Let's get real: Nobody watches the Academy Awards to find out who wins. You're going to read all about that the morning after in Michael Ausiello's column, and you know it. No, we tune in to the overlong ego trip for three reasons and only three reasons: the clothes, the catastrophes and the crying (and, when we get really, really lucky, the chance to see all three at once). That being the case, last night's live broadcast of the 76th annual ceremony was, by all accounts, a rousing success. For those of you who were too busy double-checking your office Oscar-pool ballots to pay attention to the goings-on, TV Guide Online offers this instant replay.
First, let's take a moment to embrace our inner Joan Riverses and talk about the outfits. Trading her Morticia Addams hand-me-downs for a stunning ivory gown, radiant Angelina Jolie looked like she had arrived at the auditorium directly from Mount Olympus; leading lady in red Catherine Zeta-Jones scored big in a dazzling dress that defied description (and might explain why hubby Michael Douglas insisted on wearing Jack Nicholson shades indoors); Julia Roberts lost a battle with her Farrah Fawcett 'do, but won the war in a retro number that made a perfect hourglass of her traffic-stopping figure; Uma Thurman shone in what appeared to be Grecian gift-wrap; and Nicole Kidman somehow managed to pull off a cool-blue hip-hugger ringed in plastic leis. (Or at least that's what it looked like.) Despite stiff competition from Liv Tyler and her cute cat-eye glasses, it was erstwhile Fresh Prince Will Smith who accessorized the most beautifully: With better half Jada Pinkett-Smith decked out like a glittering, post-modern action heroine, he abandoned their scripted patter to giddily remark, "I'm [presenting] with my wife. I'm just happy!"
Alas, a few attendees' ideas of haute couture was not couture. Perhaps anticipating a rush of autograph-seekers on stage, Ian McKellen suspended what appeared to be a pen over his tie; Sandra Bullock waltzed to the dais with John Travolta in a ComiCon uniform fringed in Muppet; Diane Keaton, the poor dear, came as Annie Hall; and Jamie Lee Curtis and Susan Sarandon revealed so much cleavage that we wondered if Justin Timberlake had been their wardrobe mistress. (We are well aware of your hotness, ma'ams, but there is a difference between having it and flaunting it, and having it and flashing it.)
Although none of those fashion faux pas reduced anyone to tears (with the possible exception of Mr. Blackwell), a number of red-carpet walkers were altogether eager to open the spigots. Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton made a puddle of his missus during his acceptance speech by flashing back decades. "I wrote it to you in a note in eighth grade, and now I can say it to you in front of a billion people... I love you." Misty-eyed and shaky, Renee Zellweger took an eternity to make her way on stage to receive her statuette (a self-important habit we wish someone would suggest she break), then spoke the seven words every wannabe dreams of saying: "I would like to thank the Academy." In his turn at the mike, stoic Tim Robbins refrained from politicking, instead taking the opportunity to send a heartfelt message to viewers who, like his Mystic River character, had been victims of abuse. "There is no shame and weakness," he said, "in seeking help and counseling."
However, as is tradition, the most water works came from the best actress winner. "I'm not going to cry," Charlize Theron said in concluding her acceptance speech. But of course, the South African-born head turner had just done exactly that, in acknowledging her beau, Stuart Townsend (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and her bawling mom. "You've sacrificed so much," she marveled, "for me to be able to live here and make my dreams come true." Only the collective sniffling of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King hobbits Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, and Liv Tyler, came close to matching Theron's heightened emotion.
Other Fine Messes
As for the evening's big disasters... oh, where to begin? The victors in the "scientific and technical awards," which were presented on Valentine's Day, were seen claiming their just desserts in a series of clips in which their IDs were so tiny, one needn't have blinked to have missed them. (Thanks a lot, Academy.) Only moments after Jack Black and Will Ferrell performed the secret lyrics to the infamous "Time's up! Get off the stage!" music cue ("You're boring! Look at Catherine Zeta-Jones — she's snoring!"), LOTR producer Fran Walsh (she of the bird's-nest hair) stayed put through that very overture to add her two cents to songwriting partner Annie Lennox's touching thank-you's. And particularly as the show got under way, even the celebs seemed befuddled by the yawn-inducing clips chosen to represent the supporting-category nominees; often, they paused before applauding, as if collectively wondering, "Wait... was that it?"
No such uncertainty marked the grand entrance of honoree Blake Edwards. Thanks to a well-rehearsed wheelchair malfunction (of a sort that would have put The Apprentice's Omarosa on disability for life), the Pink Panther director zoomed on stage and drove straight through a wall. "That felt good," he said afterward, dusting off plaster. Last but not least, for his part, hard-working Crystal repeatedly pointed his sharp wit at gaffes of global proportions. In his opening monologue, he sarcastically noted that things sure had changed since he first emceed the Oscars 13 years ago. Back then, he said, "Bush was president, the economy was tanking, and we'd just finished a war in Iraq." Later, taking another jab at el presidente, he expressed his gratitude that the Academy lets him come and go as ringleader pretty much as he pleases. "It's kind of like being in the Texas National Guard," he quipped. So long as he promises never again to turn up naked in any spoofs of the nominated pictures (and keeps his zingers stinging), we'll take him over Whoopi or Dave any day.