Taking a cue from our music columnist, Dylan Sevey, who gives his Grammy wrap-up in this Thursday’s edition of The Independent, I decided to devote today’s blog to random observations about last night’s Oscars. With two Rhody-connected actors up for awards (Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress in “Doubt” and Richard Jenkins for Best Actor in “The Visitor”) and former Rhode Island School of Design student Gus Van Sant a Best Director nominee for “Milk,” this year’s Hollywood love-fest had an Ocean State tint. And since I skipped Riverside’s best Oscar party, held annually at the home of longtime friends Tom, Liz and Samantha Viall, I dealt with my guilt the only way I know how, by keeping a notebook going:
It all begins with the fawning sycophants with microphones on the red carpet asking insipid questions to shell-shocked celebrities. The red carpet is like a NASCAR track. People watch for the crash (whether by fashion or interview) more than the race.
Davis and Jenkins both get their turn in the red carpet spotlight but are victimized by dim-witted queries that produce painfully forced answers. At the tail end of an awkward interview with Jenkins, Robin Roberts finally acknowledges his wife, sputtering: “He’s wonderful to live with, I’m sure.” Off-mike just before a cut to commercial we hear the response: “He is.”
The three most wincing red carpet moments: 3) Mickey Rourke announcing that he had a tuxedo made for his longtime companion and Chihuahua Loki, which passed away six days prior to the Oscars. 2) The look on Marisa Tomei’s face when the interviewer said: “Mickey Rourke says he likes seeing you with your clothes off but I love seeing you with your clothes on.” 1) The following exchange between the microphone-in-a-tux and Anne Hathaway: “What are you wearing tonight that actually belongs to you?” “I actually can’t tell you that. It is a bit too intimate.”
The engaging and likeable Hugh Jackman starts strong and ends up giving the best performance of the night. Not only is he a triple threat as actor-singer-dancer, Jackman seemed at ease in the host gig. While most know him for his role as superhero mutant Wolverine, Jackman is equally adept at drama and comedy. There was no signature moment that defined his night, and he just about disappeared from the stage after his musical montage number, but there has never been an Oscar host that has shown more diversity.
Best opening moment: Jackman wooing Kate Winslet with the phrase, “I would swim a sea of human excrement.”
Thumb’s up to the Oscar nod to our nation’s economic woes. Despite a lavish set that recalled the style of old Hollywood, the high concept for the opening number was a low budget. Jackman deftly played along with the celebration of cardboard glitz and carnival kitsch, culminating in a finale with giant cut-out Oscar figures.
Eight minutes into the show, we had our second standing O. By my count the standing ovations made it to double digits during the evening – at least 10 in all. While I don’t begrudge Hollywood its love-in, the standing O itself has jumped the shark, as anyone who attends plays locally will attest. In fact, I can’t remember the last time a play didn’t get a standing O, which begs the question: Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the standing O? What happens if we actually see something transcendent? Where do we go from there? Pogo O? Stage dive O? Bodysurf O?
What seemed like a good idea in theory – getting five former Oscar winners in a particular category to introduce this year’s nominees – was a little clumsy in practice. For every good moment (Robert De Niro introducing Sean Penn), there were two that made you cringe (including Adrien Brody, who seemed like the kid who crammed for his exam an hour before the test as he stumbled through his tribute to Jenkins). The way all five entered the stage you’d have thought they were competing on a celebrity edition of “The Weakest Link.” Bottom line: It dragged.
Writer’s bias here, but I absolutely loved the Steve Martin-Tina Fey collaboration as co-presenters for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. Tina: “It has been said that to write is to live forever.” Steve: “The man who wrote that is dead.”
Most awkward moment of the night was watching Jennifer Aniston attempt comedy with Jack Black with Brangelina sitting in the front row. The former better half of Brennifer seemed unnerved.
Loved Ben Stiller’s parody of the Joaquin Phoenix Letterman appearance. (If you haven’t seen Joaquin's Andy Kaufmanesque turn, YouTube it.)
By and large, the tributes were good, including Seth Rogan and James Franco’s stoner review (with sidekick cinematographer Jadocs Kaminsky) of 2008 comedies; video montages of love stories and action flicks; and the inventive top hat-and-tails musical medley featuring Jackman, Beyonce and Zac Efron.
The Abbafication of the Earth has reached new levels.
Most self-serving moment: Bill Maher using his role as Best Documentary presenter to complain that nobody watched his.
Biggest tearjerker: Tie: 1) Heath Ledger winning for his remarkable performance as The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” prompting an eloquent tribute from his family as celebrity eyes welled around the room. 2) What the Riverside Oscar party likes to call “the Dead Roll,” reminding us of the Hollywood icons, including Paul Newman, who passed away since the last awards ceremony.
Most exciting moment: The Bollywood-inspired performance of Best Song nominees.
Best acceptance speech: Penn for Best Actor (in “Milk”). He was self-effacing but passionate and eloquent in promoting the cause of gay rights. But his most gracious words were saved for last, when he acknowledged Rourke’s comeback, closing with: “He is my brother.”
What was your favorite Oscar moment?