7:08 p.m. Let the Games begin. As in Vancouver, we’re rooting for the Canadians. Which means King of the World (aka James Cameron), Jason Reitman and Ivan Reitman (director and producer of Up in the Air). And the two men behind District 9, writer-director Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell.
Watching Ben Mulroney on the red carpet. Mo’Nique has just called him “brother.” Ben, you can take that to the bank. Jason Reitman has his soundbite down to a weary koan. On Up In the Air: “It’s a movie about family and it was made by a family.”
James Cameron talking to Ben about his rival, and ex-wife: “Kathryn has done a number of small films. She doesn’t play the Hollywood game.” And on the results tonight: “The tea leaves tell me that it’s going her way.”
7:13 pm: Barbara Walters’ Special. Her last special. OMG. Mo’Nique has just finished talking about the frictional specifics of being abused by her brother, and now she’s leaving Barbara Walters slack jawed by talking about how sex outside of her marriage is not a deal breaker. Next the camera moves in for a close-up of her hairy legs, as she delivers defence thereof.
7: 32 pm: We’re flicking between Barbara Wawa and Ben collaring Hollywood royalty. Ben asks George Clooney whether he gets more mileage out of an Oscar or being People’s Sexiest Man Alive. George says being sexy goes further. Ben, morphing into crazed fan, lunges at Meryl Streep as she sashays by, and she pats his microphone maternally. Media version of an air kiss. Or a polite way of saying, “Get lost.”
7:57 pm: This live blog, by the way, is coming to you from Helga Stephenson’s annual Oscar party. Helga is a former director of TIFF, chair of the recent Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and a global among cinephiles. Her annual Oscar soiree is always a blast. But I feel like a freak: typing at a party while watching television is perverse.
8:20 pm: Sarah Jessica Parker talks about what she’s wearing, a yellow dress with a breastplate bouquet of silver flowers spewing up from the bodice. Hubby Matthew Broderick stands by, looking bored, the perennial Prince Charles to the queen of Sex and the City. Parker’s hair looked like an artful arrangement of blond kaiser buns, or so says Suzanne, who’s peering over my shoulder as I type. I need help with wardrobe criticism.
8:29: pm: My first prediction fails to come true. I foretold that Jeff Bridges wouldn’t show up in a traditional tux. Wrong. Might even be a clip-on tie.
Meryl Streep, looking casually regal in soft flowing white, is asked what she’s looking forward to. “Getting inside and sitting down. Getting off the Jimmy Choos.”
8:50 pm. Showtime. We begin with a phalanx of Best Actor and Actress nominees. Classy. Then, surprise. Neil Patrick Harris comes out in a glitz outfit and does a Vegas song-and-dance number with showgirls wearing not much except those flesh-coloured body stockings that the ice-dancers wear. There’s your post-modern production number. Retro irony.
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin take over. Martin hails Meryl Streep as the actress with the most Oscar nominations ever. “Or as I like to think of it, most losses.” Steve and Alec make a crack about the “threesome” with Meryl in It’s Complicated. Then Steve says: “Anyone who has worked with her says, “Can that woman act! . . And what’s up with all the Hitler memorabilia?”
The Steve/Alec banter is suitably off-colour. Some one liners:
Precious is hailed as “the one film that really lived up to its video game.”
“Gabourey and I have something in common,” says Martin, about the plus-sized star of Precious. “In our first movies, we were both born a poor black child.”
Steve and Alec pick James Cameron out of the audience and put on their 3D glasses. (Finally, one of my predictions comes true.)
Martin hails Christoph Waltz, who “played a Nazi obsessed with finding Jews.” Then he extends his arms and looks around the Hollywood crowd . . “Well, Christoph. . .”
Waltz gives a painfully earnest speech as he accepts the inevitable best supporting actor award from Penelope Cruz, who looks sensational in scarlet.
9:13 pm Another painfully earnest speech. The director of Up, which wins animated feature, has a gazillion animators to thank, but he devotes his speech to his family and his wife, who sits in tears. Cute. I’m sure the gazillion animators appreciate it.
