Finally! We’ve managed to come up with an awards show that pleases no one. Nominally “The Indie Oscars,” what the 78th Annual Academy Awards should go down in history as are “The Glum Oscars.” Host Jon Stewart looked miserable spouting Bruce Vilanch-isms studded with the occasional toothless political reference meant to remind us of how edgy a choice he was. The tastefully appointed crowd (the sartorial theme of the night seemed to be the blonde in beige dress, a style choice that made Reese Witherspoon look lovely, Nicole Kidman like a vanilla popsicle, and Uma Thurman like she had a terminal disease) seemed bored; the winners, ever dry-eyed, sped through restrained speeches, thanking their moms and their agents, with not a flicker of spontaneity (or personality) to be found.
The only ones who genuinely excited to win an award were “Hustle & Flow” songwriters Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard, aka Three 6 Mafia, who accepted the Original Song Oscar with such glee that Jon Stewart kept coming back to them as the night went on — possibly because he seemed stunned by their unquestionably energetic performance, only somewhat obscured by the dancers dressed as hookers prancing in the foreground (say what you will it was still infinitely better than the burning car and interpretative racism dancers of doom peopling the set of Kathleen York’s performance of “In the Deep” from “Crash”). Or perhaps he just couldn’t get over the fact that they were the only ones who hadn’t gotten the memo about Serious and Relevant this iteration of the Academy Awards were, a point hammered in by the many self-celebratory montages: the biopic montage, the film noir montage (introduced by a very shaky Lauren Bacall), the films of social import montage (which kicked off with a tragic editing leap from “All the President’s Men” to “The Day After Tomorrow”), the “movies should be seen on the big screen” montage all reeked of desperation, of trying to reinforce old dominance to an audience who wandered off to watch TiVoed episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy”
Best speech: Three 6 Mafia, along with George Clooney’s funny, leisurely acceptance for supporting actor is it any wonder the camera kept cutting back to him for reaction shots later? Beyond being the only actor with a sheen of the old-school glamour this year’s awards so anxiously tried to recall, he was also one of the few who seemed comfortable expressing emotions without a publicist’s approval.
Flicker of life: The Stephen Colbert-narrated fake campaign ads were by far the funniest moments of the entire ceremony, not counting the “Crash” dancers. And all was forgiven for Jon Stewart when, after the “social import” montage, he intoned: “And none of those issues was ever a problem again.”
Ideas that fell flat: The “gay cowboy” montage and the Lily Tomlin-Meryl Streep Altmanesque intro both dragged on past their prime.
Self-congratulatory quotes of death: Reese Witherspoon’s June Carter Cash “I’m just trying to matter” and Paul Haggis’ “Art is not a mirror. Art is a hammer.” Shut up, Reese Witherspoon. Shut up, Paul Haggis.
Signs of the times: “Paradise Now” is announced as a film from the “Palestinian Territories” not that it was going to win or anything anyway. And “Crash”‘s win for Best Picture wasn’t surprising as much as disappointing but the cameras actually cut away before producer Cathy Schulman was done having her say. Not even the Best Picture winners merit a few more seconds of TV time in this extra-brisk era harsh.