There’s an otherworldliness to watching the red carpet parade and the Oscar ceremony itself, even when you live in Los Angeles and watch the madness as it begins with the cordoning off of streets one week before the big show. But when you see the Oscar telecast in a setting largely untouched by everyday Oscar fever and hype—say, Eugene, Oregon, where I saw Sunday night’s trophy give-away—it seems even more remote than ever. Saturday night my best friend, his wife and I took in a packed showing of No Country for Old Men at the local mall septillion-plex as a way of setting in motion the Oscar steam engine that would pull into the station round about that same time tomorrow. It was, however, a bit of a surprise to me when several members of the audience for the film were vocally derisive when the screen went to black after Tommy Lee Jones’ dream monologue, not a great harbinger for general audience acceptance of No Country despite it being the Coen Brothers’ biggest hit to date. And the reaction was certainly a big difference from the movie-hip reverence with which the movie is more typically greeted down here in Tinseltown. There was laughter, some hissing, and the woman behind me was complaining loudly: "That's up for an Academy Award? Jesus Christ, we wasted the opportunity to see a good movie tonight!" I'd like to think she took me completely seriously when I turned around and suggested she run straight to the 9:45 showing of 27 Dresses in order to get the taste of the awful piece of shit she just endured out of her mouth. (Update: My friend Blaaagh is the one who accompanied me, and as he reminds me in the comments column below, the majority of the audience seemed to be with the movie. If I made it sound somehow as though there were a riot about to break out, I apologize.)
I still believed going in that No Country would reign supreme on the night; but I also had pretty good reason to believe, given the fact that neither Transformers nor Pirates of the Caribbean 3 were nominated for major awards, that the show itself would be a ratings dud. (In fact, reports Tuesday confirm that it may be the lowest-rated Oscar show ever.) But since I’m not an ABC executive, I can’t see any good reason to agonize over that. Oscar will honor whoever Oscar will honor, hit or no hit, ratings or no ratings.
And that was proven out immediately when the costume design Oscar went to Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a movie I thought the Academy would work strenuously to ignore this night. It was also an instant severe blow to my chances in the office Oscar pool. But in a strange way, knowing I’d screwed up so early kind of took the pressure off of following my own pool ballot and wondering if anyone else was doing as well as I was. Well, Elizabeth: TGA turned out to be a nasty surprise to just about everyone, which meant that all was not lost just yet re my movie-centric gambling. And aneurysm-inducing Diablo Cody prize notwithstanding, the rest of the night had many nice surprises, a couple of wince-inducing ones, and only a few bumps of any note along the way.
One of my favorite moments of the night was the encore appearance of Best Song co-winner Marketa Irglova, whose mike went dead after partner Glen Hansard’s effusive and sincere thank-you (“Make art! Make art!”). First, Stewart’s brilliant off-the-cuff remark: “God, that guy is soooo arrogant!” Then, whether Stewart prodded for it (I’d like to think he did) or it was a producer’s idea, Irglova coming back out to finish what she never got started was a perfect people’s Oscar moment, and well-deserved. I just hope it makes Sid Ganis, Gilbert Cates and the other showmen behind the Oscars realize that playing off the winners before they’ve had a chance to express themselves—in essence bowdlerizing before the fact the very reason the Oscars are held in the first place, to honor specific achievement in film and give the winners their moment in the spotlight— is an unpleasant manifestation of Hollywood arrogance. Hopefully, if the Irglova Experiment proves anything to these folks, it’s that the acceptance speeches should be the last things cut or otherwise mercilessly truncated.
If they're looking for Ocar flab to trim, well, I for one almost always get squirmiest during the Best Song performances. Only rarely does the category offer anything close to the caliber of Hansard and Irgolva’s moment. The song from August Rush was probably better than the movie, though the three Enchanted numbers were deadly dull. I thought it was fairly brave of Amy Adams to go out there, basically in the character of Enchanted’s Princess Giselle, and chirp out a number that skirts satire, but ultimately backs away from it, like “Happy Working Song.” But I have to admit alliance with Kim Morgan when she said that Adams’ charmed innocence act is getting a touch thin. How about her and Patrick Dempsey in a remake of Panic in Needle Park for a change of pace, eh?
