Metaphors and montages

When 70-something Regis Philbin introduced 15-year-old Miley Cyrus as “the hottest girl” in show business during a red carpet interview on ABC, signs that the Oscars might be a little unusual began to appear.

The Oscars of 2008, celebrating the last amazing year of film, was one of the more entertaining ceremonies in recent memory. Going 45 minutes under the usual ending time of 12:30 or so, there was little extraneous material. While the short show could be partially attributed to the little time host Jon Stewart and his writers had to craft material after the WGA strike ended, one would hope it was a reflection from the Academy that in years past the show was over-the-top and self-indulgent and needed to be changed.

This was not to say the year was a complete turnaround. There were still the ridiculous montages, beginning with one glorifying the Oscars themselves. Stewart, in his second appearance as host, jokingly presented an Academy salute to “binoculars and periscopes” that had been prepared in case the strike hadn’t ended, and, as hilarious as it was, had he not been kidding, most of the audience probably would have believed it was just another montage and nothing out of the ordinary. The redeeming quality of the montages was their ability to showcase some truly ridiculous moments from Oscar past, with Kevin Spacey explaining that Supporting Actresses do for movies “what the Cheshire Cat did for Alice.” It was a night full of proof that actors are not writers, with choice metaphors like “male menopause” (used by Steven Spielberg to describe his previous win for Schindler’s List) and Daniel Day-Lewis’ assertion that his character in There Will Be Blood came like “a golden sapling out of the head of [writer-director] Paul Thomas Anderson.”

Another odd aspect of the night was the order of the awards. The ceremony did not begin with the presentation of Best Supporting Actor and Actress, but with technical awards for make-up and costume. Best Actress, typically presented near the end of the night, was awarded to Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) about half-way through the broadcast. Best Actor did not immediately follow it; Daniel Day-Lewis received the second Best Actor award of his career near the end of the evening.

The performances throughout the night for Best Original Song, usually the chance to see truly outrageous and entertaining stagings of popular tunes, was uncharacteristically dull. In the first performance, Amy Adams of Enchanted walked on stage wearing an almost suit-ish dress and black heels to sing “Happy Working Song,” a poppy melody full of animated animals in the film. The performance, lacking any specially designed set or even costume, was bland and forgettable. A performance of “Raise it Up” from the family-friendly movie August Rush was equally disappointing, and watching Wicked and Pushing Daisies star Kristen Chenoweth sing the buoyant “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted in a de-saturated version of the movie’s events was just depressing. Chenoweth seemed bored by her own performance, and was nowhere as good as Adams would have been. The only redeeming song of the night was the winner, “Falling Slowly” from the Irish indie musical Once: Musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, real-life loves, spent much of their time on stage in full-face grins, as though excited to just be performing a song they wrote together on stage.

Following their win, both Hansard and Irglova bounded up to the stage and, almost overwhelmed, accepted their statuettes. Hansard spoke first and frenetically, ending with a passionate plea, “Make art, make art," and as Irglova moved to the microphone the orchestra began playing to usher them off the stage. In perhaps the most unexpected moment of the night, after a commercial break Stewart brought Irglova back on stage to give her speech, and the 19-year-old spoke tenderly of dreams and aspirations in a true Oscar moment.