented her from reaching the stage with a cane and that Williams didn’t know where Zimbabwe was until she told him. Who would have thought such inspiring subject matter (about a music group of disabled teenagers seeking social acceptance in Zimbabwe, where handicaps are seen as a curse) would generate this much animosity?
--The omission of Farrah Fawcett from the “in memoriam” segment. The actress died last year on the same day that Michael Jackson did, and she was overshadowed—and unfairly overlooked—again. In addition to her well-known television work, Fawcett did a number of feature films, therefore “qualifying” her to make the list. When asked about the oversight, an AMPAS spokesperson basically said sorry, not everyone could be included. Then, realizing the controversy was not going away, the Academy’s head honcho said she was better known in the TV world, and the Emmys should honor her. Hey, they already did. Major dishonor of Ms. Fawcett.
--She was beautiful in blue as a Na’vi, but when Zoe Saldana stepped out on stage as a presenter, the large crowd at my viewing party gasped. Walking down the stairs, her center slit gown was inches away from something we should probably never see on the Oscars—a crotch shot. The fashion police were called; she later topped just about everyone’s worst-dressed list.
--The young stars brought in to attract a younger audience—Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart, I’m talking about you—thankfully did not wear mini-skirts, but needed some posture lessons. Amanda Seyfried, you were the exception.
--Very nice John Hughes tribute, but the films of his oeuvre should have been chyroned with their titles and year of release—not everyone remembers them. Funny how some of the Brat Pack set have kept their looks, and others were nearly unrecognizable. Best accolades shown to the late director came from Macaulay Culkin and Matthew Broderick.
--Cry it out. I’m not normally as susceptible to the many charms of Oprah Winfrey, but her tribute to first-time nominee Gabourey Sidibe (“you’re in the same category as Meryl Streep”) brought tears not only to Sidibe, but to the rest of us who don’t have hearts made out of ice.
--Every single one of the acting winners gave a memorable acceptance speech. Every one of them—Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges, Mo’Nique and Christoph Waltz—had a lot of practice by taking the statuettes at various critics and guild awards en route to the big night, and all of them reached their own pinnacle. A+.
--Breaking barriers, breaking the mold: One of the few major awards that did not go as expected (to “Up in the Air’s” Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner) was the adapted screenplay honor handed to Geoffrey Fletcher for “Precious,” making him the first African American to take home a screenwriting Oscar. It’s about time. No, it’s way past time.
And as Barbra Streisand put it as she presented the best director honor, the time had come—for Kathryn Bigelow, director of “The Hurt Locker” to make history as the first woman ever to take home the gold man in that category. And, unbelievably, only the fourth woman to ever receive a directing nod in 82 years. (Streisand herself famously faced barriers when she directed 1983’s “Yentl,” so she was the perfect choice as presenter.)
But it wasn’t over yet, even though Tom Hanks later said it was always the plan that he would not read the 10 best picture nominees—which seemed like a rush job at the time—and just open the envelope. A still-stunned Bigelow came right back out on stage to claim the top prize of the night for “The Hurt Locker,” dashing predictions that “Inglorious Basterds” might be the spoiler.
The work of one of “The Hurt Locker” producers (the money man) who sent the “illegal” email asking academy members to vote for his film over the $500 million one (and got his invitation to the ceremony revoked) obviously paid off with the film sweeping six of its nine nominations—to the three wins for “Avatar.”
The Oscars are known for moments that resonate far beyond the ceremony, sometimes for decades. Cameron, who campaigned hard the whole season and graciously congratulated ex-wife Bigelow, has now officially lived down his “king of the world” proclamation from more than a decade ago.
The underdog wins again. And where am I supposed to text Dolphin to?