I guess last night’s clip montages, created with the apparent goal of reminding Oscar viewers what movies are—successions of recorded images we watch on rectangular screens! That are about … stuff! And sometimes contain memorable moments!—did the trick, because I actually managed to get sort of caught up in the spirit of last night’s three-hour-and-10-minute extravaganza. I’d even say the ceremony flew by, in no small part thanks to Twitter, a format made for quick-hit observational ephemera like these side-by-side screencaps illustrating the improvisational brilliance of Jim Rash’s Angelina-mocking leg-jut.
Rash, an improv comic and regular on Community as well as Alexander Payne’s co-screenwriter for The Descendants, nailed that inexplicable stance down to the angle of the elbow. But Troy’s question stands: Why was the U.N. Goodwill Ambassador thus proffering that alarmingly bony limb? Was she, like Hansel in the fairy tale, trying to prove to her captor witch that she’s not yet fat enough to eat? I don’t like to go ad feminam on performers’ bodies—that’s what got us into this anorexia mess in the first place—but Jolie looked unhealthy and sad to me, and the leg-jut seemed like an uncharacteristic plea for attention, sexual and otherwise. I miss the enigmatic Jolie of yore, with her slightly plusher frame and air of feline self-sufficiency.
Billy Crystal, Schmilly Crystal—what are you going to do? He was fine. Like the character he played in his directorial debut, Mr. Saturday Night, Crystal was an aging Catskills comedian who clung to his jokes, and to his old-fashioned white-tie polish, with a kind of touching loyalty. And a couple of the jokes weren’t that bad—yes, maybe a 15 percent hit rate, as Dan estimated in our Facebook chat, but with Oscar gags being what they are, does any host score above, say, 30 percent? He pulled off both the song medley and the montage of clips from nominated movies pretty well (and the idea of Crystal as the comatose patient in The Descendants made me laugh, though I could have done without the mildly homophobic gag of having him and Clooney kiss at the end.)
The evening provided me with two real whoops of pleasure as an award was announced (which is perhaps all an Oscar viewer can ask for: a couple of bursts of genuine vicarious joy). Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s win for A Separation for best foreign language film felt like a vote of confidence in so many good things at once: A world where the United States and Iran would enjoy a more open, less paranoid relationship (an outcome Farhadi explicitly mentioned in his moving acceptance speech); a world where theocratic regimes like Iran’s would no longer be able to imprison dissident filmmakers at will; and a world where smart, complex, demanding movies like A Separation get internationally recognized as the masterpieces they are.
Then there was Meryl Streep’s best actress upset—an upset by the standards of this year’s set-in-stone race, anyway—a mild but pleasurable surprise that made me realize I’d secretly wanted her to win all along. The Iron Lady was terrible, yes, but that made her triumph in it all the more surprising—how could a movie this bad contain a performance this good? And for all the awards she’s garnered over the past 30 years, for all the genuine graciousness with which she’s insisted Viola Davis should get this award—for all that, you could tell from her face when she found out that Streep really wanted it. That was what I loved most about Meryl’s funny, heartfelt, perfect acceptance speech: her self-mocking but not faux-humble admission that, oh yes, she cared all right. Her mimicking of the reaction of a Streep-fatigued America—“Oh come on, whyyyy? Her again?”, followed by a breezy wave of the hand and a dismissive “Whatever!”—has me on the floor even rewatching it the day after (I also cried a second time during her fluttering tribute to the makeup and hair man she’s worked with for 30 years, who had just won an Oscar for The Iron Lady.) The French have that expression, bien dans sa peau, for a person who feels “good in her skin,” who seems somehow at ease with the fact of being alive. I may never have Meryl Streep’s talent or fame or shimmering 62-year-old complexion, but we can all aspire to that one day being that bien in our peau.
A few more things that made me laugh, cry, and cringe last night, and then we’ll adjourn till next year. Thanks for sticking with me through Oscar season, guys. We made it!
—Octavia Spencer’s sweet, flustered, weepy, sadly truncated acceptance speech for best supporting actress for The Help, and the preceding clip from the movie that reminded us how much she deserved the award. Her Minny was a marvelous comic creation, but the character’s rage and resentment were always close to the surface—it was a more demanding role in some ways than Viola Davis’, and Viola will get her Oscar soon enough. I also liked Octavia’s get-off-my-back response to a reporter who asked her backstage about the lack of diversity in the Academy: “I can’t tell the Academy what to do, honey. They just gave me an Oscar.” (A moment later, Spencer turned back to the same reporter, saying, “I didn’t mean to cut you off, ma’am. I just knew where you were going, and I didn’t want to get on that bus.” Polite code for: Let me enjoy my frickin’ Oscar in peace and not have to represent my entire race for a second, lady.)
—The irony of J-Lo and Cameron Diaz quoting legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head as they presented the costume and makeup awards—“A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman, but loose enough to prove you’re a lady”—while wearing gowns skintight and low-cut enough to let the secondary sexual characteristics do the talking.
—The frustratingly tiny scraps of that talking-head interview in which Brad Pitt recalls with still-fascinated fondness the first movie he ever remembers seeing, the mid-’60s Japanese horror cheapie The War of the Gargantuas. I would pay good money to watch Pitt analyze that movie scene by scene, preferably while rewatching it stoned on his couch. At the very least, can we hope for a DVD rerelease with a Pitt commentary track?