I’d like to thank the Academy…
...for the best Oscar night in years. But please leave Michael Moore, Jennifer Lopez and Barbara Streisand at home next year.
I haven’t been this happy after an Academy Awards ceremony since Shakespeare in Love trounced Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture of 1998. Every few years Oscar sees fit to reward genuine artistry, thereby reminding us why we watch the show in the first place.
So let’s get past the gripes first.
Michael Moore needs to learn the difference between being a provocative spokesperson for liberal indignation and being an incendiary blowhard. At least both the pro- and anti-war advocates now have something to agree on: Moore’s tactless speechifying while accepting Best Documentary award for Bowling for Columbine was an appalling excuse for a valid political statement.
Sean Connery, while presenting the Best Supporting Actress award, proved that he has so atrophied into self-parody that there’s little hope he will ever regain the slyness and ease that made him a star in the first place. His determination to appear nonchalantly sexy while purring the winner’s first name blinded him to the potential for a confusing Catherine Zeta-Jones/Kathy Bates mix-up. (The look on poor Bates’ face when she was trying to determine ‘wait – does he mean me?’ was painful.) And someone should really investigate if Zeta-Jones was the winner at all, or if the old man just wanted a closer look at her pregnancy-inflated décolletage.
If the producers are going to allow Jennifer Lopez to present an award again in the future, they will have to buy her some public speaking lessons or keep her well away from Jennifer Connelly’s impeccable diction. To hear the future Mrs Ben Affleck pronounce the word mountains as mau-ens wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been juxtaposed with Connelly’s Yale-pedigreed poise.
Nicole Kidman should have won her Best Actress award last year for Moulin Rouge, instead of this year for the middle-brow muck of The Hours. And the least Kidman could have done in her acceptance speech was mention Virginia Woolf. Though she claims to have read Woolf’s novels and diaries while preparing for the role, the fact that she shrieked, ‘David Hare, I need your words!’ to The Hours’ screenwriter shows how little of Woolf’s genius penetrated her consciousness. (If I were Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Cunningham, who wrote the book-of-the-film, I wouldn’t be too pleased either.)
The ‘so bad it’s good’ moment of the night was definitely Best Song presenter Barbara Streisand’s vapid comment, ‘songs are amazing things’. In a new career move, she could perhaps be booked to tour around the awards-show circuit and unveil some more gems of wisdom, like ‘dogs are amazing things’ (at Crufts), ‘bicycles are amazing things’ (at the Tour de France), and ‘football hooligans are amazing things’ (at the World Cup).
Which brings us past the night’s disappointments and into the much more robust collection of gee-golly-wow moments.
Is the Academy more cool or is Marshall Mathers less cool now that Eminem is an Oscar-winning songwriter? Snubbing odds-on favourites U2 (especially after their emotional live performance) may signal the death-knell for the slobbery French kiss America has collectively been giving everyone’s favorite Irish band for years now. It’s just too bad that Eminem didn’t show up to perform Lose Yourself live and give the crowd a taste of the electrifying intensity that won over even the notoriously square voters.
The Academy may have dropped the ball last year by failing to recognise Richard Linklater’s Waking Life in the inaugural Best Animated Feature category, but honouring Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away this year was a step in the right direction. By identifying anime as a legitimate art form (it’s not just for inducing seizures anymore!), they’ve not only reconfirmed that traditional 2-D animation is a dead medium but that our ability to embrace Japanese cinema has transcended our Kurosawa-centrism.
It was a great night for American acceptance of world cinema. The nonchalance with which the Academy treated Alfonso Cuarón’s and Pedro Almodóvar’s nominations (and, of course Almodóvar’s win for screenwriting) stands in stark contrast to the self-aggrandising way it treated American-born but (gasp!) black winners Denzel Washington and Halle Berry last year. If the American isolationists aren’t careful, we might just turn the Best Foreign Language Film category obsolete.
It’s hard to believe that Chris Cooper’s charismatic performance as real-life orchid thief John la Roche in Adaptation wasn’t too subtle for a Best Supporting Actor win. We can only hope that Cooper finds a way to reconcile his newfound celebrity with his magical ability to disappear in roles the way he did in everything from American Beauty to The Bourne Identity.
The differences between Jennifers Connelly and Lopez were nothing compared to the way old schoolers Olivia de Havilland and Peter O’Toole made everyone else look like teenagers at an ice-cream social. Their composure, speech patterns and gracefully aged faces all served as welcome reminders that being a movie star used to be about much more than commanding a multi-million dollar fee and ‘keepin’ it real’.
Now that naturalistic method acting and fly-on-the-wall digital video techniques rule the day, our performers have lost a sense of grandeur. Accustomed as we are to the jittery informality of everyone from Julia Roberts to Colin Farrell, de Havilland and O’Toole seemed too ‘big’, but that’s because, in the words Gloria Swanson made famous as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, ‘it’s the pictures that got small’.
The most unexpected, and emotionally resonant, events of the evening were the three occasions when major prizes were lavished on Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. This important work of art is destined to become a classic anyway, but its Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director Oscars have just sweetened the deal. Now that Polanski is formally enshrined as the genius everyone knew he was from the moment he opened up his wide-angle world to us, screenwriter Ronald Harwood will hopefully get a chance to work his magic on other challenging scripts, and Adrien Brody is on track to becoming the leading man he so richly deserves to be.
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