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THE 79th ACADEMY AWARDS -- FEW SURPRISES – and the Losers were …

Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2007

THE 79th ACADEMY AWARDS -- FEW SURPRISES – and the Losers were …
by Alex Deleon, Hollywood

THE 79th annual edition of the Awards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- commonly referred to in the vulgate as "THE OSCARS" -- did not offer up many surprises this year, as most of the front runners and odds-on favorites came in first in their respective races. Of course, in some races the fix was on, as in the run for Best Director and Best Picture, where it would have been sheer folly to bet against Marty Scorcese, and his piss-poor but dearly beloved neo-Gangsta flick, "The Departed". If Clint Eastman were not already so loaded down with Oscars that he can barely walk, in any normal year his infinitely superior "Letters From Iwojima" would have walked away with Best Pic. but he’s already been there and done that twice with "Million Dollar Baby," 2004, and "The Unforgiven", 1992.  “Letters “ was already voted best picture at the Golden Globes  this year and did get a Sound Editing Oscar – lottsa machine guns.  Clint can afford to be a good sport this time around.

Besides Eastwood’s heavy-duty war film, the unfortunate other losers were:  “Babel”, "The Queen", and “Little Miss Sunshine”, any one of which would have been a far better pick than "Departed", but the real loser was "DREAM GIRLS", which didn't even get nominated although it was brimming with awards from other pre-Oscar rituals and was a hot favorite until it was incomprehensibly scratched from the field. Perhaps the biggest upset of the night, and the guy who had the biggest right to go home a sore (expletive deleted) loser, was Eddie Murphy who was highly praised from all sides for his dynamic performance in the Mo-Town take-off story and looked like a sure winner for best supporting actor, but went home empty handed when ancient has-been comedian Alan Arkin (72) aced him out for the trophy as the crotchety old guy in the van in the pleasant but light-weight "Little Miss Sunshine."

Eddie Murphy as fading star James “Thunder” Early has never done better work than in this rousing ebony musical, but at age 44 he still has plenty of time for other title shots.  Arkin whose heyday was circa 1970 when he starred in “Catch 22” was clearly a sentimental choice from the council of elders on the selection committee for dues paid over the years.  I would have been happy to see squeaky clean-cut Mark Wahlberg take Best Supporting Actor for his knockout garbage-mouth role in “The Departed”, to somehow underline how bad the lead actors in that celluloid abortion were, and to compensate for the travesty of Justice of having it declared “Best Picture”.  Mark, however, seemed quite satisfied just to be nominated and did not appear to be the least bit disturbed at “losing”.  The fact that he was high-profile seated right up front with all the A-list bigwigs in the Scorcese contingent is an indication that it’s only a mater of time before he has his own day up on the Kodak stage.

“Dream Girls” was not completely overlooked, with hefty Jennifer Hudson receiving a foregone-conclusion Best Supporting Actress  distinction for her undeniable tour-de-force blowtorch songstress delivery in the same pic --  and if they gave an Oscar for the most emotional and sobful acceptance speech, she would of got that one too.

The big loser in the Best Actor category was  74 year old Irishman, Peter O’Toole  for a brilliant performance in the pygmalionesque story
“Venus” (director, Hanif Kureishi), alluded to by one wag as follows:
“O'Toole's performance alone makes this movie worth the price of admission. If he doesn't finally win an Oscar for this I might have to start fund-raising to buy him one.”

O’Toole rose to world stardom as Lawrence in “Lawrence of Arabia’ in 1962  but failed to get the Oscar that year although the film itself was showered with seven of them.  Peter finally did pick up an honorary career award in 2003, but never a Best Actor.  Well, there he was last Sunday, poor guy, a frail figure sitting in the first row, white haired with watery eager anticipatory eyes – After all, an actor of his stature doesn’t come all the way from Ireland expecting to be disappointed.  And though he was the sentimental choice of many to upset top-heavy favorite Forest Whitaker, the Last King of Scotland was simply too heavy to be beatable.  Whitaker was himself something of a sentimental choice, and O’Toole, despite his advancing years, has three new pictures in the works so, maybe next year … Wonder how much it would actually cost to buy him one (in bribes).  In any case Mr. O’Toole now does hold one Academy Record …Most Nominations without a win!

