Here’s something I never thought I would say: I’m thrilled that Halle Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress. I wouldn’t have voted for her. I wasn’t fond of her performance in Monster’s Ball. (It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of the whole mopey, hyperventilating movie.) But long before she gracefully negotiated Joan Rivers’ inescapable fashion perp walk — insanely beautiful, dressed for success — and then sobbed extravagantly with an Oscar in her hand, I wanted Halle Berry to win for the sheer, grand spectacle and showbiz symbolism of the thing.
I wanted Berry to win because somewhere during the nasty Oscar campaign and countercampaign, I realized in a liberating new way that since the Academy Awards are all about pageantry, payback, and zeitgeist, it was time to embrace my inner schmaltzaholic. I wanted Berry to win because she wanted so badly to win, wanted it with the kind of tenacious hunger the other nominees in her category were too well-fed and regularly well-rewarded to show.
On a night when Sidney Poitier accepted his honorary award so eloquently, Berry’s quest to blaze a path for black actors burned hot; so did the admirable ambitions of Denzel Washington, no less passionate for being a more contained personality. On such a night, who am I to quibble about whether this or that performance by Washington was actually better than the performance for which he is finally being honored? Academy members regularly operate on a seven-month, or seven-year, or sometimes seven-decade delay when it comes to assigning the right statuette to the right recipient; I was just glad it was happening at all. And by such reckoning, the mooings and meowings about Russell Crowe (and even about dignified Sissy Spacek’s expected ”shoo-in”) felt entirely beside the point. Let records be broken — including the length of the telecast!
While we’re at it, let Ron Howard savor an Oscar for Best Director because it’s finally his time too (that’s merit enough, by my revised thinking, to salute his middle-brow, feel-good biopic about a schizophrenic genius with a really dewy wife). And after 16 music nominations, here’s to composer Randy Newman and his bouncy, serviceable songs: Give the man a statuette for Monsters, Inc. and let him make a speech!
It went like that at this year’s Oscar telecast. What I thought should matter — that attention must be paid to The Fellowship of the Ring, that Whoopi Goldberg mustn’t get too whooped up, that the ceremonies ought to conclude before daybreak — suddenly didn’t matter at all. I knew that most of the nominees I backed in the crapshoot — Marisa Tomei, the screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums, director Peter Jackson — didn’t stand a chance anyhow. No problem. It was all fine. It was all good.
It turned out to be better than good, really, this year’s night of a hundred TelePrompTers. Woody Allen’s appearance, on a tourist visa from the New York City he loves so much, was so gracious and such an inspired surprise that I whoopied myself. Sharon Stone’s twinkly little dance with John Travolta was just what I wanted from those two canny headliners in good foundation garments. I found myself loving the Cirque du Soleil despite my better just-say-no-to-the-circus instincts. The compilations of clips, the inexplicable seating arrangement for sideshow barkers Donald Sutherland and Glenn Close (they appeared to be situated just outside the men’s room), the sheer, excessive, stuff-it-all-in Moulin Rouge-like tumble of it all: I drank it down like Diet Pepsi. Drink young. Think young.