If you’ve never actually attended the Oscars (and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that a few of you haven’t), there are some things that might surprise you about them — at least, as a first-time attendee, there were things that surprised me. For one, the Kodak Theatre is inside of a mall, so when you’re walking down that last stretch of red carpet towards that glamorous staircase, you’re actually walking past a sunglasses shop, shoe store, coffee place, fudge shop, etc. (They cover the storefronts with red drapes to hide the mall-ness.) Also, on your way to the venue, you have to drive through a gauntlet of anti-Hollywood protesters holding signs bearing slogans like “Ask Me Why You Deserve Hell” and “The Wages of Sin is Death.” Festive! And while it looks on TV like the Oscar audience is wall-to-wall celebrities, in fact, the vast majority of people who attend the Oscars are random and decidedly un-famous people, trying to act blase in their fancy duds even though they’re actually just as excited to get a glimpse of the movie stars as everyone else. People like … well, me.
Here are a few more things you might have missed if you watched this year’s show from the comfort of your couch:
1. It was cold. Not cold by the standards of genuinely cold places in February, but chilly for Los Angeles. And for women in fancy dresses with their shoulders bare, it was downright frigid. On the red carpet, I saw Matthew McConaughey’s wife visibly shaking from the cold (unless that was just excitement). The inside of the Kodak was also air-conditioned to meat-locker temperatures. To keep the nominees from sweating? To keep the audience awake and alert for three-plus hours? Hard to say.
2. When Melissa Leo dropped her f-bomb, there was an audible gasp of surprise from the audience and immediate murmuring about whether the censors would be able to bleep it in time. Between that and a lingering sense of general confusion over Kirk Douglas’ presentation of the award (wait, he’s doing shtick? he’s making lewd jokes about Anne Hathaway? he’s saying Australians think he’s funny but British people don’t? where is he going with this “you know” thing? and did Melissa Leo just flirt with him and then steal his cane?), it was definitely one of the oddest moments of the night in the Kodak — and I’m sure at home as well.
3. During a commercial break early in the show, Anne Hathaway came out and thanked the audience “for all the energy you’re giving us.” She told everyone they looked fabulous and then held a quick raffle for a plate of sushi — “because the only thing more glamorous than being at the Oscars is eating sushi at the Oscars.” Referencing Leo’s f-bomb, Hathaway noted it was “really f—ing good sushi.” Someone up in the nosebleed seats won it, which was lucky for them, because there’s very little food to be had at the Oscars unless you smuggle in some snacks yourself — and it’s a long show.
4. When Jake Gyllenhaal came out to present an award, James Franco gave him a little off-camera what’s-up-bro wave and head nod.
5. When Hilary Swank presented, Anne Hathaway gave her a little off-camera I’m-not-worthy bow.
6. After coming out on stage wearing a dress, James Franco slipped briefly while walking back into the wings. I couldn’t see from where I was sitting if he was wearing high heels or not, but it was fortunate for him he was holding Anne Hathaway’s arm. The bit hadn’t gotten much of a reaction in the Kodak, perhaps because no one was quite sure why he was wearing a dress in the first place — was it just so he could make a Charlie Sheen joke? For the record, the biggest and most appreciative laughs in the audience seemed to be for the opening video (the hosts’ monologue, not so much), the auto-tune video, the guy with the big hair who said he should have gotten a haircut, and Billy Crystal, who was received when he came onstage with what felt like a combination of surprise, nostalgia, and genuine relief that a seasoned pro was now taking the reins of the show for at least a few minutes.
7. Before the In Memoriam part of the show, an announcer on the PA asked the audience to hold their applause until the end of the entire segment in a clear effort to avoid the awkward applause-o-meter that has often accompanied the tribute to the late greats in years past.
8. There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the Kodak Theater when the Best Documentary Feature award was announced — not because Inside Job wasn’t worthy, but because everyone was curious to see whether Banksy would show up in a monkey suit to collect the award if Exit Through the Gift Shop won. For what it’s worth, I didn’t see anyone in a monkey costume all night, but I did see a guy wearing a kilt who was having some trouble going through security because something in his kilt kept setting off the metal detector.
9. During another commercial break late in the show, the co-hosts came out again to chitchat with the audience. Actually, Anne Hathaway did most of the chitchatting — James Franco mainly stood next to her shooting video of the audience on his smartphone. “This will all go on YouTube later,” Hathaway said. She told the nominees that they had something special for them: Luna Bars taped to the bottom of their seats in case they were hungry. Presumably sushi would be hard to tape under there.
10. The giant gold Oscar statues that flanked the stage were revealed, when they were moved during a commercial break, to be just half-built, with only the front part done. When a woman sitting next to me noted with surprise the Oscars were hollow in the back, her husband answered drily, “I hate to break it to you, but most of Hollywood is hollow when you get past the surface.”
Oscars 2011: The winners list