Take a bow, Ms. Laura Ziskin. You did the unthinkable, and I for one am eating my words. For those reading who are not aware of what I'm talking about, let me just point out that the last Oscar telecast with a producer's credit next to your name was the infamous four hour and twenty-something-minute elephant of 2002 (the year of A Beautiful Mind mini-sweepage, which just makes it so much worse.) I doubted that you could pull it off, but last night's 79th Academy Awards show - though surely not a contender for the shortest ceremony ever - was a total delight from start to finish... (aside from one woefully bad misstep, but let us start with the good first.) For one thing, Laura, it was actually and consistently entertaining. It was laid-back. Classy, but casual. And the bizarre inclusions of the sound effects chorus and Pilobolus (the Shadow Dancers who mimed icons from nominated films) were genius. Ellen DeG was spectacular as well, but there was also some very solid organizing going on behind-the-scenes (very snappy transitions, mostly concise presentations and succinct clip choices.) Great work.
But what of the awards themselves, what of them?!
- Milena Canonero for Costume Design!!! We all knew that this category was kind of up in the air before the ceremony (especially since Dreamgirls certainly wouldn't have the sweeping power that Chicago did as a Best Picture frontrunner a couple of years ago), but I was really pleased that the voters were able to look past their (idiotic) problems with the film itself and see the brilliance in Canonero's work. And I love how she referred to the Oscar statuette as a "doll" in her speech. Hah!
- Well, The Departed is my pick for the best, the gutsiest and the most inspired Best Picture choice the Academy has made in recent years; certainly nothing comes to mind for me immediately that can compare (Return of the King is special to me, but they still chose the wrong installment, and while I do adore Shakespeare in Love, but even I admit that it was rather tailor-made for Oscar love considering the showbiz wink-winks and, well, the Weinsteins.) I mean, I'm still having trouble believing that the Best Picture Oscar went to a remake of all things, and at that a remake of an action thriller from Hong Kong! I have to say, I'm quite impressed with the Academy's general weirdness this year (can anyone remember the last time a film with so few nominations - a paltry five - was able to walk off with the major one and most of the other biggies? Even Crash had more nods last year.)
- The awesome Thelma Schoonmaker is able to win a third Oscar for the Irish mobster flick, having just unexpectedly scooped up a statuette two years ago for The Aviator. I was pretty taken aback by that, I have to admit. But once that happened, I knew that things were looking quite good for The Departed to win the Best Picture prize (if Babel couldn't pull it off in that category, then where else? I'll tell you where else, Best Original Sco-- ugh, it's infuriating... more in a second.)
- I haven't seen Happy Feet yet (really want to though), which upset Cars in the Animated Feature category, but it's quite heartening to see that Pixar doesn't have a monopoly over this category.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
- How on earth did Children of Men's Emmanuel Lubezki lose the Oscar for Cinematography? Even as they were showing *the* scene in the car during the clip selections, I was already drooling. I suppose others are correct in suggesting that Pan's Labyrinth was much more picturesque and therefore accessible to the voters. Lubezki's work certainly wasn't attractive to the eye, but it wasn't supposed to be, and this is going down as the most shameful upset of the night. Bad form, Academy!
- And then there's Gustavo Santaolalla, who earned a consecutive trophy for his scoring duties on Babel, which is a little bit absurd considering most of the music was recycled from other sources (I read something somewhere about how only forty-five minutes was new material, but I'm not sure about that.) Still, "Deportation", one of the most chilling and effective tracks of the film, was used in Sally Potter's Yes two years ago as "Iguazu". Of Babel's nominations, this was the last place I was expecting anything to come to fruition.
- I'm not completely disgusted by this pick as much as the aforementioned oversights, but I'm still miffed that Alan Arkin was able to win for Little Miss Sunshine. I'm not a fan of the category in general, but I largely would have preferred Eddie Murphy to take this. I guess Norbit really did hurt his chances; something must have happened between SAG and now, and I can't think of anything else. Is it true that Murphy walked out after the category was called? Can anyone confirm that?
- I may have seen The Lives of Others upset coming in the Foreign Language Film category, but that doesn't mean it was deserving. I'm not big on Pan's, but out of what I've seen (Water being the other), it was the most deserving to take home the prize. Still, you can't feel bad for del Toro; his film came only second to Marty's for overall wins.
And in the tradition of last year, here are my special prizes for certain distinguished (or not) behaviour showcased on the Oscars...
Most Shocking and Deserving Winner of the Night: Milena Canonero, Marie Antoinette
Most Shocking and Undeserving Winner of the Night: Gustavo Santaolalla, Babel
Best Speech of the Night: Forest Whitaker, and this selection surprises me more than anyone, considering he's been downright incoherent all season. But he found his inner voice on that stage, which was absolutely breathtaking to witness (I admit it, I got chills: "And [God], who's given me this moment, in this lifetime, that I will hopefully carry to the end of my lifetime into the next lifetime.") I'm still not sure what it means, but I'm not sure it even matters.
