Academy Af­ter­math

The last- minute stay of ex­e­cu­tion handed the Os­cars failed to gen­er­ate the ex­cite­ment many had an­tic­i­pated, writes Rick Kushman

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

‘ I N case you’re won­der­ing what we all do here dur­ing the com­mer­cial breaks,’’ Jon Ste­wart said at this year’s Os­cars, ‘‘ mostly we just sit around mak­ing catty re­marks about the out­fits you’re wear­ing at home. That’s right, it cuts both ways, peo­ple.’’

This was sec­ond- time host Ste­wart in one of his gen­uinely funny mo­ments. But where was the zing? The Academy Awards are Hol­ly­wood’s tri­umphant night, and this one al­most didn’t hap­pen. Weren’t you ex­pect­ing some dash, some spirit, some sense of cel­e­bra­tion?

There should have been en­ergy. There should have been magic.

In­stead, the 80th An­nual Academy Awards from the Ko­dak Theatre gave us an Os­car show like a lot of Os­car shows. That is in no way a com­pli­ment. The night did get bet­ter as it went on. But it was the usual mixed bag of some gen­uinely cool mo­ments, a cou­ple of good clip med­leys, too much filler and too many care­ful win­ners mak­ing sure to thank ev­ery­one they might do busi­ness with again.

Bless them, the win­ners, bless them all, but didn’t any­one re­mem­ber this one was sup­posed to be, you know, happy? A writ­ers strike put the town out of busi­ness for 100 days and forced far too many real peo­ple to check out things such as The Big­gest Loser . Then it ended. Woo hoo. Just in time for the Os­cars. This was gonna be great.

‘‘ The fight is over,’’ Ste­wart said in his open­ing. ‘‘ So, tonight, wel­come to the make- up sex.’’ There you go. That’s what we were look­ing for, pas­sion. And if not that, at least a lit­tle time with Ge­orge Clooney or Halle Berry ( though Seth Ro­gen as a stand- in wasn’t bad).

But it was mostly just so- so. And when things heated up — a lit­tle — with the big awards, by then we’d been sit­ting there for hours and were gorged on pop­corn, junk food and too much tame­ness. The first real feel of emo­tion didn’t come un­til Mar­ion Cotil­lard won best ac­tress for La Vie en Rose . ‘‘ Thank you, life. Thank you, love,’’ she said, half laugh­ing, half weep­ing.

There you go. Life, love, weep­ing. It takes a French­woman to put that pas­sion into the Os­cars. And it al­ways seems to take a Brit to bring some hu­mane- feel­ing wit. This time it was Tilda Swin­ton, the sur­prise best sup­port- ing ac­tress win­ner from Michael Clay­ton .

‘‘ I have an Amer­i­can agent who is the spit­ting im­age of this,’’ she said, look­ing at her Os­car. ‘‘ Re­ally, truly. The same shape head and, it has to be said, the but­tocks.’’

Ste­wart did what he could. In his sec­ond gig with the Os­cars, he was more host than comic, adding loads of charm and mov­ing the show along in a way that made view­ers feel a bit more con­nected. He started to sing one of the nom­i­nated songs, chat­ted with the orches­tra and had more than a few good lines.

‘‘ Even Nor­bit got a nom­i­na­tion, which I think is great,’’ Ste­wart said. ‘‘ Too of­ten, the academy ig­nores movies that aren’t good.’’

There were also nice lit­tle pieces of Ste­wart’s deft blend of irony and silli­ness, in­clud­ing point­ing to the preg­nan­cies of Ni­cole Kid­man, Jes­sica Alba and Cate Blanchett. ‘‘ And the baby goes to . . . An­gelina Jolie,’’ he said.

Even bet­ter, and more sub­tle, was his ac­knowl­edg­ment of Jack Ni­chol­son, sit­ting, as ever, up front, wear­ing dark glasses, talk­ing back to peo­ple on stage.

‘‘ The com­pul­sories are over,’’ Ste­wart said af­ter the ex­change.

Ste­wart, too, got bet­ter as the show went on, and he was at his best counter- punch­ing af­ter the do­ings on stage. When Fall­ing Slowly won best song, one of the writ­ers, Glen Hansard, was de­light­ful in his hu­mil­ity and sim­ple thank yous. ‘‘ Make art,’’ Hansard said. Ste­wart walked back on stage. ‘‘ That guy is so ar­ro­gant,’’ he said. But the night still had lots of mo­ments of slow­ness, though to be fair there were some real rea­sons for that. Os­car shows are al­ways back­loaded; most of the good stuff is at the end. And th­ese Os­cars were a scram­ble. Ste­wart, the pro­duc­ers and the stars knew for less than two weeks that there would be a fullser­vice show. The Plan B Os­cars would have vamped by run­ning tonnes of clips and pre­pro­duced pieces, and you could tell the pro­duc­ers were not go­ing to let those al­readyshot seg­ments go to waste.

That’s why we got a filmed romp through Hol­ly­wood with Sid Ga­nis, a mys­tery guy to most peo­ple. He’s the pres­i­dent of the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences and he was telling us, uh, I dunno, I couldn’t stay with it.

‘‘ Wow,’’ Ste­wart said af­ter Ga­nis’s bit. ‘‘ That was amaz­ing.’’

That was also why we got a run- through of all 79 pre­vi­ous best pic­tures, which seemed to last for­ever and served to re­mind us that some­how The English Pa­tient was an Os­car win­ner.

With all that said, it’s al­ways more fun to talk about the cool mo­ments, so here are my picks:

Agen­cies

The bit of class, and a pos­si­ble Os­cars first, when pro­duc­ers had Ste­wart bring the cowin­ner for best song, 19- year- old Mar­keta Ir­glova, back on stage af­ter she was played off say­ing thank you.

The doc­u­men­tary short sub­ject nom­i­nees be­ing in­tro­duced by sol­diers in Iraq. Steve Carell. Just be­cause. Di­ablo Cody, who thanked her fam­ily ‘‘ for lov­ing me ex­actly the way I am’’ and who also may have the best name in show busi­ness.

In the end, this was des­tined to be a tough year for the Os­cars. Maybe it was the rain or the leftover gloom from the strike. Maybe it was that half the Hol­ly­wood par­ties were can­celled or that the nom­i­nated films were ex­cel­lent but not block­busters. And surely a lit­tle of it was that brothers Joel and Ethan Coen seemed to spend half the night on stage ac­cept­ing var­i­ous awards for best pic­ture No Coun­try for Old Men.

The Coen boys make great movies, but in terms of that zing and magic, they’re no Clooney or Berry. Or even Ro­gen.

Prize pair:

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