Tuesday, March 1, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Embracing "Diversity" on Oscar Night

"I really like the hamburgers here."
by Liz Smith

Hollywood Hugs Itself and Embraces "Diversity" on Oscar Night.  (Let's See How That Goes.) 

"THE HAMBURGERS!"

That's what Charlize Theron said backstage at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on Oscar night. She'd been asked what was the best part of hanging around backstage? Having once had a meal with this goddess, I can assure you, she was speaking from the heart (and tummy!) Where she puts it, I'll never know.

This was one of my favorite remarks/moments of a long Oscar evening. Longer, if you watch the red-carpet arrivals.

During those hours leading up to the telecast I was blown away by Charlize ... by Sofia Vergara ... by Julianne Moore, in stunning black Chanel ... by Saoirse Ronan from the movie "Brooklyn" who poses like a runway model, but speaks and interacts like the earthy Irish girl she is.
How brilliant and movie-loving of Whoopi Goldberg to wear a beautiful gown based on Edith Head's design for Bette Davis in "All About Eve" ... Olivia Wilde's front and side boob display indicated that Oscar night had truly begun ... Jason Segel looked handsomer than I've ever noticed, and unlike so many men, that dusting of facial hair suits him ... Tina Fey, looking pretty movie-starish herself in purple, said, "I applauded when I saw Charlize Theron walk by, just because she's so damn gorgeous!" ... Lady Gaga, in unadorned white, and sporting an unmistakable Marilyn Monroe-ish hairstyle and color, is learning that less is better ... Liev Schreiber, who rarely smiles, but lights up when he does, said he was "too tired from tying my own bow-tie" to think about any after-parties. And Russell Crowe now looks like Ricky Gervais on a bad day.
THE TELECAST? Despite its perhaps inevitable length, I thought it was one of the best I've seen in recent years. It was rather refined, and they've cleaned up, sharpened up, a lot of things this year. It bodes well, I think, for future Academy Awards shows.

Chris Rock, the cynosure of every eye and ear, not just because the host always is, but because this year he was required to address the "diversity" issue, that has sparked so much conversation. He did it well, carefully walking the tightrope between telling it like it is, not offending the nominees, and throwing quite a bit of shade on Jada Pinkett Smith.
Mrs. Will Smith acted essentially as the deus ex machina for the outrage this year, after her hubby was not nominated for his so-so performance in "Concussion." Now, if Idris Elba was married at the moment, and his wife fussed over him not being nominated for his brilliant turn in "Beasts of No Nation" that might have played better with Chris Rock and a number of others who found Jada's call for a "boycott" of the Oscars a tremendous overreach.

I enjoyed the spoofs on what certain Oscar nominated films would have looked like with African American casts (Tracy Morgan's take on "The Danish Girl" was hilarious.) Angela Bassett's "Black History Month Minute" comic tribute fell a bit flat, but Bassett herself looked magnificent, so what if the material was not top-notch?
Simply hated "Writing on the Wall," the song from "Spectre" and was not a great fan of Sam Smith's performance. Nice, however, that he got in his measured pitch for the LGBT community as he and his writing partner Jimmy Napes were up at the podium with their Oscars. (I love when they went back to Chris Rock, after Smith's win. The host said: "No jokes on that one. I'm not getting in trouble!")
Lady Gaga's performance was considered the emotional highlight of the night, performing "Till It Happens To You" from "The Hunting Ground," the acclaimed documentary/expose about sexual abuse on college campuses. Gaga says she herself is a survivor of rape, and in her number she was surrounded by other survivors of abuse. We know several people who have endured this terrible experience. The jury split. Some said it was cathartic. Others felt it was "too much." The audience, many weeping, leaned to the cathartic side.
OF THE winners, I have no complaints. Those actors I was particularly rooting for — Jennifer Jason Leigh, Charlotte Rampling, Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, Matt Damon — walked away Oscar-less, but who can truly criticize Brie Larson, Alicia Vikander, Leonardo DiCaprio or Mark Rylance? (Well, I have said "The Revenant" wasn't a patch on some of Leo's previous work, but everybody thought it was "due time" for him, and so it turned out to be.)
Mark Rylance, who won Best Supporting actor for "Bridge of Spies" consistently gives quiet, master-class performances, and I loved his acceptance speech, in which he asked the eternal question of competitive acting honors, "How do they separate us?"
The speeches of Ms. Larson and Mr. DiCaprio were brief and gracious, although many thought Leo should have thanked the bear! But I'm sure the actor's climate change remarks were appreciated.
Could not argue with "Spotlight" taking Best Picture. It is superb. And it shows real journalists doing a real service, a real job. It should be required viewing for all who wish to be, or think they are journalists in today's world of 24-hour news cycle and Twitter. (Although "Stars Wars" went un-honored, the top-grossing film was recognized with little bits of this and that, throughout the show.)

In short, the long of the evening is something I don't think can ever be fixed properly. But the 88th Oscar telecast had a streamlined, stately gait that future producers would do well to emulate.
OTHER THOUGHTS: Sarah Silverman — not funny and what was with her shoulders? ... Did not understand the standing ovation for VP Joe Biden ... Jared Leto's amusing black tie jazzed up the male fashion side of Oscar night, and he is one of the those stars who has "stopped the clock" as we spoke of yesterday ... Adored Louis C.K.'s biting, accurate riff on whoever might win Best Documentary Short Subject. (I think those remarks had the wealthy audience squirming more than anything Chris Rock had said) ... Jennifer Garner was splendid-looking, but I am always surprised by her voice, which is light and girlish. She looks like she should have deep "brunette" vocal tones ...
I was most amused by "Mad Max" costume design winner Jenny Beavan, who took her award and said lightly, "What another lovely day!" (She also appeared to be dressed like a biker. Either in tribute to her film, or that's just her style. In a way, her casual get-up and determinedly wild and wooly hair was a relief from everybody else attempting perfection.)
But maybe the most charmingly spontaneous reaction of the night was when little Jacob Tremblay stood up in his seat to get a better look at the "Star Wars" robots when they came out on stage. Still a little boy, despite all the glitz and glamour. His performance in "Room" was remarkable, although I was happy he was not Oscar-nominated. Plenty of time for all that. And plenty of time, I hope, for Jacob to just be a little boy.

Acting can wait. Childhood cannot.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.