Oscar Wrap-Up 2001
by Jon Bastian
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About the nicest thing I can say about the Oscar telecast this year is that it ran less than three and a half hours. But since the proceedings themselves were so tepid, length didn’t matter. Perhaps it’s the industry’s fears of a double-strike whammy starting in just over a month. Perhaps it’s the effects of George Bush’s recession. But tonight, everyone in the audience looked a little somber, some of them looked downright pissed off and there just wasn’t a whole lot of magic to the evening.
I will say that Steve Martin did a great job of hosting, better than we’ve seen in a long time. He avoided mugging and shtick, but still got off a lot of good one-liners (no doubt courtesy of Bruce Vilanch) and, of all his predecessors, most resembled Johnny Carson in style. With a suave, irony-laced presence, he was the most amusing part of the evening.
There were no huge winners tonight and, in fact, except for that bothersome “Best Picture” category, the top three contenders split things evenly, with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Traffic both snagging four statues, and Gladiator taking four plus the top honor, for reasons that still utterly mystify me — almost as much as I’m mystified by Russell Crowe’s Best Actor win for that turkey. Okay, if it was to make up for denying him the award for last year’s The Insider, I’m willing to concede. But he certainly didn’t deserve it playing Maximus, and he certainly didn’t look happy whenever the camera cut away to him tonight. All I could think every time I saw him was, “Lighten up, you’re not playing the brooding hero now, dude.”
For the record, Gladiator’s wins, beside Best Picture, included Crowe’s Best Actor award, Costume Design, Sound and Visual Effects. Hardly the performance one would expect from a twelve-nominee juggernaut. Ben-Hur received eleven of the same nominations back in 1959, and went home with all of them. The only category it didn’t win was the only one that didn’t overlap with Gladiator — Best Adapted Screenplay, as opposed to Gladiator’s Best Original Screenplay, which was really just Ben-Hur in disguise.
To no one’s surprise, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took home best foreign language film, along with Art Direction, Cinematography and Original Score. Traffic grabbed more big awards than any of the other films, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, rounding out the quartet with Best Editing.
About the only absolute lock this evening was Julia Roberts’ award for Best Actress for Erin Brockovich, and her acceptance speech was a pretty wonderful moment, in which this $20 million per film acting icon became pretty human — and humanized — as she gushed in a moment she announced would probably be a one-time thing. (Although, in all the time she was onstage, she never thanked the real Erin Brockovich. Oops.)
The five awards that were not won by these three films were: Best Original Screenplay, Cameron Crowe for Almost Famous, the aforementioned Ms. Roberts; Best Make-Up, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas; Best Supporting Actress, Marcia Gay Harden for Pollack; Sound Editing, U-571; and Original Song, Bob Dylan for “Things Have Changed” from The Wonder Boys.
And that’s pretty much it. The best way to wrap up this ceremony is to present my own awards.
Coolest tux of the evening: Russell Crowe. Yeah, I’ll bitch about his win, but I liked his outfit, a very classy long cutaway coat, although I have no idea what that medal on his left lapel was for. Runner-up in this category is Samuel L. Jackson, in a very elegant, mid-shin length double-breasted coat, a look which very few people could pull off.
Worst tux of the evening: Rick Baker. His long coat didn’t work, and he really should be able to afford better material and a style with pockets that don’t scream leisure suit.
Biggest Surprise: And nicest — Marcia Gay Harden’s win for her work in Pollack. Everyone’s money was on Kate Hudson — who, incidentally, also looked pretty pissed off when she had to come out after her loss to present the award for Make-up. This made Ed Harris’ loss to Crowe even more puzzling. Up to the point, because of Harden’s win, it looked like he had a lock on it.
Best Pairing of Presenter and Award: Ben Stiller, live action and animated short. If you don’t get the joke, read the last word of that sentence again. Somebody was paying attention when they assigned the awards to the presenters.
Stupidest Choreography: That which went with the song from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yeah, they were trying to be thematic, with dancers jumping around as characters from the movie while the singer slinked around in a bright red Vera Wong outfit, but the visuals and the music just didn’t go together. At least they didn’t make anybody vanish in stage smoke this year.
