When Jennifer Lopez wears a dress that covers every conceivable erogenous zone, it doesn’t bode well for an exciting evening. But last night’s Academy Award ceremony redeemed itself by packing plenty of hysteria, humor, and sentiment into a butt-numbing 4 hours and 23 minutes.
After host Whoopi Goldberg kicked things off on a goofy note by descending on a trapeze as a Moulin Rouge vamp, the mood grew more serious. Onstage, Halle Berry’s Best Actress acceptance speech was so heartfelt that even Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger — who were also up for the award — teared up. But backstage, Berry was more composed when explaining why she fell to pieces. ”It’s about so many people that went before me, and the people who are fighting along side me,” said Berry. ”It’s not really about me so much as it is about so many other women of color who have tried to permeate this system for so many years. And today, I hope, that the glass ceiling has broken wide open.”
Meanwhile, Sidney Poitier, who won an honorary award to add to his 1953 Best Actor statuette for ”Lilies of the Field,” still thinks Hollywood could use some work when it comes to diversity. ”Things have changed, clearly. We have lots and lots and lots of African-American actors now. When I appeared, we didn’t have any. But the question becomes, to what degree has there been change?” he asked. ”I am hopeful that there will be minority actors, not just African-Americans or Hispanic or Asian, but a real diversified Hollywood in the future.” The fact that nominations (and wins) for Berry and ”Training Day” star Denzel Washington created such a media hoopla about race in Hollywood suggests that show business is still far from color blind. ”What if, on the fifteenth time Randy Newman lost, that was considered racism?” Washington wondered, backstage after his win.
While everyone else debated whether Berry had broken through the glass ceiling or just put a much needed chink in it, the actress herself was concentrating on the more important business of celebrating. ”I’ve got my mother here, my husband, my manager, and, like, 12 of my friends at the hotel waiting for me to come by and pick them up,” Berry said. ”And we’re just going to party, probably until noon tomorrow. You’ll see us on the streets, driving around.” Just as long as she wasn’t the one driving.
Best Original Song winner Randy Newman (”Monsters Inc.”) wasn’t quite as riled up about his award (his first win after 15 no-go nominations that had made him into a Susan Lucci wannabe). He did, however, seem honestly flummoxed about breaking his losing streak. ”The audience kind of threw me,” he said about the crowd’s roar of approval when his name was called. ”If I had tear ducts, I would have teared up there. I mean, I wasn’t cool about it, as you could see.” Still, he wondered how a bouncy little nugget of a song like ”If I Didn’t Have You” could win while his earlier, more complex scores — for such movies as ”The Natural” and ”Avalon” — were overlooked. ”It’s great, but I don’t feel it makes the song any better,” he joked. ”The grammar in it is very bad.”
Even more surprising than Berry or Newman’s wins was an appearance by someone who wasn’t even up for an award. Woody Allen, a three-time Oscar winner who had never attended the Academy Awards, made his first appearance on the show to sing the praises of his hometown, New York City. ”I’m not a big awards person,” he admitted afterwards. ”I don’t feel comfortable with any kind of artistic competition. But when I had an opportunity to do this for the city, it was a different story.” Allen says he’s already moving forward with making new films in New York. ”When I shoot in that area where the World Trade Center stood, it will be missing because it is missing,” he said, explaining that he would neither avoid the location nor digitally manipulate his films to recreate the past. ”I feel it’s ridiculous to pussyfoot around and adopt an unrealistic attitude towards it. New York still has a spectacular skyline, and I’m sure what they build in the Trade Center’s place will enhance it.”
Among all the emotional highs and lows, some of the smaller moments may have been lost in the shuffle. Only in a drama-overloaded year like this one could we shrug off Gwyneth Paltrow’s deeply disturbing sheer top (someone get that girl Nathan Lane’s diamond-crusted Wonderbra!), the failure of the mudslinging campaign supposedly aimed at ”A Beautiful Mind” (instead of gloating, winners Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman, and Brian Grazer chose to ignore the topic completely), and ”Mind” star Jennifer Connelly’s win for Best Supporting Actress.
Connelly’s speech, read from a sheet of paper, was just like her beige strapless gown: tight, refined, and boooooring. Maybe her heart just wasn’t in it. ”It’s been such an honor, but all that said, I’m working on something else and then there’s the next job,” said Connelly, who will star in Ang Lee’s adaptation of ”The Hulk.” ”You get right back into ‘What will I do?’ and ‘Will I be good? and ‘What choices will I make?’ So my head is a little bit there right now.” Maybe when all the Oscar hoopla dies down, her cool and collected attitude will seem particularly savvy: Awards are nice enough, but in this town, you’re only as good as your next picture.