"It's a room full of excitement. It's a room full of sweat," recalls Ellen Burstyn, who won her Oscar in 1975 for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. "It's your bar mitzvah times a million," says director-writer Jason Reitman, a four-time nominee (Up in the Air, Juno) who remembers getting over his loss with a post-show visit to In-N-Out Burger. (My kind of guy.) "It's a bit like being in a car crash. Everything slows down, everything goes into slow motion," Helen Mirren reflects on the moment her name was read when she won in 2007 for The Queen.
No one does the Oscar countdown better than Turner Classic Movies, whose annual "31 Days of Oscar" celebration kicks off Saturday with a daylong marathon of Best Picture nominees from the legendary year of 1939, including such immortals as The Wizard of Oz — which is getting its own tribute at this year's ceremony — Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights and the grand champ, Gone With the Wind. As an extra bonus, TCM unveils a breezy new keepsake documentary that relives the Academy Awards' 85-year history. And the Oscar Goes to ... (8/7c), produced and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet), provides a history and celebration of film as seen through the glittery prism of Hollywood's grandest yearly spectacle.
With terrific anecdotes from past winners (and some losers), vintage clips evoking the sophisticated reign of classic hosts Bob Hope and Johnny Carson — while more contemporary stewards Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg discuss the challenges of keeping the show afloat — and segments devoted to appreciating all creative aspects of the movie trade (those categories you typically zone out), this is an Oscar buff's bonanza. (Although in a weird omission, if there was a reference to the infamous streaker incident of 1974, I missed it in my rough-cut screener.)
The institution's less honorable side comes under scrutiny during discussions of the '50s McCarthy-era blacklist and the Oscars' sorry track record for years when it comes to racial diversity. The special also reminds us that the Oscars have also long been a lightning rod for political controversy, from Marlon Brando refusing his Godfather trophy (using Native American spokeswoman Sacheen Littlefeather to make his point) to Michael Moore's Bush-bashing.
But mostly, this is a celebration of a gaudy pop-culture tradition, perhaps best epitomized by Cher's evolution from ornamental punch line (mangling Marvin Hamlisch's name as a clownish presenter) to Oscar winner for Moonstruck, so giddy in triumph she didn't even realize she was getting a standing ovation from her peers. Wishing Ellen DeGeneres the best in hopes this year's show on March 2 is even a fraction as entertaining as And the Oscar Goes to ...
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SUPER SLEUTH: Amazingly enough, there are things to watch Sunday beyond the Super Bowl (and such cutesy distractions as Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl, Hallmark Channel's Kitten Bowl and even Nat Geo Wild's Fish Bowl). Most urgent — and reason enough for DVRs to have been invented — is the here-too-soon finale of Sherlock's third fabulous Masterpiece Mystery! season. "I never could resist a touch of drama," quips Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) during "The Last Vow" (10/9c, check tvguide.com listings) as he confronts one of his greatest fiends: so-called "Napoleon of blackmail" Charles Augustus Magnussen, played with quietly sinister arrogance by Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Hannibal's Mads Mikkelsen.
Media magnate Magnussen sees his trade as "ownership" — of secrets, of powerful people's "pressure points," by which he can exercise great influence and power. "The whole world is wet to my touch," he boasts of what Holmes regards as "an unassailable architecture of forbidden knowledge." Though brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), representing a government at risk, sees the villain as "a necessary evil" and warns Sherlock off the hunt, soon enough the game is on between two cerebral opponents who dwell within their own mighty mind palaces. As Magnussen targets those nearest and dearest to his adversary, the results are intricate, surprising and violently shocking, just as we've come to expect from this brilliant series. Let's hope the wait between seasons isn't as long this time.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: One of our greatest actors, Christopher Plummer, channels another legend in his Tony-winning portrait of John Barrymore in Barrymore (Friday, 9/8c, PBS, check tvguide.com listings), which lives up to its Great Performances billing. ... As all eyes turn to Russia next week for the Winter Olympics, Showtime looks back 26 years to Billy Joel's ground-breaking Russian concert in the documentary film Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust — The Bridge to Russia (Friday, 9/8c). ... The CW's The Carrie Diaries wraps its second season (Friday, 8/7c) with Samantha considering leaving the city — but you already know how that turns out. ... For some pre-Olympics uplift, Lifetime goes inspirational with the biopic The Gabby Douglas Story (Saturday, 8/7c). ... In an all-inclusive change-of-pace, Discovery's Mythbusters (Saturday, 8/7c) labels this week's experiments "Do Try This at Home." ... Always good for a laugh: Melissa McCarthy, hosting NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c) for the third time, with Grammy show-stopper Imagine Dragons as musical guest. ... Don Cheadle directs Sunday's episode of Showtime's House of Lies (10/9c), which introduces rapper T.I. and Mekhi Phifer in recurring roles as best-friend entrepreneurs who enlist Marty (Cheadle) to take them to the next level by any means necessary. ... After the game is over on Sunday, Fox turns the spotlight on its two highest-profile comedies, with Prince guesting on New Girl (approx. 10:30/9:30c), followed by Golden Globe-winner Brooklyn Nine-Nine (11/10c).