It turns out many were robbed last night. Scarlett Johannson had been robbed earlier, by failing to be nominated for a single Oscar despite giving the most mature performances by a young actress in Hollywood history. And not in just one movie but two, very different films. When’s the last time a 17 year old, her age when Lost in Translation was filmed, could pass for a lost, intelligent 24 year old? As it was, as if in recognition of her being slighted, she received significant air time, both as a presenter and as a frequent target of ABC’s cameras. But she needs to stay away from Entertainment Tonight, where she was heard using the formulation “… between Bill Murray and I.”
Now that Murray lost out in the best actor category to Hollywood’s favorite bad-boy boy-toy, the injustice done to Johannson also appears diminished. As it is, the third Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, cleaned out the joint, leaving next to nothing for any other film or nominee. It’s staggering when you think about it. Even Steven Spielberg was impressed. Cynics might say this was Hollywood’s attempt to put all is money on the one movie that’s still a few hundred million dollars ahead of Mel Gibson’s Passion in box office earnings.
But something else was going on. Early in the telecast, it was easy to mistake Rings‘ unkempt director Peter Jackson for last year’s Oscar show slob Michael Moore. But first impressions can be misleading. By the time Jackson accepted the best director prize it was clear he saw himself as just one part of a larger project. He underscored the “collaboration” that made his movie possible. By the time he accepted the best movie Oscar, he did so in the presence of a score or more of the producers, actors, editors and others from the film. I don’t recall that ever happening at such a moment, where invariably the winning film’s top dog prefers to have the spotlight entirely on himself.
Moreover, take a look at that collective: other than Liv Tyler or Ian McKellen they all appeared like average, shlubby folk. There’s the secret formula: it takes an ensemble to make a theatrical production work. An epic requires epic commitment, and lord knows how many years of single-minded effort from this troupe (the source of the word “trouper”) has gone into the Rings trilogy. Clearly the public has responded to it as to no other recent production, all because it’s not a typical Hollywood product at all. Rather than a counterpoint to Gibson’s film it probably has more in common with it than Hollywood will ever know.
Hollywood beauty, in other words, was overlooked last night, perhaps unfairly. There was more elegance than usual; most presenters watched their tongues, even the manic Robin Williams. Hellcat Susan Sarandon was one of the few women still sporting a Clinton-era loose-breast dress. Her youngish mate, Tim Robbins, who won best supporting actor, did none of his usual Bush bashing in his acceptance remarks, preferring to see his performance in therapeutic terms. Rather meekly he expressed hope that his playing “a victim of abuse and violence” might inspire real victims of such to seek “counseling.” At that moment it was easy to regret Alec Baldwin’s not winning the prize.
Politics and raunch seemed to have a future when Billy Crystal did his opening, but it wasn’t to last. Bush got bashed a bit, yes, but Michael Moore got smashed, literally. Meanest of all was Crystal’s reminding Clint Eastwood of Sondra Locke, the woman who sued Clint for palimony and much else. There was some gay marriage talk, later briefly expanded with Robin Williams, a reference to Bush’s National Guard service, and, and — nothing really until a weird Errol Morris accepted an Oscar for his anti-Vietnam documentary and expressed concern that in Iraq we’re also going down “a rabbit hole.” But the audience didn’t much take to Morris, probably because he came across as a loser when he began by expressing pique that his genius hadn’t been recognized earlier. Crystal later mocked Morris’s “rabbit hole” reference.
For a moment it seemed there might be trouble when best actor Sean Penn began his thank-yous with a crack about there being no WMD’s in Iraq, but it was no more than an aside, punctuated by the guffawing laugh that he made famous in his greatest role, as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Who could dislike him after that?
Now let’s see if anyone “mainstream” notices a more interesting political moment that came to naught. Andrew Sacks, a winner for best short film, “Two Soldiers,” based on a 1942 Faulkner story, ran long in his thanks, though not before noting that his film is about two brothers who enlist after an earlier unprovoked attack on the U.S. He was about to pay tribute to America’s fighting men today when the orchestra drowned him out. No one much cared.
Perhaps cutting to the broadcast’s Super Bowl like commercials was more important. Besides, Hollywood always prefers to mourn its own dead, beginning with Katharine Hepburn and Gregory Peck, among those that died in the last year. For some strange reason the survey included Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s finest documentary maker. Perhaps even sadder for Hollywood, nothing quite matched the remarks delivered by aging old pro Blake Edwards, a special honoree, unless it was the clips of Peter Sellers from his old movies. When’s the last time Hollywood caused anyone to laugh out loud?
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