And the Tearful Winner is...
Ian O'Sullivan on this Year's Oscar Results
So the Oscars have been and gone. The annual orgy of self-congratulation and chronic over-length passed with few surprises, no controversy and Robin Williams turning in his funniest performance in years.
Billy Crystal got things off to a fine start. His patented video clips and opening monologue provided the night with its biggest highlight as he proved that there is absolutely nobody better then him at presenting award ceremonies. Unfortunately, he seemed to disappear for most of the rest of it, leaving a giant charisma gap in the entire night that hardly anybody else was able to fill. A frightening precedent was set when he referred to the length of the show at least 4 times in the space of 10 minutes. Though he over did the jokes concerning the missing Oscars, his 'thought reading' skit was hilarious (Judi Dench: "This thong is killing me!").
However much you may have cringed at both Roberto Benigni and Gwenyth Paltrow last year, at least they gave us something to talk about. The new producers of the show, Richard and Lili Zanuck were determined to make it the shortest Oscar ceremony in years. Unfortunately, despite cutting out those delightfully awful dance routines (tap-dancing to 'Saving Private Ryan'!), the show lasted for almost four hours. And to think, in all that time, there is still little to discuss.
Second only to Crystal was Robin William's full-blooded performance of 'Blame Canada' from 'South Park'. Joined on stage by a chorus of South Park look-a-likes and scantily clad female Mounties, he gave the show a jolt of adrenaline after the snoozy Phil Collins. He even got to say "fart" and "bitch". The song didn't win (Mr MOR Collins took it for the awful 'Tarzan' tune), but it at least kept you awake. It also proves conclusively that Williams is a genius at comedy. If only he could stay away from the syrup-dipped dramas, the world would be a better place.
Angelina Jolie, looking like a cut-rate Elvira, won Best Supporting Actress for her seductive sociopath in 'Girl Interrupted'. Unfortunately, the wild-child persona that she seems to have inherited was missing from her acceptance speech. She got suitable teary and demure, before heaping a scary amount of love upon her omnipresent brother. Hmm
Michael Caine gave the best speech of the night. Embodying graciousness, he took the time to pay tribute to each of his co-nominees, particularly Haley Joel Osment of 'The Sixth Sense'. Though he wouldn't have been my choice, at least he lent some dignity and gravitas to the show. I am not sure if I could have taken a weepy 11-year-old at 3 in the morning.
After these brief burst of significant awards, we had to sit through a teeth-grindingly long series of awards which, let's be frank, nobody really cares about. It's a shame, because that little guy who won the 'Best Animated Short Documentary Short based on some Inspirational Material made for $50' is living through the best moment of his life. Surely he must realise that about 1 billion people are shouting at him to thank his second grade teacher and just LEAVE THE STAGE QUICKLY! Oh Well
Happily, 'The Matrix' soundly trashed 'The Phantom Menace' is all the technical awards. My, how I would have loved to see George Lucas' face as his overblown opus was pushed aside in favour of the Waschowski's visionary pop entertainment. The night had its own second rate Begnini in Pedro Almodovar, fully deserving Best Foreign Picture for 'All About My Mother'. The first major skirmish between 'The Cider House Rules' and 'American Beauty' came in the Best Score category. The result infuriated those who needed their fix of early indicator so they could nod sagely and say things like "well, its gonna be 'American Beauty's night then". Neither film won and it went to 'The Red Violin'.
An interminable section of unknown country singers and Ray Charles showed up to croon some old show tunes from movies, doing nothing except create longings for Judy Garland and utter revulsion for Garth Brooks. The first big award of the evening went to Conrad L Hall for his stunning work on 'American Beauty'. Poor Conrad seemed to have been overcome with his win, who, like the Energizer Bunny, just went on, and on, and on, until eventually the orchestra had the good grace to shut him up.
But the prize for the most boring and self-indulgent speech must go to Warren Beatty in receiving an Irving G Thalberg Honorary Award (accompanied by a giant 'WHY?' from everyone at home as clips of his less then successful films scrolled across the screen). The orchestra couldn't even shut him up after 4 minutes had gone by, as it was a 'special' award. Beatty didn't even have the good grace to say something controversial, when you know he was just itching to throw in his two cents about the Presidential Race. Interesting note, in the series of interviews with former collaborators such a Faye Dunaway and Dustin Hoffman, the most mentioned word was 'courage', not 'talent'.
Finally, after over 3 hours, the interesting awards showed up. 'The Cider House Rules' and 'American Beauty' shocked nobody by taking both writing awards. John Irving, writer of 'Cider House Rules' gave the only political speech of the evening when he thanked an American abortion group. But since it was mostly drowned out by music, it didn't really register.
The Actress awards provided the sole surprise. Hilary Swank, long considered the favourite fo her portrayal of Teena Brandon in 'Boys Don't Cry' until Annette Bening's momentum had grown inexorably over the past few weeks managed to pip her heavily pregnant co-nominee (perhaps the voters didn't want Bening to go through the exertion of a trip to the stage). Swank showed Paltrow exactly how it should be done and proving a little bit of sincerity goes a very long way. Paltrow emerged next, looking suitably humiliated and calling herself a "wimp" to announce that Kevin Spacey had beaten Washington to become the most popular winner of the night. Whether it was another great performance or just genuine shock, but Spacey seemed genuinely speechless as he collected the award.
On a quick note, for those who watched it on Sky Premier, did anyone else notice that Elle McPherson's skirt seemed to inch up her thigh during each commercial break. Surely the excitement of 'Best Sound Effects Editing' would be enough to keep anyone live and kicking at 5 in the morning?
Finally, it came to the last two awards. My whole body had become numb long before. I barely arched an eyebrow when Sam Mendes became one of the youngest Best Directors of all time for his admirable work on 'Beauty'. Even less of a surprise was when Clint Eastwood wasted no time in announcing that the winner of the 72nd Academy Award for Best Picture was, shock, horror, 'American Beauty'.
As for who wore what (and let's face it, we all want to see celebrities spend thousands and still end up looking terrible) give a big round of applause to Cameron Diaz who wore a cheap black shawl cut in front ?la Jennifer Lopez, yet still looked incredible. For old-fashioned glamour, we had to turn to two of Hollywood's new ing?ues, Ashley Judd and Charlize Theron. For the men, a good lesson was learned last night. Keep to the traditional tux. One of 'The Matrix' winners decided to go for the Eastern look but ended up looking like a man wearing a skirt over his pants. Drag was a big factor for the 'South Park' crew as both Matt Stone and Trey Parker showed up in replica's of Jennifer Lopez's Grammy gown and Gwenyth's pink marshmallow from last year. Oh well, at least they can take solace in the fact that their fashion faux pas was only noticeable to a few hundred million people.
Nobody is going to pretend that the Oscars is purely about artistic merit. However, this year, it must be said that the Academy got things roughly right. The fact that 'American Beauty' was nominated at all this year shows that the Academy is slowly changing. Hilary Swank's award was a triumph. The show tried to modernise itself, but ended up taking all the kitsch glory form the show. Nobody wants a refined Oscars. With the awards being largely predictable, it is up to the staging and speeches to create the drama and controversy. That was what was sorely lacking last Sunday night.