Steve and Alec introduce presenters Amanda Seyfried and Miley Cyrus as two people “who have no idea who we are.” The co-hosts are acting like a couple of old vaudevillians, and from where I sit it’s playing well.
T-Bone Burnett wins best song for Crazy Heart with Ryan Bingham, who uses the podium to invest in his marriage: “I love you more than rainbows, baby.” Do we detect a trend? The score so far in acceptance speeches: God Zero, Family 2.
It’s going to be a long night. Gotta grind through video highlights for 10 Best Picture nominations.
9:23 pm Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. do the best bit yet, a deadpan routine about screenwriting, in which Downey pretends to go off script. “It’s a collaboration,” he says. “A collaboration between handsome gifted people and sickly mole people.”
Hurt Locker wins the original screenwriter award. Beginning of a sweep? Mark Boal thanks all the American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and finally, “My father who didn’t live to see this. He passed away, a month ago.” Speaking of death, we move into a tribute to the late John Hughes. A nostalgic montage of his films makes them seem more emotional than we ever remembered. All those sweet-faced young actors.
Basic law of Oscar physics: short films always have the longest acceptance speeches. But the French guy who wins best animated short is cool. “It took six years to make these 16 minutes,” he says, “so I hope to come back here with a feature film, in another 36 years.”
At Helga’s, the peanut gallery is getting out of hand. Someone takes a look at Carey Mulligan, underdog nominee who’s presenting Oscars for shorts.
“Her earrings are bigger than her head.”
‘It’s her pixie cut,” someone shoots back.
Something really weird happens in the acceptance speech for documentary short. One of the producers starts giving an impassioned speech that no one, not even her co-presenter seems to understand. She looks certifiably insane. They play music to get her off stage.
9:55 pm It was inevitable. Someone was bound to come out in blue face wearing a tail and amber contact lenses. Thankfully, it’s Ben Stiller. “It was between this and the Nazi uniform, but the show seemed a little Hitler heavy.”
After addressing James Cameron in hissing Na’vi syllables, he presents the Oscar for make-up, which goes to Star Trek. “After I announce the winner, I will try to stand as far away from them as possible in order not to demean their moment of triumph.”
First mild upset of the night as as adapted screenplay goes to Precious. That was the one award Up in the Air was expected to win. And we get the first weeping acceptance speech, from the writer. “I don’t know what to say. This is for everybody who works on a dream every day, Precious boys and girls everywhere. My mother, Betty, angel of my world, my father Alphonse . . .” Then Steve Martin deflates it beautifully as the man leaves the stage in tears: “I wrote that speech for him.”
Mo’Nique’s coronation as supporting actress. Automatic standing ovation. She’s got her speech down pat, and even seems to be controlling the tears that she’s keeping at bay. “First I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not about the politics…”
“Au contraire,” shouts someone in Helga’s Living Room.
Mo’Nique thanks “my amazing husband Sidney. . . Thank you for showing me you sometimes got to forego doing what’s popular for doing what’s right.” Huh? She also thanks her attorney in almost the same breath. Kind of deflates the currency of the other thank yous.
Avatar wins for production design. And the way his acolytes talk, I’m beginning to wonder if James Cameron is building a new chapter of the Church of Scientology: the Pandoran parish.
“This Oscar sees you. Clearly,” says one of the geeks on stage. Clearly? There it is again! Scratch a Na’vi and you find a Thetan.
One of the geeks delivers a weepy speech about the fact that he’s not dead. “Thirteen years ago doctors told me I wasn’t going to survive, and here we are. . . I owe this to my amazing wife. . . ” Thirteen years ago?? That’s old news, pal. Give it a rest. And what’s with all breast-beating about wives and families? There’s a lot of male guilt in this room.
10:20 pm: One of the best lines of the night, this introduction from Steve Martin:
“He directed a Single Man and she weighs a single pound. Please welcome Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker. . . ”
Worst acceptance speech of the night so far, from the woman who wins the Oscar for costume design. She strides purposefully up the aisle in an upholstery-like gown that I assume she dreamt up herself. This woman isn’t moved. She’s smug. “I already have two of these,” she carps, as if the thought hoisting a third Oscar onto her mantel is more tiresome than she can imagine. “I’d like to dedicate this to the costume designers who don’t do films about dead monarchs and glittery musicals.” Ah, it goes out to all little people toiling at their little sewing machines.
