The Best Movie Actually Won, But Couldn't Save the Evening

The Best Movie Actually Won, But Couldn't Save the Evening

That distant thunder rumbling throughout last night's Oscar broadcast was not the noise of explosions in Baghdad but the sound of channels turning to reruns of Boston Legal or Bad Boys II, amplified by the dull thud of jokes falling flat. Creaking and wheezing, the 82nd Annual Academy Awards didn't feel a day under 81.

Co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin should have made their entrance in wheelchairs. John McCain couldn't have presided over a more persuasive memento mori. AARP's commercial provided an appropriate segue to the evening's clip montage (horror movies!) but, well before James Taylor materialized to accompany the annual necrology with a lugubrious rendition of "In My Life," the stage was littered with the corpses of the presenters who had died there -- most spectacularly Ben Stiller as the obligatory avatard.

Endless testimonials delivered to the nominees by former costars suggested nothing so much as the faithful moment when someone is voted off the island. Self absorption reigned. The underlying crawl announcing ABC's dramatic settlement with Comcast was the evening's best gag. There was not a single Obama joke. No one thanked God. The most heartfelt cry was the composer who told the kids of America that being creative was "not a waste of time!" (As if they were listening.)

The Iraqi election might have been in flux but out in Hollywood, the fix was in -- or, put another way, the Academy knew its own mind. Could there possibly have been more close-ups of Jeff Bridges licking his chops in anticipation or George Clooney sourly enduring the needle? Was there any way that Sandra Bullock would have enjoyed better placement than as final guest on what was hyped as the final edition of the pre-game Barbara Walter show? And speaking cosmic yentas, can anyone imagine that Barbra herself would have descended from Mount Sinai to bestow the Oscar for direction on James Cameron or Quentin Tarantino?

Conventional wisdom prevailed with every major award, except perhaps the last -- although The Hurt Locker's early win for Original Screenplay augured that the little film that could was going to up-end the Avatar juggernaut and go all the way. And so, a miracle did occur -- the best picture actually won. But the Hurt Locker squad could not save the evening; the Show was a bomb.


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