WHAT WENT DOWN?
Virtually surprise-free show
may continue Oscar slide
By RON MILLER
Too bad the Motion Picture Academy didn't get quirky and throw in a few major surprises Sunday night. It might have spared the annual Academy Awards telecast from continuing the ratings slide it has been experiencing during the last few years as the Golden Globes and other awards shows have stolen its thunder.
The Best Picture Award went to the favorite--"The Departed"--and its director, Martin Scorsese, finally won the Oscar everyone predicted he'd finally get to take home. Helen Mirren got the Best Actress Oscar she clearly deserved for playing Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen." Too bad it came after she'd already collected virtually every other possible award for the same performance.
And, yes, Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor award for playing former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," again duplicating the Golden Globes and so many other ceremonies. This time even Whitaker must have been totally confident because he'd actually written out an acceptance speech and didn't have to mumble inanely like he did everywhere else.
In the Best Supporting Actress category, too, it was everybody's predicted choice--newcomer Jennifer Hudson, the one-time loser from TV's "American Idol," walking away with an Osca for "Dreamgirls."
Only in the Best Supporting Actor category was there a mild upset: Veteran Alan Arkin won the award for "Little Miss Sunshine," outpointing comedian Eddie Murphy, the favorite for his James Brown-imitation in "Dreamgirls."
Am I upset about any of the decisions? Not really. They were all worthy winners. I'm just disappointed that the rival TV networks have managed to schedule competing awards shows before ABC's Oscar telecast, taking away some of the sizzle. If the ratings continue to slip, the show may start downsizing and lose what excitement it has left.
For all that, though, I thought there were great moments in the three-plus hour telecast Sunday night. They just didn't particulary take place when the big winners were announced.
Let's start with host Ellen DeGeneres. I'm a fan and always have been. Her humor is clean and inventive. She had some marvelous bits Sunday night. Take the one where she cruised the aisles with her microphone, stopping to chat with director Scorsese. After a moment of chit-chat, she pulled out a script she wanted him to consider doing. It was a hilarious moment. Later she stopped to talk with Clint Eastwood, who was in contention for the directing Oscar for "Letters From Iwo Jima," which was also in the running for Best Picture. She asked him to pose for a picture with her, then handed the camera to director Steven Spielberg, asking him to shoot the picture and cautioning him to even her and Clint up in the frame. Another hilarious moment.
Another time she talked with Best Actor nominee Peter O'Toole, teasing him about his previous futile nominations. "Don't worry," she said, "the third time's the charm." Of course, O'Toole's nomination for "Venus" was his eighth.
All in all, I thought Ellen was quite funny and I'd love to see her back again.
But there were several entertaining moments that Ellen didn't provide. Among them:
* The amusing musical number by comic actors Will Farrell and Jack Black, joined later by character actor John C. Reilly, which dealt with the fact that comic actors seldom are nominated for Oscars.
* The rehearsed bit in which former Vice President Al Gore, whose film "An Inconvenient Truth," won the Oscar as Best Feature Documentary, was teased by actor Leonardo di Caprio into "making an announcement" (presumably of his candidacy for president), but was cut off by the theme music the Academy orchestra plays to warn award recipients that they've run out of time.
* The funny byplay between famous directors Francis Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as they presented the Oscar to directing winner Scorsese. Coppola and Spielberg were going on about the honor conferred by winning an Oscar and Lucas suddenly reminded them he hadn't won any Oscars. "Then what are you doing here?" Coppola asked him.
* Clint Eastwood's presentation of a special Oscar to Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, who composed the famous themes for Eastwood's early "spaghetti" westerns "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," as well as so many other haunting film themes, including those for "The Mission," "Once Upon A Time in America," "Once Upon A Time in the West," "Malena" and so many more. This special tribute to Morricone was followed by a mesmerizing performance of a new Morricone song by Celine Dion.
In contrast,. I really think the time has come for the Academy to consider dumping the Best Song category. After last year's appalling winner--the rap number about how hard it is being a pimp from "Hustle and Flow"--the Academy really needed to have a year full of really good songs. But this year's winner--Melissa Etheridge's undistinguished theme from Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" documentary--is in no way comparable to the great Oscar songs of the past, even though it might have been better than the other songs in the competition.
I'll go further to say it was a big mistake to nominate three songs from "Dreamgirls," then have them performed all in a row by the original cast members. It just vividly demonstrated how weak the songs were and how much alike they all sounded.
There were no spectacularly tasteless gowns worn by the women this year and no rebel outfits by the guys. Everybody sort of dressed up nice. The closest we came to a "wardrobe malfunction" was when both Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce Knowles threatened to spill out of their low-cut gowns during their overly exuberant "Dreamgirls" songs.
Only Mirren's acceptance speech, among the major award winners, was worthy of note. She paid homage to Queen Elizabeth II, but along the way managed to diss her for not changing her hairstyle in 50 years. I don't think she'll be elevated to Dame Helen anytime soon.
Still, Helen looked great and it was obvious she was having a high time watching the show roll by, knowing the odds were heavy in her favor to win. It was fun watching her having so much fun.
I was especially disappointed in Supporting Actor winner Alan Arkin, who has spent most of his career playing wildly comic characters, but seemed dour and serious and had to resort to reading his acceptance remarks. Where was the spirit of fun?
The most emotional of the winners was Jennifer Hudson, who came close to dissolving into tears. But it seemed genuine and her debut performance, both as an actress and as a musical performer in "Dreamgirls," was so good that I doubt if anybody thought she didn't deserve her Oscar.
Here are the major winners from Sunday night's show:
Best Picture: "The Departed."
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland."
Best Actress: Helen Mirren in "The Queen."
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine."
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls."
Best Director: Martin Scorsese for "The Departed."
Best Foreign Film: "The Lives of Others" (Germany)
Best Animated Feature; "Happy Feet."
Best Visual Effects: "Pan's Labyrinth."
Best Original Musical Score: "Babel"
Best Original Screenplay: "Little Miss Sunshine."
Best Adapted Screenplay: "The Departed."
©2007 by Ron Miller. This column first posted Feb. 26, 2007.
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