Best Audience Participation: Tom Hanks’s reaction to Steve Martin’s joke, “They finally have a lead in the Russell Crowe kidnapping threats. I won’t say who it is, but Tom Hanks should be ashamed of himself.” Cut to Tom Hanks, who played it like, well, he was very ashamed of himself. Priceless. Runner-up: Danny DeVito. After being caught on camera munching a carrot, Steve Martin brought him a cup of dip. In response, DeVito pulled a celery stock from his pocket and kept on munching.
Worst Outfit: Bjork, in her exploded feather disaster gown, although it gave Steve Martin a good line: “I was going to wear my swan, but it’s just so last year…”
Worst 80’s Fashion Trend Revisited: The Miami Vice look, particularly on Ben Affleck. Dude, you put on the fancy suit, you got a haircut, you may have even bathed. So shave, goddammit.
Biggest Overcompensation for a Past Fashion Felony: Jennifer Lopez. Not only did she wear this year’s dress, she also wore all the material they didn’t use for that infamous slit to everywhere number at the Golden Globes. You thought her ass looked big before? She looked like a damn DC-10.
Most Gracious Acceptance Speech: Steven Soderbergh, who thanked everybody who spends any part of their day creating, and thereby making the world a better place. Now that’s class.
Worst Performance of Their Own Song: Bob Dylan, who mumbled his way through “Things Have Changed” live from Sydney, Australia. Yes, it’s cool that he won and, musically, this song actually was the best one. But, Jesus, who could understand a word he was saying? Even more frightening — Mr. Dylan has slowly transformed into Vincent Price, circa the Dr. Phibes era, complete with wild curly hair, pale skin, hollow eyes and pimp-stache. Scary.
Worst Nominated Song: Randy’s Newman’s “A Fool in Love” from Meet the Parents. What the hell was that, anyway?
Worst Hair: Frances McDormand. Honey, what the hell happened?
Most Deserved Special Oscar: Jack Cardiff, for cinematography. The clips of his work shown said it all: The African Queen, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, Sons and Lovers, War and Peace and so much more. And to top it off, his acceptance speech was incredibly gracious and moving.
Least Deserved Special Oscar: Dino de Laurentiis. Yes, he produced La Strada, The Valachi Papers, The Serpent’s Egg, The Shootist, Ragtime and Hannibal, which got ample mention in his Thalberg Award Tribute. But he also produced Sometimes They Come Back, King Kong Lives, Conan the Destroyer, Hurricane (not the biopic), Mandingo, The Bible, Barbarella and dozens of other films you’ve never heard of. Most of the crap was swept under the rug, the net result being that it looks like everything he touches turns to gold. It doesn’t. Does this mean that Pauly Shore will be getting this award fifty years from now?
Biggest Contradiction Nobody Noticed: Ernest Lehman received an honorary Oscar for his work as a screenwriter — and damn near every work of his cited was adapted from somebody else. The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Portnoy’s Complaint, Hello, Dolly!, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The King and I. It also says a lot about the business that Mr. Lehman, who just turned eighty-five last December, hasn’t had a feature film credit since 1977’s Black Sunday, itself an adaptation. The contradiction is that I can’t remember the last time a screenwriter got an honorary Oscar, but Mr. Lehman’s body of work has mostly been as an adapter. And, though he’s been nominated five times, he’s never won an Oscar before this one. It’s just more proof that the Academy — and the industry — pays damn scant attention to their writers while they’re around, only noticing when attrition leaves a few real old-timers still standing, though not working.
Most Inexplicably Expensive Moment of the Evening: the welcoming message from the International Space Station, complete with life-size cardboard cut-out of Steve Martin. Yes, as far as I can tell, that cut-out was actually up there with the astronauts, meaning they had to fly it up on the shuttle, at enormous expense. Now, obviously, they didn’t make a special trip, but the thing still took up room in the cargo hold. On the other hand, since this was the first Oscar show of the 21st Century, and it is the year 2001, it was appropriate.
Yes, they can put men and women into space — but they still can’t come up with a perfect Oscar telecast. But, they’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep watching. Hey, I may bitch about it every year, but I wouldn’t miss it.
Jon Bastian is a playwright and screenwriter who’s living the good life on residuals and works full time as personal assistant to his dog.
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