Angelina Jolie wore a black gown that looked like it had been pulled off one of the H&M racks. Kate Winslet had helmet instead of hair on her head. That may be why she seemed to be tearing up all the time: it wasn’t her feeling emotional every time someone won but her realising the thing sculpted with hairspray atop her head was being telecast to thousands of people all over the world. Mickey Rourke hung a picture of his dead chihuahua around his neck. Sophia Loren looked like a man. Anil Kapoor didn’t get to say anything and he was barely able to do a Roberto Benigni. Sarah Jessica Parker wore the wrong dress. The way that gown held her up, it was obvious that it was meant for the Golden Globes. AR Rahman seemed to lip-sync “O Saaya”, but that was actually the best part of the Best Song performances because “Down to Earth” was off tune and the crowd of dancers wearing hot pink ghagra-cholis were embarrassing. Contrary to rumours, MIA didn’t appear as a hologram from her hospital bed. Heidi Klum wore a “sculpturally folded napkin”, as the Guardian put it. “Slumdog Millionaire” won 8 awards. Basically Oscars 2009 was precisely as boring as everyone had feared it would be: pretty darn boring but significantly more fun than last year’s Oscars.
On the red carpet, the producer of “Kung Fu Panda” had the cutest handbag ever. It was probably used to clobber Jack Black by the end of the night after he said that he puts the money he gets from Disney into buying Pixar shares. Fishtail dresses swam around all over the place. The flared skirts might be the reason why the ballroom looked distinctly cramped.
If you ignore his disastrous attempt at saluting the musicals with Beyonce and Zac Efron, Hugh Jackman wasn’t half bad and he didn’t even take off his shirt. Blame it on Baz Luhrmann, I say, since he directed the damn thing. Efron, by the way, definitely has a Mattel trademark sign embossed on his bottom. But never mind all that. Hugh Jackman gave the 81st Oscar ceremony of the coolest, sweetest and funniest starts ever when he performed this amazing ode to the Oscar’s top films, which felt like a Michel Gondry movie. Sadly, most of what followed was sleep-inducingly bland but for a few special, genius moments.
Ben Stiller’s imitation of Joaquin Phoenix was outstanding and should have got him at least a mini Oscar. Alicia Keys carefully enunciated “Rahman” with a nice Arabic roll of the ‘r’, making the dimunitive Tamil music director sound like a hulking Talib who hides out in Bora Bora. The on-line editor smartly managed to sneak in shots of Robert Pattinson at unexpected places, like when Mickey Rourke was being shown during the announcement of the Best Actor Nominations. Sean Penn, Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz all gave cute little speeches and Penn, true to form, managed to include a little political shout-out even as he began with, “Oh, you commie, homo-loving sons of guns…“. Danny Boyle bounced like Tigger when he won Best Director and in his speech admitted he was an idiot for having forgotten to credit Longinus Fernandez for choreographing the dance that accompanies “Jai Ho” in “Slumdog Millionaire”. He also pointedly thanked “everyone who helped with the making of this film and everyone who didn’t.” We’ll never know whether he was snubbing all those who began the pre-Oscar “vilification” campaign (like the rumour that the child actors of “Slumdog Millionaire” hadn’t been paid) or the people who had been trenchant when the film was to release in India (Amitabh Bachchan for his blog; Irrfan Khan and Saurabh Shukla for apparently bargaining for more money when the time came to dub the film in Hindi and do PR for in India).
There were some changes in the Oscar rituals that were good moves. The idea of having a live performance during the “In Memoriam” section is a good one and Queen Latifah sang beautifully. Bringing out a panel of past acting award winners and getting them to introduce the nominees was sweet when people like Robert de Niro, Shirley Maclaine and Halle Berry did it. Not so when Sophia Loren or Anthony Hopkins attempted the same. What’s truly tragic is that when they were bad, they weren’t memorable, just cringe-inducing. Full marks to Meryl Streep for not pulling out a crucifix and garlic when Loren bit out the nomination.
I’m going to remember these Oscars entirely for Hugh Jackman’s opening act and because during the montage for the Best Actor award, I glimpsed one of my favourite Oscar moments – Dustin Hoffman looking perplexedly at his Oscar (1980, for “Kramer vs. Kramer”) and saying, “He has no genitalia and he’s holding a sword.”