YES, I KNOW it's just a glorified industry awards ceremony, but I love the Oscars. I can't help it. It's a holiday, sort of like Christmas or a birthday, but with a lot more . . . more. The red carpet. The screaming fans. The limos. Designer frocks. Harry Winston jewels. Glittering demigods packed like sardines in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. What makes the whole thing especially delicious is how the stars are so nervous, so vulnerable. (Remember how Kim Basinger shook when she won for L.A. Confidential?) It's like they are real people! It almost seems a shame to make fun of them while I sit, imperious, in my living room. But, of course, this is a huge part of the fun.
This year Oscar needed my support more than ever. Between the missing ballots, the stolen statuettes, and those conniving Wall Street Journal reporters, it'd been one nightmare after another. Plus, first-time producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck had cut the dance numbers and were promising a new and improved show. So I planned to give it my full attention, from all the pre-shows in the afternoon until late in the evening when the damn thing came to an end. Fortified with an all-night supply of candy, I thus turned on the TV and settled in with my iBook to record these impressions:
3:00 PST Time for the E! network's Joan Rivers pre-show. I have a love-hate relationship with Joan and her cohost-daughter Melissa (the poster girl for celebrity nepotism). But waiting for her to make a gaffe or touch someone inappropriately delivers the same delicious anticipation of a horror movie. It's also fascinating to observe how the celebs interact with Joan and Melissa: whether they are fatuous or snide.
3:51 Melissa asks 11-year-old Best Supporting Actor nominee Haley Joel Osment if his parents will buy him a PlayStation if he wins. Gross! His response is something about winning being its own reward. For someone who sobbed inconsolably after losing at the Golden Globes, the kid is incredibly articulate. It's a little scary.
4:11 The celebs are coming fast and furious now. The elegantly coiffed and attired Queen Latifah somehow reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. The South Park guys show up in outfits that spoof Jennifer Lopez's barely there ensemble from the Grammys and Gwyneth's bubblegum-pink dress from last year's Oscars. Genius.
5:00 It's time for ABC's own pre-show, featuring the brain trust of Meredith Vieira—who?—of The View, MTV's chipper Chris Connelly, and supermodel Tyra Banks. The cool title sequence is a good sign. Anything has to be an improvement over last year, when Geena Davis awkwardly shuffled around in a voluminous pink gown (back to the archery range for her).
5:02 The smart and funny Connelly is a good choice. Tyra, inexplicably attired in a hoop skirt, is not. It's like watching your little sister interview Barbie. Meredith proves her command of the subject by reminding Michael Caine of his Oscar for Hannah and Her Three—Three?—Sisters. (You remember, the one Woody wrote with Chekhov.)
5:16 Radiant Julianne Moore. Rumpled, dazed Keanu. Denzel and Mrs. Denzel are momentarily flustered when power-mad Meredith abruptly tells them to "go inside." Angelina Jolie's inappropriate groping with her brother. Judi Dench asking sudden Anglophile Meredith to call her "Judi."
5:29 At last! Time for the real show! In the first serious misstep of the evening, ABC has Meredith, now crazed with self-importance, promenade down the center aisle of the theater to make informed commentary. "I don't recognize anyone," she whines in a tizzy of career self-immolation. "These look like muckety-mucks! Where are the stars?!"
5:35 Billy Crystal takes over. At last, we're in the hands of a professional. His patented opening sequence, in which he is inserted into classic movie scenes, is very funny. We're off to a good start.
5:50 My brother Edward drops by just in time to see the overly giggly Charlie's Angels girls—coming soon to a theater near you!--Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, and Drew Barrymore, present Best Costume Design. Good timing for him. "You can see her underwear," he notes reverently of Cameron's sheer dress.
6:08 Angelina Jolie and her freaky self win Best Supporting Actress. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! She was the favorite for Girl, Interrupted, but Catherine Keener deserved it for Being John Malkovich. I open a bag of M & M's.
6:50 Performed by Robin Williams and a cast of thousands, the South Park movie's brilliant song "Blame Canada" is hilarious. It makes me miss the pre-treacly, pre-Patch Adams Robin Williams.
7:09 Michael Caine wins Best Supporting Actor. Tears everywhere. Standing ovation. A shot of the Cider House crowd prompts my brother to observe that John Irving looks like Ted Kennedy.
7:47 A medley of famous movie songs is performed by Burt Bacharach and a motley crew including Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Dionne Warwick, Queen Latifah—and Ray Charles? The weird quotient is high, especially when Issac Hayes is enveloped in smoke by an overzealous fog machine (Issac Haze?).
8:05 I cannot figure out what Pedro Almod� is saying. He may be speaking in English, but I can't be sure. Time for more candy.
8:20 My mom calls. She proclaims, "Billy Crystal is the best Oscar emcee since David Niven." (Why wasn't he available for City Slickers?)
8:33 Jack Nicholson ambles onstage to present the Irving G. Thalberg Award. He resembles a mustachioed Chia Pet (I sure hope the look is for a role). Recipient Warren Beatty is rambling and incoherent—a surprise given that he's known about this award for weeks.
9:07 Best Actress presenter Roberto Benigni adds much needed 11th-hour energy to the proceedings. Hilary Swank wins! Hooray! She is remarkably poised, but her husband is a mess, with tears streaming down his face. So why doesn't Hilary thank him in her speech?
9:20 Oh no! Denzel lost to Kevin Spacey! Of course, Spacey is an excellent actor, but Denzel deserved it more. I'm crushed. More injustice, more candy.
9:35 The last two awards are no surprise. Best Director to Sam Mendes for American Beauty, which also earns Best Picture. Billy C says adieu and it's over. As my sugar high wanes, I quickly scribble some notes of my own personal awards for the evening:
Weirdest Outfits: Angelina Jolie's Morticia Addams getup and Nicole Kidman's dress, which looked like it was constructed out of recycled Christmas wrap. And what was up with those little mitts on her hands?
Best-Dressed Gal, Junior Division: Charlize, Winona, Uma, Gwyneth (the usual suspects).
Hipster Style Maven of the Night: With her bob, enormous glittering necklace, and swanky black gown, Chlo렓evigny looked like a cross between a 1930s siren and a disco queen. Accessorizing with scuzzy Harmony Korine added extra indie street cred.
Best-Dressed Guy: Forget the penguin suit! Samuel L. Jackson kicked booty in his blue velvet coat and purple tie.
Best Acceptance Speakers: Anyone English and Andrzej Wajda. (Why couldn't they also have provided subtitles for Almod�?)
After it was over, I couldn't help but wonder: How much sugar will I need to get through next year's show? And how long until the AMPAS issues a restraining order against Meredith Vieira?
Check out The Official Academy Awards Site.