“Wow… I’d hate to have to follow THAT!”
After a presumably moving moment of the 79th Annual Academy Awards, host Ellen Degeneres dropped that line, playing oblivious to the fact that she indeed WAS following said moment; quickly running out of anything resembling actual wit, Ellen actually fell back on that line a second time during the bloated annual cinema ceremony. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to this year’s Oscar moments or the fact that she was following in the wake of last year’s controversial, Hollywood-troubling but hilarious Jon Stewart.
Swapping the incisive, biting, roast-like humor of The Daily Show’s much acclaimed host for the bland, safe and inane banter of Ellen, the Academy traded self-deprecation for self-aggrandizement this time around. Personal note: if you want to worship yourself, hire a choir; a whole chorus singing the praises of the nominees danced through the aisles, sharing the gospel of Oscar with Hollywood’s best dressed and 30 million viewers. Ellen did her best to be All-American and wholesome, even swapping outfits from red, to white, to blue; I just wish someone had told her she was supposed to be hosting the Oscars, not simply baby-sitting them. I actually found myself missing the tired smarm of Billy Crystal.
Desperately relying on props and shadowy acrobats to fill a humorless void, Ellen’s interaction with co-stars helped lighten the mood; still, something’s terribly amiss when steely-eyed Clint Eastwood is funnier than the host. Jerry Seinfeld showed up midway through the lengthy stage show, getting some laughter out of the crowd that didn’t require audience cues. However, Robert Downy Jr. may have had the best line, or at least the only one that was self-effacing. Introducing the nominees for visual effects, Downey explained that “special effects allow us to see aliens, experience other universes, move in slow motion, or watch spiders climbing high above the city landscape… for me, just a typical weeknight in the mid-90s.” He then rolled his eyes and took a little bow, perhaps knowing that it would be the only frank moment in a montage-laden evening.
I mean, how many montages does it take for Hollywood to feel good about itself? The 45 minute overage in time could easily have been mitigated by removing these congratulatory clip-shows sandwiched between the silly speeches and bone-tight dresses. They really should have taken Stewart’s advice last year and featured an “Homage to the Montage”. Other moments just felt like forced and awkward time fillers, like trying to give us a “backstage” pass with an overeager Chris Connelly reading obviously stale lines with a manufactured zest. The most engaging part of the evening was an allegedly funny – but painfully true – segment that began with Will Ferrell lamenting the bias of the Academy against comedies; joined by Jack Black, then John C. Reilly, they ended up singing about the need to do “serious” acting work if they want to go home with an Oscar (and Helen Mirren). Truth is more painful than comedy, however… it’s a shame that comedies, and most genre films, (not to mention any film that, I don’t know – actually makes money) slip past an Academy with its nose in the air, respecting a very narrow range of film when it comes to the big slots with Best Picture. Let’s look at the nominees, for instance: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen. Where is Talledega Nights, or at least Stranger than Fiction? Where is the recognition of the riveting, reinvigorated James Bond in Casino Royale, or the admission that a dark film like The Descent can explore character and relationships as deeply as a docudrama? Ah, but enough about what movies were TRULY great in 2006… I’ll save that for the “2006 CinemagOscars” next week.
There were some highlights in this otherwise yawner of an evening… both “Best Supporting” Awards were great picks, with veteran and underappreciated Alan Arkin finally taking home an Oscar following a lifetime of quality acting. His last nomination was 1969. First-time nominee Jennifer Hudson was also a surprise, and may be the only winner who thanked God (twice, if memory serves). From an entertainment perspective, Steve Sidwell led the Hollywood Film Corral Sound Effects Choir in a unique performance, imitating car chases and helicopters and musical scores as they made proud. On the flipside, Children of Men was robbed in the Best Cinematography category, and although Pan’s Labyrinth won every lesser award it was nominated for, it didn’t win for Best Foreign Language film; how its winning parts failed to make a winning whole, I can’t fathom.
Martin Scorsese walked home with Best Director and Best Picture for The Departed. I can’t say it isn’t deserved, and apparently the seventh times the charm. It’s about time he grabbed a golden statue, even if this isn’t his greatest film. Of course, one might have said the same about Peter O’Toole, who took his latest defeat with barely a flicker of emotion during the ceremony. (2007 is a better year anyway, Peter – make sure you knock one out before year’s end.) Heck, even Al Gore took home an Oscar, though I missed whether it was for his PowerPoint presentation on Global Warming or his amazing invention called the “Internet”.
Although Ellen’s obvious lack of comedic punch kept her hosting duties to a minimum (a few times, I wondered if she would be coming back on stage; sadly, she did), the acceptance speeches still went too long, coupled with enough cinematic pats on the back to warrant a Hollywood-wide chiropractor visit. I guess I shouldn’t expect an exclusive, ego-flattering award ceremony devoted to self-worship to sick the barbed comedy of John Stewart on their guests. Still, in light of this years deflated Degeneres and general pablum, I’m surprised Babel didn’t take Best Picture; “babble” certainly overswept the Oscars.