How To Watch the Oscars

Crash and Burn
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March 6 2006 11:27 AM

How To Watch the Oscars

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George Clooney
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George Clooney

Troy, Dana:

Well, this year the academy was determined to celebrate Love and Truth and Tolerance. But instead of celebrating it with Brokeback Mountain, the early favorite,they celebrated it with Crash. I'm going to defer to Scott Foundas, the film critic at LA Weekly, who summed upCrash in Slate last year: "Welcome to the best movie of the year for people who like to say, 'A lot of my best friends are black.' "

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After a slightly clunky start, I thought Jon Stewart's weisenheimer act was nearly faultless. Stewart to Steven Spielberg, director of Schindler's List and Munich: "I think I speak for all Jews when I say, 'I can't wait to see what happens to us next.' " He drew big laughs when he called Walk the Line "Ray with white people" and noted that for the largely liberal audience, "This is the first time many of you have voted for a winner." He came off less like a political satirist, as I'd predicted, than a New York smartass rolling his eyes at Hollywood's self-regard. Coming back from one of our (endless) trips down memory lane, Stewart cracked, "I can't wait till we get Oscar's salute to montages."

Outside of George Clooney, the winners didn't provide much in the way of memorable acceptance speeches, and I'm thinking it might have something to do with the house orchestra playing music during the acceptance speeches. What gives? As soon as the winner would begin to speak, you would hear soothing mood music—like the mix of light horn and piano you hear when you're getting a massage. Whether it was excessively relaxing or unnerving, it seemed it throw everyone. Philip Seymour Hoffman did turn in a nice tribute to his mother, without the "Prince of Denmark" angst Troy mentioned. Reese Witherspoon's speech began with the usual laundry list but got some zip when she talked about June Carter ("I'm just trying to matter."). I'm still waiting for her husband, RyanPhillippe, to crack a smile.

Dolly Parton—yee-haw. If her number didn't make you smile—that knock-out white suit, those knees kicking up high like Harold Hill's in The Music Man—then you are not human. And on a similarly yee-haw note, how about Larry McMurtry trotting onstage in a version of the outfit known as the "Texas tuxedo"? (That's a tuxedo on the top, boots and jeans on the bottom.) Somehow, I think that's the most formal outfit in his entire closet. Dana, as a fellow Texan I hope you were similarly moved.

On another high note, I felt the ceremony just flew by this year. Yes, we could have done without a few of the montages. But the scripted comedy bits mostly worked, and even the tribute to Robert Altman felt, if anything, too short. I was stunned that the whole thing ran four hours.

Not so great: the academy's insistence on pimping the large-screen theatrical experience. They trotted out Jake Gyllenhaal, who had to try to keep from laughing, to proclaim, "[T]here's no place to see [movies] but the big screen." Then we were shown epic bits from 2001, E.T., and other films, presumably so we could see how silly they look when we watch them at home.

And one of these years, will someone please do something about those stilted speeches they give to the celebrities who present the second-tier awards? There is something truly hilarious about watching John Travolta stride out and say (I'm making this up, but it's close), "When we think of cinematography, we think of a subtlety, an eye for color, composition, and movement. And this year's five nominees certainly demonstrated …" Who writes this stuff?

Some questions for the group: Troy, I want details about your Oscar-watching on the Upper West Side. Were people cheering and hugging their maids when Crash won? Either of you want to comment on Clooney's snarky acceptance speech, which appeared on every right-leaning blog a few minutes after it was aired? And since you're both TV critics, what promo'd ABC show seems less promising: American Inventor (basically, American Idol for inventors) or Miracle Workers (Extreme Makeover for your vital organs)?

I'm writing this in the wee hours, but I'll look for your smart-aleck lines in the morning. Good night, and good luck.

BC

Bryan Curtis is a Slate staff writer. You can e-mail him at curtisb@slate.com.Troy Patterson andDana Stevens are Slate critics. Write Dana at surfergirl@thehighsign.net.

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