It was a great night but it sure didn't start off that way.
After sitting through numerous awards, bad Ellen DeGeneres' skits, and a bunch of other weird performances (that group that formed images from all the movies?), we finally got down to business with the real meat of the show:
The Departed - Thank the good lord the Academy got this right. One never knows what they are going to pick or why, but I based my pick on being a member of the Screen Actor's Guild. Basically, last year I only got one screener for the SAG Awards and that was Crash. As I watched the ceremony I realized that if all the actors in SAG had gotten this screener, then all the members of the Academy must have gotten it as well. This year I got The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine. I had a sneaking suspicion all night that the comedy or even Babel might upend Martin Scorsese's brilliant film about the Irish Mafia, but in the end the Academy showed that politics and good laughs are not enough to beat one the most viscerally violent and engaging films of recent memory.
Martin Scorsese - It wasn't until I saw old buddies Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas come out to read this award that I knew the long deserving Scorsese had this wrapped up. Afterall, Coppola helped pay Scorsese's lab bill for Mean Streets, Spielberg went to Scorsese's house to console him when Columbia gave him grief over the ending of Taxi Driver, and George Lucas lent his ex-wife Marcia to the director to help him edit Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The amount of cinema history on stage for that 5 minutes was a truly awesome spectacle, and amidst the drabness of the whole Academy Awards affair this moment made the whole night worth it.
Forest Whitaker - I will admit right now that I have not seen The Last King of Scotland, but when the guy won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor, and then the SAG Award, I think we were basically looking at a lock. While I think it may have been nice to have given it to Peter O'Toole for Venus, I think it's apparent that Forest Whitaker did something in The Last King of Scotland that just exceeded the other actors in his category. This is a film I look forward to seeing and one only wonders what this character actor, turned leading man, turned award winner will do to follow this role up?
Helen Mirren - Like Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren was a big favorite to come home with Oscar gold for The Queen. Having seen the film, I will say that I thought it was a great movie, I thought she was quite good, but I don't know what all the fuss was about. Perhaps if I studied more about Queen Elizabeth her performance would have resonated with me more? The reality may have been that the movies Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, and Kate Winslet did were too small to really penetrate the Academy and create the buzz that Mirren achieved? As for Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, her role wasn't big enough and aside from acting well, she didn't get to show the range that Mirren did as the the Queen of England.
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin - This was one of the few legitimate upsets of the evening. Eddie Murphy had been getting numerous accolades for his role in Dreamgirls, and it seemed like the safe bet was with him. However, as I touched on above, the studio behind Little Miss Sunshine really pushed that movie. It was out on DVD before any of the other releases, and it really presented itself as a "performance" film and "character piece" before anything else. So while people may say that Eddie Murphy having Norbit come out before the Academy Awards may have hurt his chances of winning, I think they are taking the easy way out. The reality is that Alan Arkin was terrific in the film and the Academy chose to rise above all the hype and reward him for his work.
Best Supporting Actress
Kate Hudson - With all the good will flowing toward Hudson for her work in Dreamgirls, the evening would have have been more of a downer than it was had she lost. She faced stiff competition from Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, Abigail Breslin, and the always good Cate Blanchett. Yet, somehow this former American Idol contestant dug down deep enough to best them all.
Okay, here were some of the problems with the broadcast:
- Too Many Skits - In an effort to keep things moving at a brisk pace they chopped up this show with needless skits, backstage episodes, and Ellen Degeneres' skits that only made a long evening drag on even longer.
- Too Many Long Commercials - I don't know what can be done about this but, with the exception of Apple's iPhone, these things were so overdone I lost track of the products being sold.
- Ellen DeGeneres - From the word go she just didn't have it. She seems to have gotten too comfortable with the talk show format, and as a result her humor and standup presence were nothing short of flat and rusty. The time she wasted before actually getting to the awards was mind-numbing.
Next year, I think the show should be 3 hours tops. They shouldn't put so many technical awards on the front end, because by the time they get to awards most of the viewers really care about, said viewers are too worn out to care. Lastly, bring back Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, and if you really want to make this journalist happy, Billy Crystal.