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The 79th Annual Academy Awards

It was to be a night of diversity, and high time. After all, to paraphrase host Ellen DeGeneres, "…if not for (diversity), there wouldn't be Oscars. Or anyone named Oscar, for that matter."

To prove the point, Best Picture went to an American film based on a movie from Hong Kong, though the announcer referred to it as Japanese. Norway apparently helped produce an animated short about a Danish poet, and somewhere in Southern California, a live-action short solved the problems between Israelis and Palestinians by parodying West Side Story.

By randomly bringing on the Pilabolus Dance Troupe to embody film logos, the Academy proved there's a place for Boneless Americans in our great Melting Pot, too.

Vaguely, the production went green last night. Maybe that's not a sign of diversity; Al Gore did do his best to claim it's a moral issue, not a political one. And that was a noble attempt on his part, but you just know that most of the audience was thinking "…and my politics are morally right…"

On a personal note, for the first time in a long time, I turned the television on early and watched the red crapet stuff, a ritual that many of the stars tried to avoid by showing up pressed for time. Among the intriguing facts gleaned from those not quick enough to throw a publicist at the snapping press:

  • Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts attend a lot of barbecues together. It may have been the Australian accents, but I could also swear Nicole claims they go potty together. Take that, Paris and Britney!
  • One fashion commentator declared Jennifer Hudson "…the new People's Princess," thus filling the void left by the passing of Anna Nicole Smith.
  • Cameron Diaz' childhood nickname was Skeletor, thus explaining why she and Justin recently split. His childhood nickname was She-Ra.
  • In Little Children, Kate Winslet has a graphic sex scene, thus ensuring that the viewership of at least sixty seconds of that film will have doubled by Tuesday.
  • As for the show itself, it seemed a strange mix of understatement, class, common man touches and confusion. Setting the tone, DeGeneres did her usual schtick, which made for a slow opening but did liven things up later in the broadcast. Rather than insert herself into movie scenes, the host stood back and let documentarian Errol Morris roll with a montage of nominees talking about their experience. Once we got past Steven Spielberg trying to seem like an ordinary guy and went to those technical nominees, it was a touching montage.

    That opening made sense, but it just wouldn't be the Oscars without at least one nonsensical compilation of clips. Tonight we got three. After a tribute to writers on film came the best moments from past Best Foreign Language film winners, introduced by Catherine Deneuve and Ken Watanabe. Organized without rhyme or reason, at least they fit the diversity theme.

    Then Michael Mann got free reign to edit together a tribute to America. First of all, this guy is a master of color and imagery, so to have him cobble together other people's clips seems odd. To perhaps no one's surprise, the message behind this montage seems to be that we're good-hearted, somewhat vapid, and pretty much a bunch of violent f***ks.

    Coincidentally, Kate Winslet had to follow that up with presenting the award for Best Achievement in Editing, which actually did a pretty good job of representing the job in five seconds. You may note that I typed the previous segue with much less smugness than Gael Garcia-Bernal when he managed to sneak a dick joke.

    Even less coherent than the Michael Mann America tribute, commentator Chris Connell kept wandering into the frame backstage. This may have been some attempt on the producers' part to get this show in touch with the youth today. DeGeneres got her picture taken with Clint Eastwood for her MySpace page, and halfway through the broadcast it became apparent that the show also had some sort of "spot the 79s" game going on. (This was the 79th Academy Awards.)

    That may have been paranoid hallucination based on bad pretzels and mustard; I kept seeing the word "Frodo" float past my vision. I'm not sure, but I also think I heard an announcer claim that Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker was an operatic tenor.

    Next you'll tell me that Philip Seymour Hoffman actually paid a stylist to make him look like that. Listen, I'm as big a slob as the next guy, but even I had to shout, "COMB YOUR HAIR!" Somewhere in the universe, even Tim Burton was offended.

    All cynicism aside, though, the common man touch was so effective that Tom Cruise seemed human. I liked this guy as he presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Sherry Lansing. He's dropped the steel from his eyes and didn't jump on the couch even though his respectful speech clearly said he loved this woman.

    And heck, Lansing left the film industry to do some good in this world. She also thanked schoolteachers in her speech. I love this woman.

    Of course, every time you thought this show was getting too accessible, there would be a random throwing in of those Pilabolus guys. Nothing elevates like interpretive dance, which DeGeneres deflated by making shadow puppets. The troupe absorbed her into their Snakes On A Plane tableau, which sparked the best line of the night, "they're NAKED!"

    The second best line of the night has to go to Jack Black, who joined Will Ferrell in a song about how lonely it is to be a comedian at the Oscars. Puncturing the self-seriousness of the night, Black threatened an Oscar nominee, "I'm going to beat you down with my Nickelodeon award…"

    Maybe that's just me; in my house, we watch a lot more Nickelodeon than Pilabolus.

    Derek McCaw

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