Let's Talk Oscars

Kirk Douglas Upstaged Every Whippersnapper in Sight
All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 28 2011 2:37 PM

Let's Talk Oscars

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Kirk Douglas.
Kirk Douglas

Dear Troy,

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

I'd completely blocked out James Franco as Marilyn in drag! My only psychic mechanism for dealing with that degree of trauma is straight-up denial. What was so awful about that moment was that it wasn't a "moment" at all: not a song, not a sketch, not an impersonation, just the lazy parading of a man in women's clothing to get a laugh (which, to the audience's credit, Franco didn't). Watching him just stand there like a hunk of taffeta-clad meat and crack that one already-stale Charlie Sheen joke was an insult to the art of cross-dressing. If the producers were determined to put him in a dress and wig, why not give him a Hedwig-esque production number and set him loose? Franco's building a reputation as a boundlessly energetic, protean actor who'll try anything once—it's a reputation I think he's earned onscreen, which is part of why his torpor last night was so confusing.

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All reasonable people (excluding Franco's mother and grandmother, who both attended the ceremony and tweeted about it) can agree that the 32-year-old multitasker flopped as a master of ceremonies, but it wasn't entirely his fault. The whole production felt strangely cursory and under-rehearsed. (Jennifer Hudson, usually a bubbly pro at these events, seemed to barely understand her teleprompter copy.) The patter, with very rare exceptions, stunk too. One of Franco's few funny lines of the night sounded like an ad-lib: a muttered "Congratulations, nerds" after that pretaped footage of Marisa Tomei hosting the tech-awards sausage party.

But I can't agree that the decision to have Kirk Douglas present the best supporting actress award qualified as "cruel and unusual." If anything—like David Seidler's win for the King's Speech screenplay—it felt like a stealth victory for age over youth, with Douglas upstaging every whippersnapper in sight. The 94-year-old movie star's deliberately protracted envelope-opening got one of the biggest laughs of the night, with Douglas slyly using his slurred speech as a pretext to milk the joke even longer. After his stroke in 1996, Douglas' mental acuity was intact, but his ability to produce language was gone. He recounts the yeoman's battle he waged to master speech again in a 2002 memoir called My Stroke of Luck—I remember hearing him interviewed when it came out and thinking, this dude is sharp. Anyone who was making fun of Douglas in their living room last night deserves to wake up in the world of Logan's Run, a youth-worshiping dystopia into which, come to think of it, the Kodak Theatre may be a cosmic portal.

And with that, I've officially burned through my full store of material on the 2011 Academy Awards. I have entered Oscar ketosis. Can I carbo-load with a few words on the dresses? I want to stand up for the few genuinely weird, stylist-defying choices: Cate Blanchett's two-dimensional-looking sculptural lavender-pink number, which could have passed as one of those freestanding boards with a cutout head where you get your picture taken at a carnival. Heidi Klum's bizarre assemblage of what appeared to be shards of the shattered mirror from Black Swan. And singer Florence Welch's repurposing of what I believe may be the aged and yellowed remnant of a tiered Laura Ashley dress I wore to an eighth-grade dance in 1980 but which, somehow, with Welch's flame-colored hair and wraithlike pallor, looked mysteriously right again.

Troy, be the shimmying Hathaway to my rapidly decompensating Franco and bring this baby on home.

Yours,
Dana

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