Kim reminds us of some truly wonderful moments, though. Javier Bardem’s win, and then his heartfelt acceptance speech, half of which he dedicated to his mother in Spanish, had my tears flowing early on. And in addition to Tilda Swinton making me look like a much better prognosticator than I really am, her gobsmacked speech, which began with a very sincere-sounding “Oh, no,” quickly spun into a riot of sideways Clooney worship, a big noogie from a freshly Oscar-winning co-star to her leading man that was utterly disarming.
And I would agree with Kim also that I did not need to be reminded of Jerry Seinfeld and Bee Movie again—how much did DreamWorks/Paramount have to spring for that little appearance, which amounted to little more than an ad for the upcoming DVD, I wonder. But, that said, any bit that gets a clip from Irwin Allen’s The Swarm into play on Hollywood’s night of nights is a-okay in my book. The writers made excellent hay of a clip from the ersatz disaster pic, as the climax to a bit in which Seinfeld’s bee points himself out in famous movies bee scenes (including the attack on Bill Murray from Rushmore).
But it also reminded me that, back in the spring of 1979, Oscar actually invited The Swarm to the real party. Allen’s go-to costume designer Paul Zastupnevich, whose career with the disastermeister stretches back at least as far as Lost In Space, got the second of three Oscar nominations he would get for his arguably undistinguished work on Allen’s movies for The Swarm-- the first being The Poseidon Adventure, the last being, appropriately enough, When Time Ran Out…
As far as the host goes, I thought Jon Stewart was pretty much right on the button most of the night; only going flat a few times over four hours is a pretty good track record. In addition to the great cracks about Clinton and Obama (“Normally when you see a black man or woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty. How else are we supposed to know it’s the future?!”) and Norbit (“Even Norbit got a nomination, which I think is great. Too often the Academy ignores movies that aren't good."), he even took time to play a match of Wii tennis with the 11-year-old vocalist from the August Rush song. And then there’s that whole bring-back-Marketa business, the goodwill off of which I think he’ll be riding for a good long time.
Of course the Coen Brothers were at once benignly cracked and expectedly short-winded (“Thank you,” murmured Ethan upon conquering his mile-wide grin after their first win of the night) and sincerely eloquent (“Thank you for letting us play in our little corner of the sandbox.”) These two were only slightly uncomfortable and seemed to really enjoy this strange moment that they so clearly deserved, punctuated as it was by cuts to Joel’s wife Frances McDormand, who was beside herself with delight, and the unexpected sight of Cormac McCarthy himself in the audience, surely seated near the No Country, giving his tacit blessing to the coronation of this blistering and brilliant adaptation of his work. (One only hopes that director John Hillcoat, of last year’s The Proposition, matches the standard set by the Coens with his own McCarthy adaptation, that of The Road, the filming of which is what accounts for the robust beard attached to Viggo Mortensen’s face on Oscar night.)
And if I might get a little E! channel for a moment, I was most delighted to see Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard, Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Garner amongst the females looking especially lovely Sunday night. The boys were best represented by Javier Bardem, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Viggo Mortensen and Josh Brolin, who I wish I could be on Oscar night just so I could sit next to Diane Lane. And a special shout-out to Gary Busey: Hope you enjoyed the festivities, friendo, as it’s probably the last one you’ll ever be invited to!
Finally, since she made writing this piece ever so much more difficult by trumping all my own reactions and doing so in such an entertaining way, I will leave my last word on Oscars 2007 in the capable hands of Kim Morgan, who counts herself with me in the anti-Juno brigade. I had my aneurysm, to be sure, and I knew it was coming, so now that the threat of major Oscar damage is past I wish Juno Godspeed on its way toward an enormously successful DVD which I can completely ignore. But before I do, here’s Kim on Diablo Cody:
“Diablo Cody, beloved hipster-ex-stripper-screenwriter-goddess, wins Best Original Screenplay for the indie hit Juno, a movie soaked with forced, overly quippy one-liners that either delighted or seriously exasperated audiences (I was one of those exasperated)-- and all she can come up with is, ‘I especially want to thank my fellow nominees.’ Or, ‘This is for the writers!’ Diablo! Honest to blog! Where was your arsenal of smarty-pants wisecracks and pop-culture Soupy Sales-isms? This is the Oscars, Home Skillet. This is your time on stage. As you wrote, this is ‘one doodle that can't be un-did.’ But hey, you pulled off the leopard dress, tats and your Louise Brooks bob. So at least you looked great. But... another thing. What was with your glum exit offstage? Was Harrison Ford taking you to Oscar detention?”
Ah, Diablo in Oscar detention. What an image. That’ll definitely last me until next year!