The Night of the Locust: Oscars 2008

“Whack me with the handsomest bludgeon in town”—Daniel Day-Lewis, mostly.

Fighting off pigeons on the marquee of the El Capitan theater on Hollywood Boulevard, ABC correspondents with surreal names watched the drama of the Elect and the Damned on the blood-red carpet below. The famous were allowed to pirouette in their finery; the obscure were frog-marched into the Kodak Theater.

Yet even the famous were sometimes made to play “Notice Me, Dammit!” An obscure children’s performer known as Hannah Montana was forced to wait for her turn with the microphone; and it was evident that the bleachers were full of foreigners and old people by the very lack of acclaim for Ms. Montana, at first. Here, some 50 years later, were the same crowd that Nathanael West described in Day of the Locust—

outre star-suckers shivering in the rain. If they’d been closer to the Golden Demographic, no doubt the young Hannah would have been torn to pieces, Orpheus-wise, by a pack of pubescent girls.

The soon-to-be-robbed George Clooney was caught faster and inundated with weird compliments and slobber by the local reporters. “I smell Peabody!” burbled one, predicting that award for Michael Clayton—instead of the Oscar he so richly deserved but didn’t get because he failed to kill anyone in the film, italics mine. Enduring Batman and Robin jokes—the only funny one was told by Tilda Swinton

Clooney also endured the final snub in favor of the Milkshake Man. Bludgeon and ye shall be bludgeoned: that was the Biblical moral of the Best Actor award this year. There Will Be Bludgeon. Also, the Coen Brothers look like they don’t see the light of day much.

Rather than be defeatist, let’s concentrate on the Glamour: The Rock, Travolta and Barry B. Benson sharing the same tennis-ball hairstyle. Diablo Cody‘s cut-to-the-cootch leopard print and sassy old-skool tattoo, was soon duly rewarded by the Official Award as the Voice of Youth. (News flash: Diablo, if that’s really your name, you are not the first naked dancer to get an Oscar. How do you think Helen Hayes got her start?) Viggo Mortensen was bearded and togged out as club-soda mascot Commodore Schweppes. Similarly seaworthy was Marion Cotillard, outfitted as an albino carp by Gaultier. She too was later rewarded for portraying Edith Piaf as the Zombie Lucille Ball (as were the makeup people who engineered this triumph). Before the ceremony someone asked Cotillard if it was hard for her to do Piaf, “who died before you were born.” Certainment, it was a good thing Piaf died before seeing La Vie En Rose.

Comforting America’s antagonists was Julie Christie, daring to tell the interviewers about Guantanamo, while Michael Moore barged his way in to “address an international audience,” as a newsperson put it. Moore got what I thought was the best line of the evening, inside or outside. “Hello, international audience, please forgive us.”

Cate Blanchett, great with child, managed to turn Regis Philbin around from the subject of her bellyfruit, and this is no easy task, since Philbin has a turning circle that’s worse than an Escalade stretch limo. We also learned, before the ceremony and after, that the accepted way to refer to any Fox Searchlight film is “The Little Movie That Could.”

And then the mess began in earnest. Jon Stewart did what he could with the bland material, finding solace with prop comedy (Lawrence of Arabia on iPhone being a good one). Nothing could stop the show, not even the girl-power of Amy Adams and Kristin Chenoweth. Significantly,  Hilary Swank was chosen to lead the Parade of the Dead, always my favorite part; this honor was an oblique reference to Swank’s year in cinema 2007, a career killer if ever there was.

In montage, Brad Bird’s demonstration of how to pick a winner (close your eyes and drop a pen over the ballot like a lawn dart) was as happiness-inducing as was his win for 2007′s best movie, the one with the French rats in it.

Significantly less happiness-producing: his speech belaboring some poor dead duck of a Portland, Ore., junior-high-school vocational counselor who was just trying to spare Bird a life time of ramen-eating. (If I only had room to describe my problems financing my own character-driven script, Here, Then, Is the Grave Where I Shall Lie Unmourned Forever … but, deadlines, deadlines, you kn0w.)

Let’s see: the cool: Dante Feretti, Hitchcock’s collaborator Robert F. Boyle—”This is the good part of getting old. I don’t recommend the other.”—

and Pee-wee Herman (glimpsed in a clip from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure). Helen Mirren.

The fools: Cormac McCarthy, mortgaging his indomitable lone-wolf status by showing up; Celine Dion seen in stock footage, singing that egregious song about her heart, and Cameron Diaz baffling herself with a name check of some forgotten film called Sunrise.

And then there was Kevin Spacey, excerpted in a footage-parade of Best Supporting Actresses—

always the category with the greatest range and competition, including as it does everyone from odd-sized types like Linda Hunt to Tatum O’Neal (and this time Swinton, dressed memorably as the Goth Peter Pan). Spacey’s comment that the supporting actress job, like the Cheshire Cat, is to “make an indelible impression on Alice” didn’t get the obvious follow-up: “and then vanish forever, I guess.”

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