It’s a wonderful night for Oscar

The much ballyhoo-ed orgy of the movie awards season has culminated of course with the biggie – the Oscars – and as usual there are naysayers aplenty, some pooh-pooing the selection of Slumdog Millionaire as Best Picture (“It wasn’t that good!”, “Big deal! It’s not really an Indian film!”, others cribbing about Mickey Rourke losing out to second-time winner Sean Penn in the Best Actor stakes (“Oh they only gave it to him because he played the gay card”). There are also those who simply stopped paying the Oscars any attention years ago, probably after Pulp Fiction was passed up in favour of Forrest bloody Gump back in 1994. For this lot, the Oscars had little credibility to begin with (“Cattle call! Self-congratulatory popularity contest!”), at least not beyond marginal booster of box-office receipts, and post-Pulp vs. Gump, it only went further down the toilet.

 In a day and age when even if you miss the awards on the telly you can go and get them on DVD the very next day – free of ads, no less – it’s probably hard to imagine a time when you were at the mercy of PTV to see them if you were so inclined; even harder to imagine the time when you could only read about them and that too much after the fact (and when, for most cinema people, the Oscars actually were the be-all, end-all of all existence). I can recall, as a kid, watching the heavily censored version of the ceremonies on the one and only national network, which were not shown every year, mind you, only intermittently, when, I suppose they didn’t have anything else to fill the schedule. They finally stopped airing them altogether sometime around 1985 when, I suspect, they decided it was just simpler to dump them than to try and negotiate around the women presenters’ increasingly skimpy Oscar fashions – take a bow, Cher!

 We weren’t that easily defeated though, good old Doordarshan from across the great divide would show them in their pristine form as God had intended. Of course, how that turned out all depended on how well your antenna was directed/tuned on the given night, and we usually ended up with a distorted picture laden with six-inches of snow, through which it was often difficult to distinguish between Kathleen Turner and Tom Selleck, but that hardly mattered. I still have fond memories of watching just such a ghostly image of Diana Ross in a sparkly white dress (I’m assuming it was sparkly, it could just have been the snow), singing a somewhat tepid version of ‘I Just Called To Say I love You’, one of the nominated songs, coming through a curtain of flurries the night Amadeus won Best Picture. At the time, I had no clue who, or indeed, what, Amadeus was (I’m happy to report I have since found out), but it was nigh-impossible not to get caught up in all the excitement. It was the same night that they brought in a real live elephant onto the stage as an added embellishment to the demo of the Best Costume nomination for A Passage to India. Impressive, yes, but India still lost to Mozart. Later on in the evening, Sally Field won Best Actress for Places in the Heart, and capped off an emotional acceptance speech with the immortal words “You like me! Right now! You like me!”, screaming herself into the annals of Oscar history as one of the most poignant and parodied moments ever, even poking fun at herself the following year when she presented the award for Best Actor (“Let’s see which one you like – you really, really like!”).

 This was also long enough ago so that you had many of the golden oldies at hand. Jack Lemmon was one of the presenters, silver-haired Cary Grant introduced wobbly-voiced James Stewart as the Honorary Oscar recipient, and the legendary Laurence Olivier gave away the award for Best Picture. Perhaps tired and ticked off at having to wait around all evening, Sir Larry infamously ripped open the envelope and declared, “The winner is Amadeus!” without bothering to first announce the names of the other nominees.

 About a decade or so earlier, David Niven had had an even more interesting time introducing Elizabeth Taylor as a presenter, when an unknown man streaked buck naked across the stage behind Niven, flashing a peace sign, as well as everything else. Niven turned the moment into legend by quipping, “Well ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn’t it interesting? The only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings.” Poor Elizabeth Taylor was visibly shaken when she came onstage, but managed to ad-lib a zinger of her own: “That’s a tough act to follow!”

 In a misguided attempt to stave off such moments in the future, the Academy (or the broadcasters) instituted the five-second delay, which means that over the years, the Oscars have been safer, but also all the more boring. With everything scripted down to the T, there seems to be little room for spontaneity. Thankfully though, you can’t script the winners, and some of them actually come up and do more than saccharine-ly thank everybody that they’ve ever met in their entire lives. Robert DeNiro, winning for Raging Bull in 1980 thanked his mother and father “for having me, and my grandmothers and grandfathers for having them” and then thanked the movie’s subject ex-boxer Jake LaMotta’s brother Joey “even though he’s suing us.” Best Supporting Actor winner, veteran Jack Palance ended his speech by dropping to the floor and doing a series of one-handed push-ups. Old-time choreographer/director Stanley Donen declared he wasn’t good with words and tap-danced instead. Best Actor Adrien Brody planted a long smacker on flabbergasted presenter Halle Berry. And this year, famed shit-stirrer Sean Penn began his speech by thanking “You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns.”

 Another sacrifice made at the altar of PC-homogenuity is the replacement of the phrase “And the winner is…” with the more polite “And the Oscar goes to…”, thereby, I’m guessing, removing the implication that the remaining four are losers. Again, that’s very nice, but really, who wants nice? Milk is nice, but it’s also bland and unexciting.

 Unless the first name happens to be Harvey.

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