Worst Presenter of the Night: Nicole Kidman, overly fussy and unprepared. Plus, doesn't she know that leading with "And the Winner Is" is a big no-no?
Most Infuriating (read: Worst) Moment of the Night: That ill-conceived montage pieced together by Michael Mann about the greatness of America with its freedom of opportunity, etc (riiiiight...) Started off interesting and with some subversive elements, but then become a Frankenstein monstrosity of sorts with clips from all sorts of movies with all sorts of tonal registers slapped together and made to seem significant. Did this rub anyone else the wrong way? It was stupid, it was unnecessary, and a waste of time (bordering on offensive.)
Most Generous Bosom: Jennifer Hudson, who I was really afraid would pop out during that Dreamgirls song presentation. Which means I was secretly wishing it would happen.
The "Why the Hell were You Invited?" Award Part II: J Lo and hubby AGAIN. Second year in a row. Seriously, why?
The Smith family just won't stop until I've professed utter love and adoration: Am I supposed to find Jaden Christopher Syre Smith cute and lovable too now? Ugh, fine. Uncle. Now please leave me alone, all three of you.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment of the Night: Eddie Murphy's reaction when Rachel Weisz read "Alan Arkin". Eeps.
That said, biggest sourpuss of the night: Alan Arkin. Jeez, lighten up, would you? I'm talking specifically about his statements with the press backstage.
Best Line of the Night: "Look at Abigail Breslin over here. I mean, that's crazy, right? How old are you? Eight? Ten? Nine? She's a four year old girl, and just filled with joy and hope..." - Ellen DeGeneres
Most Terrified Winner of the Night: Eugenio Caballero, winning Best Art Direction for Pan's Labyrinth. He was trembling head to toe - I would know, I was watching on HD.
Most Passionate Musical Performance of the Night: No, not Melissa Etheridge, or J. Hudson. It was Jack Black actually, totally selling us on the Hollywood comedian's woes. Bonus points for pointing out how hot Helen Mirren is.
Please stop hammering it over our heads: The whole "we're so diverse/multicultural/international this year" self-congratulatory pat on the back. It's getting really unflattering. But the Steve Carell inclusion was amusing.
Most Off-putting Hero Worship: Davis Guggenheim slobbering all over Al Gore. He was two seconds away from humping the man's leg, I tell ya.
The Tom-Hanks-in-The-Da-Vinci-Code Award for Achievement in Hairstyle: Will Ferrell and his... afro. Last year's winner? Tom Hanks.
Best Improv Performance on the Fly: Meryl Streep, immediately lapsing into character in order to terrorize presenters Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt. Hilarious.
Best Moment of the Night Overall: Why, Marty clutching his Oscar of course. What else?
Moment where I totally lost it:
That picture sums it up pretty well. Also when the gun from The Departed shot a bullet (!). My friend Lauren and I were in giddy hysterics.
Best Follow-Up to that Moment: Ellen DeG emerges all disheveled from backstage and happily offers: "They're naked!"
FASHION COMMENTARY (and excessive Helen Mirren adoration)
Now to the fashion and celebrity worship. One of my favourite quips from last night wasn't featured on the actual show, but was uttered in the Lauren's living room early in the night during the arrivals:
Me (genuinely perplexed): "Why on earth is Helen Mirren on the red carpet waving a Union Jack?"
Lauren: "She's invading."
My wise friend speaks the truth. For me, for all the goodness that transpired last night Oscar-wise and fashion-wise, it was all about the über-sexy Helen Mirren, the Queen herself, swooping in and conquering (colonizing?) my heart and soul. I've always adored the woman as you might expect, but it was only yesterday that I made the complete conversion to Mirren-mania like the rest of the world lately. I think it had a lot to do with Barbara Walters' interview, and how refreshingly honest and candid Mirren was during her bit. We both loved her response to Barbara's typically schmoozing question - "Do you feel perhaps as a result of all this success that the best is yet to come?" Helen's cutting and truthful response: "No. No, I think this is probably the best... I can't wait to see what happens next."
Also great - "I never wear trousers... because I have an enoooormous bottom!" And her bashing of Americans who for some reason have a big thing for shorts. I love it.
Plus, say hello to the number one best-dressed celeb last night. The woman was freaking royalty - just look at her... Today she stopped in on Oprah (ugh, I feel dirty for watching) and showed off the luminous Christian Lacroix dress in full detail. It was pretty stunning. I'm just as shocked as anyone by this pick, because I've been really underwhelmed with Helen's choices throughout the season, but she really settled on the correct awards show to blow us all away with this stunner. I watched the telecast in HD, and whenever she appeared, she literally glittered. I'm not even joking. I'm in love.
