What a derby it was this year! Not only did we Oscarwatchers get to thrill to bizarre awards suspense over whether a quirky masterwork about a coin-tossing grim reaper could take the top prize normally reserved for the safest good movie of the year, but the biggest cliffhanger turned out to be whether Hollywood's biggest show could go on at all.
Double drama! Even better, it all played out like a good thriller with the writers strike ending only days before the Oscarcast after brutally assassinating poor innocents along the way. I happen to know many of the details of an excellent case the Golden Globes have to fire back at WGA with a killer lawsuit that could cost the guild $20 million ("the most slam-dunk case I've seen in years," one lawyer involved with the backstage drama told me), but HFPA, I hear, has decided not to proceed, being good sports and knowing — that's showbiz.
Then came Oscar night and magic time happened when an obscure actress had her big Cinderella moment, making awards history no less (Marion Cotillard is the first performer to win for a French-speaking role). On stage she gave the performance of her life as she looked out over an audience of reputed Hollywood devils and — wonderstruck, joyous and trembling — gasped, "Thank you, life! Thank you, love! It is true there is some angels in this city!"
Hooray! Even Julie Christie had to cheer that magic moment because, after all, 42 years ago she lived it too. That's why we love the Oscars so. Hollywood is the fantasy capital of the world and when dreams of stardom held precious by struggling souls come true, it's the big payoff for all of the other things Oscar may do wrong.
The essential core of the Cinderella story is how she goes from rags to glory, instantly, and at the Oscars that gets staged like the tap of a magic wand when an envelope gets opened. Like when Hilary Swank won for "Boys Don't Cry" eight years ago and revealed how she went from sleeping in a car with her mom as neophytes in Hollywood to entering the Oscar pantheon at that moment. Being good storytellers, the Coen brothers knew to share with us their own humble back story when they won for directing.
"Ethan and I have been making stories with movie cameras since we were kids," Joel said, recalling how he made one of his earliest amateur films back late 1960s, titled "Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go," starring younger brother Ethan in a suit with a briefcase. "Honestly, what we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then," he added.
Ah, they're still kids at heart, those rascals, just like the other big kids of Hollywood.
And the Oscarcast itself? Well, just so-so, the live part, but I think there was greatness in the moments that some TV critics are griping about: those clip montages that relived heavenly glimpses of Oscars past. Let's give the academy a break. Writers of this Oscarcast had only eight days to toss this one together, so it was smart of telecast producers to sprinkle it with gems from the vault.
As for Jon Stewart as host, well, he held forth on stage as best he could, managing to avoid disaster. He's a top talent at what he does on "The Daily Show." It's not his fault that he's miscast as host and it would have been ungrateful of him to refuse the academy's offer to helm their party again. Memo to the academy: Next time, please, cast a family member to preside over your clan's reunion.
And as for that little George Clooney prediction of mine, well, let's just pretend it didn't happen since we're discussing events in the world capital of fantasy, OK? Part of my job as an entertainment journalist is to be entertaining while being informative too. That requires me sometimes to dance on the edge, if only to remind you that these upsets can happen, as Daniel Day-Lewis learned five years ago when he was considered a shoo-in for "Gangs of New York" after winning so many precursor prizes. He got upstaged, remember, by a sudden Cinderfella: Adrien Brody.
And while we're on the subject of me fessing up about what I do here at this blog and elsewhere on the derby track, let me explain why I go on and on about "Sweeney Todd" or "Dreamgirls." I don't think it's appropriate to share my own private views about films, not in general. You don't want to hear that. I should stick to reportage about awards. But I don't want to be left out of the rah-rah section. The Oscars are the Super Bowl of showbiz and, in order to have fun and be part of it, we must cheer for our team. Each year I like to pick one film I'm really passionate about and share with you my joy and/or disappointment as it trots ahead, falls back and then tries valiantly to charge on ahead in the derby. Regardless of how it fares, you know what I'm feeling because you feel it too while cheering on your own ponies. Sometimes, when yours trip up, just know that I feel your, pain, too, my fellow Oscar lover.