The 74th Academy Awards ceremony was the longest, and probably one of the most interesting Oscar shows in history. It had all the elements of great television: laughs, tears, sentimentality, surprises, suspense, drama and a lot of schmaltz.
This year's Best Picture race was the closest since at least Shakespeare In Love edged out Saving Private Ryan for a surprise victory in 1998. No film was a clear front-runner. Although Lord Of The Rings had the most nominations of any film and had won several pre-Oscar awards including the Screen Actor's Guild Award for Outstanding Ensemble Cast, it was still unlikely that a fantasy could win Best Picture (even Star Wars and E.T.:The Extra Terrestrial couldn't pull that off). The critic's fave A Beautiful Mind won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, as well as the Director's Guild Award, but the recent allegations of omissions from the "based on a true story" flick looked as though they may have done some damage. Meanwhile, creeping up from behind In The Bedroom won the L.A. Critics Award and Moulin Rouge won the Producers Guild Award and the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Musical Or Comedy. Gosford Park, on the other hand, sucked. If it had won Best Picture, I would have killed myself.
Anyway, with all this anticipated drama, I went into the Academy Awards optimistic. I was rooting for A Beautiful Mind, had my fingers crossed for Halle Berry, and thinking Russell Crowe while hoping Denzel Washington. Don't get me wrong, I loved Crowe's performance as a schizophrenic math whiz, but he won a consolation Oscar last year and I saw no need to elevate his ego to new heights. Denzel, however, is long overdue for his consolation Oscar for The Hurricane.
The show appropriately started out with a somber speech by Tom Cruise on the post-9/11 importance of movies. Are movies still important Tom? "Dare I say it? More than ever!" Amen to that! Sadly, no camera shots of Nicole Kidman while Tom was on stage; that would have been interesting!
The seriousness out of the way, Whoopi Goldberg made a stunning entrance, being lowered on a swing from the ceiling in a tribute to Best Picture nominee Moulin Rouge. Whoopi's monologue was cleaner this year than in years past, but funnier than ever. "There was so much mud-slinging this year, all the nominees look black," she quipped early in the speech. She later went on to note "the security is tighter than some of the faces," as well as musing "Gosford Park had 15 maids, butlers, chauffeurs and cooks and not one of them was black. They're all British and what's even more strange is that not one of them is Michael Caine." Her best line of the night was "Oscar is the only 74 year old man in Hollywood who doesn't need Viagra to last 3 hours."
Sadly, the only lock for the evening, Mind's Jennifer Connelly had the most boring speech, read from a piece of paper with no expression at all. There were some excited winners in the first half of the show though; I never thought I would see the Costume Design winner cry onstage.
Shortly thereafter, what has to be one of the most memorable moments in recent Oscar history occurred. Woody Allen received a standing ovation when he came out to introduce a clip about films shot in New York City (to which he remarked, "That makes up for the strip search"). For years, Allen has scorned the Oscars, though he's won three, he never shows up to accept them and rarely acknowledges his nominations. The other interesting thing here is that he became one of the very few presenters to receive a standing ovation (they're usually reserved for winners, although John Wayne, Sean Connery and Christopher Reeve each received one for presenting. Bob Hope remains the only person to get a standing ovation as an audience member, in 1992 after being recognized by host Billy Crystal). Anyway, enough sidetracking back to the point...Allen reminisced about all the movies he's shot in New York over the years and then introduced a lovely series of clips.
Remember in the beginning when I promised tears and sentimentality, well here they are: The Academy presented Sidney Poitier with an Honorary Oscar. The most wonderful part of it all was the clips of practically every well-known black actor in America talking about how Sidney paved the way for them. When Poitier started out in show business, there were no black leading men. Blacks were often cast in stereotypical roles, or else small roles that could be cut out in certain parts of the country. He was the first solo-above-the-title black movie star. Poitier also made history in 1963 by becoming the first black man to win the Best Actor Oscar. Poitier said, "I accept this award on behalf of all the African-American actors who went before me in the difficult years."
Another "finally" moment came when Randy Newman won Best Song for his contribution to the Pixar/Disney collaboration Monsters Inc., an upbeat song called "If I Didn't Have You." Newman had previously been nominated 15 times in the past 20 years and had lost...you guessed it, 15 times in the past 20 years. In the recent past, he's earned the nickname "The Susan Lucci Of The Oscars!" (Okay, so maybe only I called him that, but if the shoe fits...) When his name was announced, the audience started a standing ovation, to which he quipped, "I don't want your pity." He accepted the award and thanked the Academy's music branch "that gave me so many chances to be humiliated over the years."
Then, about 3 hours too late, we started getting to the good awards. Shockingly, Halle Berry beat out critical favorite Sissy Spacek to win the Best Actress award. Berry became the first black actress to win the award, and could hardly believe it herself. Looking shocked, she could hardly get out of her seat (making her the exact polar opposite of 1998 Best Actor winner Roberto Benigni who couldn't stay in his seat). Berry gave a teary acceptance speech saying that this was for the 74 years. She dedicated her award to "every nameless, faceless woman of color who tonight has a chance because this door has been kicked open."
Julia Roberts presented the Best Actor award saying, "I just kissed Sidney Poitier...the nominees are..." Denzel Washington beat out Russell Crowe, becoming the third black person to win the leading acting award (since he missed being the second by about 8 minutes). This makes 2002 an an historical year for the Oscars, giving statuettes to three black actors (including Poitier) as well as having a black host (who herself is an Oscar winner). As Denzel said in his speech "It's been a long time coming."