As promised, a post-Oscar-prediction wrap-up:
* I did pretty well on my picks — 16 out of 24 — to the point where an acquaintance of mine actually asked me if I’d bet any money on them. (Alas, no — not that I would’ve even if I had the money to toss away. Remember, this is the chap who had a second honeymoon in Vegas last month and didn’t even play the nickel slots.) The eight I missed were mostly considered toss-ups (Best Actor, Sound, Sound Editing, Animated Short) or complete crapshoots (Supporting Actor, Documentary Short). Plus there was the night’s only legitimate upset: “Okuribito” (“Departures”) winning Foreign Language Film over the heavily favored “Vals im Bashir”. I know of literally no one who picked “Departures” to win. So I feel pretty good about my finish.
* The only one I just completely blew was Best Song — I picked “Down to Earth”, which lost to “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire. I overlooked the recent trend of this award going away from the conventional tunes and toward quirkier ones (the song from “Once” last year … Melissa Etheridge … the Spanish number from “The Motorcycle Diaries” … et cetera). And I didn’t factor in the carryover effect Slumdog’s awards in other categories might bring. Totally my bad. Mind, I wasn’t nearly as disappointed as my daughter (a big Wall-E fan) was.
* There was the usual snark in some outlets about the changes in the ceremony, but I thought they were rather refreshing. The whole idea of doing the tech awards in the order they come into play in the making of a film definitely worked, as well as grouping them so they got through them faster. Having five former winners in each acting category honor the acting nominees was quite classy — giving a real feel for the history of the Oscars — though it would’ve gone smoother if they’d used up less time. The “year in review” montages were well done. And Hugh Jackman struck a nice balance between class and humor, which is more than you can say for most recent Oscar hosts. (Loved the Frost/Nixon takeoff with Anne Hathaway!)
* Unintentionally funny moment of the evening at Chez Anselmo: A two-minute conversation on Natalie Portman’s choice of outfit. Natalie, you’re one of the most beautiful women around, and you’re a great actress besides. But take it from the Supermodel — when you’re built like you are (or she is) in front, you’re really taking an unnecessary risk by going with a strapless dress. You did look lovely in it. So did the Supermodel the one time she wore one. But better “conventional dress” safe than “wardrobe malfunction” sorry.
* A few brickbats: Hugh’s tribute to musicals could have been cut and I wouldn’t have missed it a bit. Some of the humor (most notably Ben Stiller’s Joaquin-Phoenix-on-Letterman imitation) was more distracting than funny. And Bill Maher … let’s just say that my most liberal friend referred to Maher’s slagging of religion/pimping his own highly unsuccessful “documentary” as “the low point of the evening.” But then … the price we pay for freedom of speech is having to allow it for people you wish would just shut up. It cuts both ways.
* Which brings me to the most controversial moment of the evening — Sean Penn’s acceptance speech for Best Actor. A few caveats are in order here. Unlike most of the people at the Kodak Theater last night, I voted Yes on Proposition 8. (Not with a lot of enthusiasm — because laws to turn back the cultural tide never work — but I honestly believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, and I had to go with my conscience.) So while I recognized that Sean (who won his award for playing homosexual politician Harvey Milk) was going with his conscience, I couldn’t support what he was saying, let alone how he was saying it. He did come across as heavy-handed, sanctimonious and judgmental (“over-the-top” was how the aforementioned liberal friend put it). Add to that Sean’s natural personality — at heart he’s something of a street fighter, blunt, abrasive, maybe a little insecure — and it wasn’t easy to listen to.
However, you may not know the backstory. A group of people (to give them the benefit of the doubt) from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas had decided to come out and protest at the Oscars (you can see the pictures here — warning: NOT safe for work!). These are the same folks who carried the “God hates fags” signs at Matthew Shepard’s funeral and similar events over the last decade. Real pieces of work. I don’t even know what to say about folks who do things like that … though whatever I did say would involve the words “reprehensible”, “un-Christian” and “giving believers a bad name”. I don’t know if they’re truly Christians or not; only God knows their hearts, and I’m not God. But if the message they’re presenting by holding up signs saying “HEATH [Ledger] IN HELL” is the Gospel, then I’m Princess Grace of Monaco.
I’m not saying that Sean wouldn’t have been better off taking the high road and being far less strident or shaming about it. But if people who claim to be children of God refuse to heed the Bible when it says to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), then expecting a non-believer to do so is more than a little disingenuous. I disagree with him, but I definitely have more respect for him than I do for the nitwits with the signs outside. He is, at least, living according to his creed. Folks who say they belong to Jesus and yet condemn the people He died to save can make no such claim.