Oscar Night: The 78th Academy Awards

You could almost have called last night’s telecast “The George Clooney Show”. That man attracts far too much attention for being only one person in Hollywood.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t deserve attention, but come on…

I have to admit, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to hear that Jon Stewart was going to host the Oscars. This is an event where the right person can do a spectacular job. Witness the years Billy Crystal and Steve Martin have hosted. The wrong person turns it into a complete fiasco, and you really wonder where the hell it’s all going. Witness David Letterman.

Despite missing most of the red carpet show (thankfully, no real fashion accidents this year — though I do have to say that’s most of the reason I watch that segment, anyway), I sat down with my ear-to-ear grin to watch the show. It started a little differently than previous years. In lieu of reviewing the movies that had come out and were nominated (as Crystal is oft to do in song), it was a recap of the hosts over the last ten or so years, all explaining why they couldn’t host. The nearest any of them really got to any one movie were the first two: Billy Crystal and Chris Rock, in a tent in a lush valley in the mountains. Both were “busy”.

Ironically enough, the funniest one was David Letterman, who claimed he couldn’t do it as he was watching over Steve Martin’s kids, so they wouldn’t “grow up funny”. (Steve had delivered the joke a couple of people earlier. The kids — and a dog — wore wigs reminiscent of Steve’s own white locks.)

Jon Stewart woke up from a dream, believing that he was asked to host the Oscars. Only to find himself in bed with Halle Berry. Another dream. When he reawoke, it was George Clooney. Not a dream. Sorta. Clooney didn’t really seem to be enjoying himself on that one, admittedly. But it wouldn’t be the last time that evening.

Most of the segments in the show were obviously due to Jon Stewart’s Emmy award-winning writing team. (The faux mudslinging ads for best actress and best sound mixing, modelled after the well-understood and well-used paradigm of political ads during election campaigns.)

There were a couple of slip-ups during the presentations. Morgan Freeman flubbed a line. Lauren Bacall, out to introduce the timeless film noire segment, had extreme difficulty with her lines — almost to the point where I thought she was going to give up and leave the stage. But she’s a quintessential performer, and got herself back on track to a complete finish. (My guess? The teleprompter ran too quickly.)

Yes, the Academy Awards are completely insular. They’re a reflection of Hollywood’s self-congratulatory nature, and really have no bearing on any dose of reality outside of the Los Angeles area. So what? It’s a chance to escape into something completely unnecessary, and watch famous people get jealous on each other.

It’s also a chance to watch some interesting turns of event. While there was no surprise that “Wallace and Grommit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit” won for Best Animated Feature, nor that “March of the Penguins” walked away with Best Full-Length Documentary, there were a few surprises. I hadn’t expected Reese Witherspoon to snap up Best Actress. Judi Dench, certainly, but not Reese. I’m not suggesting that she’s not worthy of the nod, but I wonder what exceedingly minor role Dame Judi will win Best Supporting Actress for next year. Ang Lee wasn’t a surprise per se, but the competition was stiff. Philip Seymour Hoffman for Best Actor? Not completely surprising — he’s an outstanding actor — but my money was on Brokeback’s Heath Ledger.

Which does bring up an interesting point: “Brokeback Mountain” didn’t do nearly as well as the buzz suggested. Sure, the buzz is non-binding, but when you consider that the buzz had got to come from somewhere, there much be an iota of truth in it, right? I’m sure the theme to Brokeback will haunt me for years to come, much as the theme from “Shakespeare in Love” still does.

The broadcast kept to schedule, and finished on time — even a little early (by a couple of minutes, anyway). It wasn’t the best Oscar show I’ve ever seen, but it was far from the worst. And Jon Stewart? I think he could successfully host again. Once he got into his groove, he was an able host. Not as much an insider as Billy Crystal, and certainly not a lyrical, but at least he doesn’t try “Uma, Oprah” jokes.

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