No Oscar shame, just the mundane from degeneres
by Alex Ben Block for Hollywood Today
HOLLYWOOD, CA (rushprnews) 02/26/07 â€” â€œWe are not amused.â€
Queen Victoriaâ€™s famous comment comes to mind as Ellen DeGeneres tame, semi-funny hosting of the 79th Academy Awards fell far below her own standards as well as those for Oscar night hilarity. She failed to reach the level set by recent-era comics like Billy Crystal or even edgier, yet problematic Chris Rock. The most that can be said is that she was better than David Letterman.She was only half joking when she said if it werenâ€™t for â€œblacks, gays and Jewsâ€ there would be no Academy Awards. In fact much of the show she seemed to be half joking, provoking titters, while goofing around being a corny talk show host or pretending to be another tourist vicariously ogling the stars.Her chatty, almost pandering monologue and bantering with a bald Jack Nicholson, and at one point pushing a vacuum cleaner along the row of famous faces, was only mildly amusing.
The underdressed Ellen chatted casually. It wasnâ€™t embarrassing. She didnâ€™t make herself into a water cooler joke like the year Letterman chanted â€˜Ooma!! and Oprah!! However, she wasnâ€™t on the level of humor and class from Bob Hope or Johnny Carson in an earlier era.The problem was that Ellen wasnâ€™t even at her own best.Her amiable and occasionally animated Oscar amble might have sufficed if we hadnâ€™t seen Ellen wow us back in 2001. She hosted the Emmys that year after they had been delayed several times due to the 9/11 tragedy. Ellen was amazing that night. She was smart and funny. She connected to the audience at the venue and viewers at home in an almost organic fashion. She spoke for all of us. She allowed us to laugh through out tears.That wasnâ€™t the Ellen we saw at this yearâ€™s Oscars. She treated the Kodak as if it were extension of what she does five days a week on television. However, this wasnâ€™t her show and there were a billion people watching.
Ellen was supposed to be edgy without being dangerous like Chris Rock. Why isnâ€™t Rock back? He was apparently too unpredictable for the Academy.What saved this show, just as he has saved millions of movie nights, was Martin Scorsese. There was a thrill to his victory, based on a shared sense that this was Scorseseâ€™s year, and that among the many who toil in the garden of ideas, he was the one who deserved to be honored, and this was his year.
That was the case even though â€œThe Departedâ€ was a departure for him. In the past, Scorsese had developed, and often written, his movies. He came aboard â€œThe Departedâ€ as a director for hire. And what a director.
Even among the greats of his era, he stands out, which was abundantly clear when Scorsese was presented his award for directing achievement by his three friends and professional peers: Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.Some called them â€œthe film school generation,â€ because they were the first wave of American movie directors who trained specifically to pursue their profession. They came of age in the 1960s and flowered in the 1970s and have influenced cinema worldwide ever since, making some of the most popular and critically acclaimed movies of all time.That made it an exquisitely delicious moment when the leading directors of that movement presented a long awaited and well deserved Academy Award to a film school grad from their generation, as Scorsese was named Best Director for The Departed, which also won as Best Picture, for Adapted Screenplay and for Film Editing.
His win for directing and the choice of The Departed as best picture moments later provided a storybook happy ending in Hollywood where Scorsese got a heartfelt standing ovation as he mounted the podium to accept. After seven previous nominations (five for directing, two for writing), the filmmaker who is arguably the greatest director of his generation, had finally achieved something that eluded Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick. He was an Oscar winner.
Even the cynical journalists in the press room backstage at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood cheered when Scorsese name was read. He was a director who had entertained, educated, thrilled, provoked and inspired movie goers for over 30 years.
â€œWorking with Marty is quite something,â€ said Thelma Schoonmaker, his longtime editor, who won her third Oscar for a Scorsese picture. â€œItâ€™s tumultuous, passionate, funny and itâ€™s like being in the best film school in the world.â€
Scorsese wasnâ€™t the only big winner at this yearâ€™s Oscars, nor was he the only one with some lessons to teach. Although he trained as a politician, former Vice President Al Gore was on hand as the star of â€œAn Inconvenient Truth,â€ honored as best feature length documentary and in a shocker, for the song â€œI Need To Wake Up,â€ written and performed by Melissa Etheridge.