The next best six (#2-#7), click to enlarge:
Last year, it was Jessica Alba who surprised me with a winning ensemble, and this time around, it's another Jessica who stood out - Ms. "Take Me Seriously as an Actress Already" Biel in fuchsia. I don't know what the girl's been doing lately, but she must have hired a stylist who knows the right ways. This is Oscar de la Renta I believe, and it was nice to see such a bold colour pick in a sea of metallics and soft hues (but it's the belt that makes it really stellar.) Bravo all around. But then again, that body would look good in anything, wouldn't it? My love Cate Blanchett looked other-worldly (as expected), particularly because of that awesome shoulder strap. Best in show for the guys was James McAvoy; as a short guy myself, I know how frustrating it is to find clothes that fit properly, but he was perfection (I need to remember this image when I buy a new suit this summer.) Somehow, I missed Maggie Gyllenhaal during the pre-show, but I was thrilled to see her present on stage. A real treat for the eyes, and the best part was the hair. And finally, I didn't really like Gwyneth upon first glance, but by the end of the night, I was convinced. It's weirdly constructed (particularly the top) and an interesting colour for skin tone, but Paltrow can pull off most things, can't she? (Except for that droopy boob/goth number in '02. Oy.)
Biggest surprise of the night? Cameron Diaz in Valentino Coutoure, who has made a great comeback after the strangeness that was the Globes (still, that dress had its plus points; I'm not a total hater, see?) She looked quite lovely last night, and I adored how cute her bum looks in that dress... but to be honest, the earrings are what sold me.
Runner-ups: Diane Keaton (who should be up there on the list, but I couldn't find a picture of her; still, how delightful to see her out of gloves and a top hat); Anika Noni Rose (plain hotness); Céline Dion (can't stand the woman, but I have to admit she looked together for once); Eva Green (utterly bizarre and yet oddly compelling; I like risks, and it paid off for the most part - btw, did anyone see her at the BAFTAs? Whooooa); Mark Wahlberg (but then again, how could he not look good in a tux?); Rachel Weisz fantastic in Vera Wang; Rinko Kikuchi (best she's looked all season IMO), Daniel Craig because he's Daniel Craig, and Jodie Foster... Yeah, I think that's it. Milena Canonero too (see above), for looking totally at ease in that super-elegant tux.
Now the ones I'm kind of mixed on...
Jennifer Hudson's Oscar de la Renta dress was okay (I far preferred her vavavoom! Jessica Rabbit sparking red number during the Dreamgirls song presentation), but what the hell was that metallic cape collar around her shoulders on the red carpet? Traumatizing. I ranted and raved for hours until her category came up, and then I was relieved to see that she had dropped it when she walked up the stairs. I love the Blunt, but her hair was way too stiff, which threw the whole outfit out of whack for me. Kate Winslet was... fine, but pale makeup-wise (and that dress colour thusly washed her out); I preferred her at the Globes, even with the badly chosen lipstick. Still, it's not fair to expect brilliance each time around, considering she was best in show the years of Iris and Eternal Sunshine. Biggest disappointment of the night for me was Penelope Cruz; the top half was fine, but the excessive ruffles at the bottom killed my appetite. Plus, that bun was pulled way too tight across her skull (was she taking styling tips from Leo DiCaprio?); made her look quite severe. Not a fan, sad to say. And while Reese Witherspoon looked perfectly fine, I'm kind of scared that she's turning into a life size Barbie. So on the mixed list she goes... And well, Streep was okay (she can never look bad, and the hair/face was aces), but I would have expected better of Ms. Miranda Priestly dress-wise in the year of Prada. It would have been decent if not for that giant pendant.
Worst dressed of the night?
Kirsten Dunst was a walking trainwreck, I'm sorry to say. What was she thinking? Sloppy, ill-fitting and an unflattering colour. She just looked like she didn't care. The vest-like top was poorly integrated, and the little poofs at the bottom were laughable. The hair looked like she had mounted it herself in the limo, and the bangs across the forehead are so Little Women '94. Grow up! Sheesh. BFFs Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts looked... off. I don't know how else to put it. Nic should have learned from last year that giant bows situated on your shoulder do not work, even if you are tall and statuesque. Naomi was scary: Nathaniel already put it best re: ripping off Blanchett in '05 (very sharp eye!) Dishonourable mentions to Anne Hathaway, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Kelly Preston as well.
Well, that's all I have to offer. A special thanks to my friend Lauren and her fam for hosting my shenanigans this year. I hope you all had a Happy Oscars! Until next year...