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With sparkly new sets (designed by New York’s own David Rockwell) and an overarching conceit (“How to Make a Movie,” in somewhat chronological order), The 81st Annual Academy Awards tried to reinvent the Oscar wheel, to varying degrees of success. There were highs and lows and in betweens, and Tribeca has culled some of the best (and worst) for your viewing pleasure.
Slumdog Millionaire has been winning awards all over the world for months, and the focus has all been on Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, and young stars Dev and Freida. The Oscars were destined to turn out the same way, until some last minute scrambling allowed the rest of the cast to partake in the celebration. Even before any statues were handed out Sunday night, the six younger versions of Jamal, Salim and Latika were melting hearts on the red carpet. Their excitement was infectious and pure, and Lisa Rinna and Joey Fatone struggled to keep up.
Host Hugh Jackman opened with a typical, back-to-Billy-Crystal-days medley of song and dance about the top movies of the year. It felt kind of like a trainwreck, with some jokes falling hideously flat, but Jackman’s immense charm (and singing voice) apparently played well in Peoria. Anne Hathaway was a good sport and joined in the ho-hum at one point, singing and dancing her way through a Nixon impersonation (huh?). In general, we enjoyed the good-natured Jackman—even if he was a little awkward, he is versatile and talented, and his self-deprecating jokes at the expense of Australia were a nice touch. But the best line of the opener had nothing to do with the Oscars: we can’t wait for Wolverine!
Comedy was the name of the game this Oscars, and bringing Tina Fey and Steve Martin out early was a good bet. (Though it made us wonder—why was Fey not hosting? She may not sing or dance, but with her zeigeistiness at its apex, she would have been a great choice. Then again, we loved Martin's hosting turns in 2000 and 2002.) In showcasing the screenplay awards, the pair was funny, bold—with a taboo dig at Scientology!—clever, and informative. Bonus: In her Champagne-shimmery dress, (good job, Zac Posen!) Tina Fey looked good. And also like an award.
Following along in the funny-person vein, Pineapple Express stars James Franco and Seth Rogen teamed up with acclaimed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski—“They made me do it, Mr. Spielberg. It’s really slow in town”—to reflect on what comedy looked like in 2008. If you are under 50, you just need to watch it. (We know for a fact that the pot jokes and stupid humor did not play so well in Peoria. Or at least with our parents.)
Awards mostly went to those predicted: Penélope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress, Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor, Kate Winslet (finally!) for Best Actress. The one mild upset was Sean Penn (Milk) over Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) for Best Actor. Penn gave one of the most touching, timely, and meaningful speeches of the night, and it bears repeating, both for his societal message about civil rights for all Americans and for his shout-out to “brother” Rourke, dispelling the rumors of a feud that have been brewing over the past month. He also comes out of the gate by calling his supporters “commie homo-loving sons of guns”—how can you not love that?
Other great moments of the night:
Shirley MacLaine passing the good-sport-gal torch to her intergenerational counterpart Anne Hathaway during the Best Actress presentation.
The realization that Christopher Walken and Michael Shannon are intergenerational doppelgangers, sharing a winningly-creepy intensity. Shannon could remake The Dead Zone tomorrow.
“You look like you work in a Hasidic meth lab.”
—Natalie Portman to Ben Stiller, aping Joaquin Phoenix of late (three words you’d never think you’d hear at the Oscars)
"How did he do it? How for so many years did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing straight men?"
—Robert De Niro, introducing Sean Penn in the Best Actor category (he also referenced Spicoli!)
“Has anyone ever fainted up here?”
—Penélope Cruz, in her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech
"The big difference between people is not between the rich and the poor, the good and the evil. The biggest of all differences between people is between those who have had pleasure in love and those who haven't."
—Paul Newman as Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth, in a clip played during the In Memoriam montage
“We welcome back the returning champ.”
—Ben Kingsley, introducing Mickey Rourke in the Best Actor category
Until next year, Oscar.
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