War keeps Oscars show safe, stylish, shorter
By Frazier Moore
Most years, the Oscars show scrambles to be fabulous. This year, with the country at war, Oscar's self-proclaimed challenge was even more ambitious: to tone the show down.
Associated Press photos
Halle Berry got an unscripted surprise from Adrien Brody.
Associated Press photos
But "The 75th Annual Academy Awards," aired by ABC, didn't banish glitz as much as wretched excess. The producers stuck to their knitting and played it safe, which, under the circumstances, was a smart thing to do. They put on a good show while giving the audience an evening's breather from the outside world.
A valuable use of air time: the one-by-one salute to 59 previous Oscar winners, reaching back to Luise Rainer and Mickey Rooney from the 1930s, gloriously convened on stage.
Also worth watching: the reaction from Adrien Brody upon hearing his name called as winner of the best-actor award for his role in "The Pianist." After registering visible surprise and exchanging an emotional embrace with his mother, photographer Sylvia Plachy, Brody sprang up the steps to the podium and pulled presenter Halle Berry into his arms for an unscripted, exuberant (on his part) kiss. At the microphone, he joked that Berry hadn't been warned that the kiss was in her gift bag, but his speech shortly turned serious.
Brody won the Oscar for his role as a character based on the true story of musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who lived through World War II by hiding from the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto.
"This film would not be possible without the blueprint provided by Wladyslaw Szpilman," Brody said. "This film is a tribute to his survival.
Martin kept the show briskly moving, and it returned the favor by holding the line on packaged features and appreciations, clocking in officially at 3 1/2 hours. This was a welcome reduction after last year's record-breaking 4 hours, 23 minutes.
Of course, the war in Iraq wasn't forgotten.
Michael Moore provoked a chorus of boos and ovations by denouncing the Iraq war and calling President Bush a "fictitious president."
Accepting his award for best documentary feature "Bowling for Columbine," Michael Moore bore out producers' worries that a winner would use the spotlight to speak out against the war.
With his fellow documentary nominees gathered with him onstage "in solidarity," Moore delivered a tirade against "fictitious times" that elect a "fictitious president ... Shame on you, Mr. Bush!"
Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, sent a message out to military people and to the Iraqis: "To our men and women overseas, godspeed and let's get you home soon. And to the Iraqi people, I say, let's have peace soon and let you live without war."
Viewers also were brought back to reality with a pair of brief war updates from ABC News anchor Peter Jennings. But the audience could be grateful another option text updates across the bottom of the screen wasn't chosen. Or warranted.
During the presentation, host Martin, his comic persona perfectly modulated for the occasion, served the ideal dose of smug self-involvement to keep the mood light.
Having also presided in 2001, he shared an insight that "hosting the Oscars for the second time is like making love to a woman for the second time." Beat. "I guess."
Olivia de Havilland, a presenter who won best actress for 1949's "The Heiress," put the night into perspective for Americans who were fretting over developments in Iraq, noting the country's ongoing love affair with film.
"This night is a memorable one for me and so was that night 53 years ago. Much has changed in our world since then. But what hasn't changed is our love of the movies and their ability to inspire us and to help us through troubled times," she said. "Tonight, we are celebrating Oscar's 75th birthday and the great artists who have over the years added so much to our lives through their work.
As Martin said at the beginning of the show, "There are no losers here tonight. But we're about to change all that."
There's satisfaction in seeing losers, too.
But the biggest loser may have been E! Entertainment, whose pre-Oscar coverage was stymied by the scrapping of the red-carpet arrivals by celebrities at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
In recent years, E! has posted Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa on that fabled access way. But Sunday they were reduced to monitoring from afar the stars' less-flashy entrances.
"How sad," complained Joan, watching on the flat-screen TV behind her. "There are no photographers grabbing at them! Everyone's just milling around!"
Then she and Melissa discussed how a star should climb steps in a gown without stumbling.
An evening's break from the war, indeed.