Other significant losers were:
Second Best Screenplay writer turned out to be Peter Morgan who seemed to be a “lock” on this prize with credits for both ‘Queen’ and ‘King’ (the last one of Scotland) under his belt, when the upset winner turned out to be Michael Arndt for “Little Miss Sunshine”.  Linguistic note: the word “lock” is one of those hot new showbiz buzzwords, connoting ‘in the bag’, or ‘sewed up’ or having a solid grip on something, like a bulldog with lockjaw, and resonating with “gridlock’ as when all the cars on the Hollywood Freeway come to a dead halt at rush hour.

The Best Actress losers were: Meryl Streep, Penelope Cruz, Kate Winslet, and Judy Dench.  That’s quite a lineup of losing talent, any one of which could have won in a Queenless year.  This year Milady Helen Mirren was not to be denied in any way, shape, or form.  In fact this one was such a lock from the word Go that even La Streep seemed to be about to stifle a yawn when they got to her category and wore an expression saying in effect; ‘Okay, okay – let’s get this one over with already … The suspense is not exactly killing me.”

The biggest loss of Face of the evening was a literally unrecognizable Jack Nicholson, who, with a completely shaved bulbous bald pate and immense new jowls, all hiding behind large black goggles, made it look like either the multi-Oscarized actor is preparing for the role of “Anyface”, in ‘The Return of Dick Tracy’, or has had a recent face transplant to hide from autograph hounds and paparazzi.  I kept wondering, why does the camera keep picking this  faceless guy out of the crowd, until he was called to a mike by name and growled a few vaguely recognizable Nicholsonisms into the apparatus.

2007 will go down as the “Welcome to the Club Year” – the year in which a director, Martin Scorcese by name, who should have gotten the B.D. honor years ago for much better pictures, was welcomed into the select club of upper echelon directors of his generation, all holders of a Best Director Oscar, to wit: Coppola, Spielberg, Eastwood, et al. No one was willing to allow that it was for a really second-rate picture, and as if to cover up the obvious fact that Scorcese’s latest, “The Departed” is even worst than his last, “The Aviator”, the movie itself was declared “Best Pic of the year.”  Sort of like a validation of his parking ticket in the club lot.  Which is not to say that Marty doesn’t belong in this club anyway, but why couldn’t they have given it to him retro-actively for “Raging Bull” or “Taxi Driver” – which were not recognized when they should have been!   Talk about time warping – or warping of time and minds – if physicists want to study this phenomenon up close they should visit the Kodak at Oscar time.  The more I watched the shifty shadow of a  knowing smile on Mr. Scorcese’s face, the more I realized I was witnessing a Salvatore Dali painting coming to life before my eyes.  And just down the street at the County Museum, there’s  a Magritte show going on…

Finally, in the fashion department just about all the women looked mah-vel-ous, and then some, although Gwynneth Paltrow, having outgrown her erstwhile fragile bony-Mahoney look, and having matured into early womanhood -- looked absolutely regal and absolutely radiant -- and perhaps a shade more marvelous than the others on the collective catwalk.  Nicole Kidman was dazzling in a body hugging blood red gown pulled tightly up around her neck while a cascade of pale blonde hair slipped over her left ear to lightly caress her left breast.  Reese Witherspoon also dazzled in straight yellow hanging hair and a strapless backless purple shroud making her look like a sexy escapee from a naughty fairy-tale. Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet came on in pastel shades of classic drapery, both with unaccustomed tightly pulled back coiffures, making them look like Ulysses ladies-in-waiting in Ithaca. Cate Blanchet wore a metallic looking gray crystal mesh gown which, she later said, felt like she was “wearing a tank”.  But she still looked good with her handsome head popping out of the tank top.

If there was a loser in the decorous drapery department, it was Cameron Diaz who wore a black mop of hair that looked like it was dropped on her from a second story balcony and a kind of zig-zag gown that did nothing but de-accentuate her normally eye-catching body and leg lines. The gossip columns claim she was recently jilted by her boyfriend – let’s hope this incredibly beautiful lady is not headed down the primrose path recently blazed by Britney Spears.

Alex in Hollywood

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THE FESTIVALS BLOG by Alex Deleon. Watch for festival coverage from the circuit.

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