Banshee shouts of “Bitch!” from Helga’s Living Room.
10:45 pm:. Sound editing goes to The Hurt Locker, accepted by a guy so vampire-pale it looks like it’s his first time out of the studio. He says he sold everything to come to Hollywood. Looks he should start buying some of it back.
Hurt Locker also wins sound mixing. Hurt Locker did refine the audio of blowing things up. So far it’s sweeping the technical categories, and the camera keeps cutting to James Cameron, who’s sitting behind his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, and politely applauding.
But then cinematography goes to Avatar, which is unexpected, since the movie was shot as a studio feat of motion-capture wizardry that is light years removed from conventional photography. Usually cinematography goes to sweeping, postcard pretty landscape movies. Cameron looks delirious. Vindication for the Church of Pandora! Gee, this war between Avatar and Hurt Locker is almost as exciting as. . . the biathlon. But least we still have a contest.
We now pause for an interpretative dance melody for original score. A guy in a gray cardigan does a preposterous semaphore-like impression of dodging bombs falling. Helga’s Living Room is in open revolt:
“Look how I’m hurting in my locker, it hurts so much! Oh my hurting locker!”
11:01 pm: Avatar wins visual effects. Duh. This is where the awards really start to drag, and you’re dying for Steve and Alec to come back with more gags about “clothes whores” being the plural of “clothes horse”
Best documentary feature. Nice to see the generous clips. Every nominee is an activist doc. The Cove wins, as it should. One of the filmmakers in the acceptance team unfurls an activist sign with a phone number or website on it. It’s only onscreen for a second. The camera cuts away to some old people in the audience. I think Oscar has a rule about signs.
Tyler Perry, who’s big and black, says: “Alec Baldwin comes up to me and says, “I loved you in The Blind Side. That wasn’t me.” Oops.
The Hurt Locker sweep continues. Its winning sound editor calls it a movie made without compromise: “We didn’t have any preview screenings or focus groups or studio notes.” Oscar loves a Little Movie That Could. Last year it was Slumdog; this year it’s The Hurt Locker. For a while Precious looked like a Little Movie That Could, but after Oprah got behind it, it was more like a 5000-ton locomotive of abuse victim empowerment.
11:25 pm: During the commercial, Helga’s Living Room is having a spirited discussion of whether The Hurt Locker is pro or anti war. Some of us argue it’s about the drug of war, which is presumably a bad drug that gets you hooked nonetheless. Maggie says she has it on good authority that war is, in fact, “excruciatingly boring.”
Helga’s Living Room is a tough crowd. The women are ruthless in describing the fashion. “She’s got cupcakes on her dress!” someone shrieks. “No, those are her breasts!”
The only time the room settles down, after much shushing is during the montage of Dead People. Some try to laugh at James Taylor sings accompaniment, but they’re quickly silenced. With the Oscars, some things are sacred. [postscript: before morning there are entire blog strings devoted to catty arguments about James Taylor's performance.]
Odd couple Steve & Alec introducing the odd couple presenters of Best Foreign Language Film, Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino: “We were confused when we were asked to introduce our next presenters, Pedro and Quentin, because those are our pet names for each other.” This goes nicely with the vaguely homoerotic shtick that Steve & Alec have been spinning all night. They did a funny pre-recorded video bit about sharing a hotel room bed and being videotaped, time-lapse style, a la Paranormal.
Big upset. It’s not The White Ribbon or A Prophet. It’s Argentina’s The Secret in Their Eyes That wins’ Foreign Language Film. The flustered director, trying to piece together a speech as prompts keep telling him to shut up, thanks the Academy “for not considering Na’vi a foreign language.”
