It wasn’t the funniest Oscars ceremony, or the most controversial, or the most moving, or the most surreal (Marlon Brando’s infamous no-show in 1973 will forever reign supreme in the surreality department).
Still, Sunday evening offered an adequate assortment of intrigues, trends and storylines to distinguish it from past events. It was, in a word, workmanlike. Here are eight spins on the 79th annual Academy Awards.
In terms of winners and losers, the evening didn’t play precisely to expectations, but it came close, offering minor upsets in Animated Feature (“Happy Feet”) and Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin, over Eddie Murphy). Arguably the biggest upset was scored by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s elegant German-language drama “The Lives of Others,” which won for best foreign language film. After winning a passel of technical awards earlier in the evening, Mexico’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” looked like a lock in the category.
OVER THE RAINBOW
Diversity was a major theme leading up to the Oscars, and international partisanship was certainly evident in the audience, with the lusty waving of Mexican flags to celebrate “Pan’s Labyrinth” wins in make-up, art direction and cinematography. That’s nice from a diversity standpoint, but it begs the question: Was this an Oscars ceremony, or a World Cup soccer match?
That would be the image of Alan Arkin’s newly presented statuette placed unceremoniously on the floor of the stage while he delivered his acceptance speech. What an apt illustration of the Arkin personna: irascible, defiant, a little arrogant.
Officially, the best director award wasn’t Martin Scorsese’s until 10:11 p.m., but Oscars organizers tipped their hand earlier in the day when word slipped that Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola would jointly present the statuette to the winner. Whoever that might be. Well, here’s a hint: When you invite three of America’s all-time filmmaking titans up the podium, it ain’t gonna be Britain’s Stephen Frears. Awkward city.
OSCAR GOES GREEN
Minutes after the Al Gore/Leo DiCaprio on-stage lovefest — during which the “Blood Diamond” star declared the Oscars “green” — the Academy punctuated its pro-environment stance by handing “Happy Feet” the best animated feature statuette over two better-reviewed, less-unctuous hopefuls (“Monster House” and “Cars”). The ceremony struck a somewhat dictatorial tone when Melissa Etheridge performed her Oscar-winning song from “An Inconvenient Truth” while Orwellian, proenvironment dictums (“Take mass transit”) flashed on the screen behind her.
VIVA LA PANTSUIT
Host Ellen DeGeneres presented a kinder, gentler, more gender-neutral front than emcees of recent years (Chris Rock, Jon Stewart). The TV star’s affable repartee sometimes wandered into banal territory, particularly in the very beginning when she cast herself as a psych counselor of sorts to the stars. “That’s why I’m here,” she told the audience. “To relax you.” (Is “relax” the same as “bore”?) Things livened up a bit when DeGeneres made like Phil Donahue and ventured into the aisles. Best moment: Recruiting Spielberg to take a snapshot of her and Clint Eastwood and admonishing the directing great to “get us both in.” Worst moment: The lame crack about Dame Judi Dench and breast implants.
BEST MOMENT OF SELF-DEPRECATION
Robert Downey Jr., while honoring the special effects wizards who create aliens, explosions and outer space odysseys: “For me, just an average weekday night in the mid-’90s.”
BEST SONG AND DANCE SEQUENCE
Not any of the sundry “Dreamgirls” numbers, but disgruntled funnymen Jack Black and Will Ferrell calling out the perennial Oscar favorites. Black, to DiCaprio: “I’m gonna elbow you in the larynx.”