In a tone quite fitting for a school master, Gore said the â€œclimate crisisâ€ is not â€œa political issue. It is a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act. Thatâ€™s a renewable resource. So letâ€™s renew it.â€
It was a night for racial, ethnic and language diversity and a return to glamour. Instead of worrying about pleasing critics, first time Oscar producer Laura Ziskin, better known as producer of the Spiderman movies, rolled out a classy, ethnically and geographically diverse show that marked a return to musical and comedy production numbers, which had disappeared in recent years in the interest of time.
However, Ziskin knew going in she would never meet the scheduled three hours allocated for the show. In a pre-show interview, Ziskin said the telecast would run a minimum of three and a half hours. It actually went three hours and 52 minutes. â€œYou get your popcorn and invite your friends over,â€ Ziskin said before the show. â€œOr get in bed by yourself or with someone you like, and you wait to see whatâ€™s going to happen.â€
Just as the list of nominations was the most international in history, so is the list of winners. One of the biggest surprises was the success of the politically charged Spanish language fantasy film, Panâ€™s Labyrinth (Laberinto del Fauno), which won awards for art direction, make up and cinematography, while in a curious twist, losing best foreign language film to the German entry, The Lives of Others.
Two heavy favorites did deliver â€“ Helen Mirren won best actress for The Queen and Forest Whitaker took best actor honors for the little seen Last King Of Scotland. Mirren paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, whom she portrayed, noting: â€œif it wasnâ€™t for her, I most, most certainly would not be here.â€
A day after it swept the Spirit Awards, which honor movies made outside the Hollywood mainstream, there was also some love for Little Miss Sunshine, which won for Original Screenplay and in one of the nightâ€™s biggest surprises, for Best Supporting Actor Alan Arkin. Last nominated 39 years ago for The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,
Arkin beat out Eddie Murphy in DreamGirls, widely considered the favorite.
There will be debate about whether Arkin won because he is a beloved veteran or Murphy lost because the Academy didnâ€™t want to honor a comedic actor whose body of work has been popular with audiences but not critics. There was speculation in recent weeks that the timing of the release of Murphyâ€™s box office hit comedy Norbit, which is not the kind of movie Academy voters would embrace, might hurt his image just as the ballots were being filled out.
It was an imperfect night for DreamGirls all around. The musical drama had been snubbed by the Academy when it was not nominated as best picture, even though it received the most nominations of any movie with eight. In the end it won only for sound mixing and for Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson, another heavy favorite. That meant it lost for best song even though it had three of five nominations in that category.
It may be that the three DreamGirls tunes cancelled each other out, or it may be that the Academy members, like Al Gore, wanted to send a message by choosing the song from An Inconvenient Truth over the more sophisticated stuff of a proven Broadway musical.
Another favorite going in Babel came away with only an Oscar for its original musical score, despite half a dozen other nominations. That was better than Borat, which lost for screenplay, and Clint Eastwood, who lost as director and as producer of Letters From Iwo Jima, which did receive an award for sound editing.
The yearâ€™s most successful film in terms of ticket sales, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest, managed to win a single award, for visual effects out of four nominations.
However, that was no surprise. None of the major nominees with the exception of The Departed had been big at the box office. There was no Titanic this year to please the masses. The 79th edition of the Academy Awards was a slick show that was about pleasing the industry without trying to please everyone.
It was a night in which Hollywood celebrated its own, amid glamour, music and entertainment, without much worry about how it would appear to those who think the industry is way to self-indulgent and full of inflated egos. This was an evening to pay tribute to world cinema that was a world apart from the popcorn movies that most people want to see on Saturday night.
Ellen was supposed to be the voice of sanity but she might better be listed in the program as just another fan, who happened to get to host the Oscars.