11:40 pm: We have a squad of actors delivering intimate tributes to the Best Actor nominees. The actors sit still for it in long extreme close-up, a bit terrifying in HD. A contest among nominees turns into a contest among the special friends giving them tributes. Michelle Pfeiffer shows up looking ethereal and ageless. “What’s she doing here?” one of our crowd asks. She give such a long and loving tribute to Jeff Bridges, I waiting for her to say she’s going to run off with him. It’s a Performance. His eyes mist up as they stay locked on hers. None of the other tributors can match this. But Colin Farrell says warm, funny things to his pal Jeremy Renner, star of Hurt Locker, a consolation speech that virtually says, “You don’t stand a chance, but you’re a helluva guy.”
Kate Winslet hands the award to Bridges. No surprise there. He looks genuinely happy. “Mom and Dad! whooo!” he he yells as he looks up to the heavens.
“Thank-you Mom and Dad for turning me onto such a groovy profession. . . My Mom and Dad loved showbiz so much! My dad sitting me on his bed teaching me all the basics of acting for a role in . . . Sea Hunt. They loved showbiz so much. This is an extension of that, honouring them, as much as me.”
This really is Family Night at the Oscars. Jeff Bridges drinks in the moment. He owns the room. He takes his time, saying “Man!” all the time, sounding more like the Big Lebowski stoner than the drunk in Crazy Heart. Brandishing the Oscar like a football, he thanks everybody—finishing with his wife of 33 years, who looks radiant— acting like a cosmic dude who is watching the universe unfold exactly as it should.
12:05 am: Now more awkwardly touching tributes for the actresses. It runs the gamut. Michael Sheen raves about how hot Helen Mirren was when he was working with her on The Queen, all but saying he wanted to do her. American’s Queen, Oprah, delivers a disingenuous tribute to Precious star Gabourey Sidibe as tears pour down the woman’s face in a merciless close-up. Oprah hails her as a “true American Cinderella on the threshold of a new career.” Which seems a little over-optimistic, and unfair. I mean, it’s not like she’s going to get nominated again next year.
Sandra Bullock, as expected, wins Best Actress. For playing a rich, pistol-packing Southern belle who’s like a combo of Sarah Palin and Erin Brockovich. Hated the movie. Hated the character. But everyone loves no-bullshit Bullock. And she accepts her Oscar with a flawless grace and humility that explains why Hollywood has fallen in love with her.
“Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?” she asks. Humility is her thiing.
Bullock delivers elegant tributes to her fellow nominees, then lets the tears flow thanking her late mother: “If I can take this moment to thank Helga B. for not letting me ride in cars with boys until I was 18, because she was right. I would have done what she said I was gonna do.” She obviously scripted the line as a joke, but the tears are elling up. Helga B. apparently taught Sandra B. that “there’s no race, no religion, no class, nothing that makes us better than anyone else.” No argument there I guess. Bullock also thanks “my lover, Meryl Streep,” which sounds like another pre-scripted joke but just seems really weird amid the tears. Meryl Streep, by the way, has been mentioned more than anyone tonight, by far. She’s Oscar’s unofficial godhead.
The Big Moment. Oscar makes history. Barbra Streisand, hinting at the wished-for conclusion before she opens the envelope, presents the Best Director Oscar to the first woman ever to win it: Kathryn Bigelow.
Helga’s Living Room is cheering.
“So extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful filmmakers,” says Bigelow. Talking about her ex, I guess. “This is the moment of a lifetime. I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for Mark Boal, who risked his life for the words on the page.” Mark Boal, the screenwriter, was embedded in Iraq. James Cameron like to risk his life to make movies too. Bigelow seems to adore guys who treat art as a daredevil occupation. She dedicates the award to the troops.
The evening is racing to its conclusion. Without a smidgen of ceremony, Tom Hanks announces the show stopper: Best Picture to The Hurt Locker. No Na’vi acceptance speeches tonight. Bigelow is back up there, thanking not just the troops but all the folks in uniform. The firemen, the police, the men in the haz-mat suits. Enough already.
How long will it take for the Hurt Locker backlash to start?
Amid a hubbub of winners onstage, Steve Martin calls it a wrap:
“The show is so long that Avatar now takes place in the past.”
I’m outta here.