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Never Mind the Bollocks

Richard von Busack endures the Oscars

WHEN THE ACTOR showing the most décolletage was Sean Penn, you knew the show was in trouble.

"Welcome to the 77th and last Academy Awards," said host Chris Rock, who did his part to energize the perhaps dullest Oscar telecast in world history. It started well, with Rock making a slashing jest about Bush as a Gap cashier with a $70 trillion shortage in his register, declaring war on a nearby Banana Republic to cover up the problem. It might have been even funnier if the same company didn't own the Gap and Banana Republic.

Even with some new techniques, like running into the audience to dole out the many technical awards—what's next, drive-through Oscars? Rock asked—the show lagged through three hours and more. It was chafing actresses in Morticia Addams-like "mermaid cut" evening gowns, Renée Zellweger in a strapless, bustless gown, elderly men in rented tuxes, and the crash of jokes staggering, twirling and dying in the far reaches of the Kodak Theater.

Who flopped worse, Robin Williams or Mike Myers? Answer: Rock and Adam Sandler, trying to do the sketch about Catherine Zeta-Jones. This was right before Sandler—no doubt a big reader in private life—gave the most deserved award of the evening to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for turning Rex Pickett's novel into the script for Sideways.

It was a wash, and nothing but, with the exception of one female British animator named Andrea Arnold, who declared that her Oscar for best short animated feature was "the dog's bollocks." For breaking the dog-testicles barrier on ABC—while the censors and the FCC scratched their heads over this unfamiliar word "bollocks"—this unsung animatrix was the hero of the evening.

Let me get all William Safire on you. "The dog's bollocks" is a British expression, describes the highest, the best, the Louvre Museum. "That's the mutt's nuts!" is another way of expressing it. Probably it is derived from the sporty, insouciant way a dog carries his family jewels. Akin to what some have called "the cat's ass," meaning a symbol of pride; any cat owner will immediately understand this. "She think she's as high as the cat's back," said my old girlfriend, watching a trendy Haight Street miss in promenade. A bowdlerized way of pronouncing the same idea.

And then he realized he had to write about the Oscars.

More ancient than ever, it seemed, featuring guys who were toddlers when Army Archerd was a strapping young man. More proof of what my colleague James Rocchi calls "the Borgnine rule." That is, the easiest way to handicap the Oscars is to try to imagine what elderly members of the academy will vote for.

Jamie Foxx wins because so many of the Academy were contemporaries of Ray Charles, just as the admirable Cate Blanchett wins because some of the voters used to play on the same sandbox with Katharine Hepburn. This was what Blanchett was referring to when she said, "the Academy knew Katharine Hepburn so well." (Seriously, Blanchett was the dog's bollocks in The Aviator.)

Sidney Lumet, 80 years young, came out for the Lifetime Achievement award; Clint Eastwood introduced his very aged and no doubt fearsome mum; and Foxx did a tribute to the character-building beatings he received from his granny. In a fight between Mrs. Eastwood and Granny Foxx, who would triumph?

However, the scariest women on the show were the barely glimpsed but completely menacing Glamazons hovering near the podium to sweep out award winners who went over 30 seconds. Definitely veterans of Gorgeous Women of Wrestling. In this case, girlie tough would be more than enough.

And for the young people, Beyonce was doled out in three portions, singing nominated songs that would have sent Mantovani into a doze. (Someone with better Spanish than me can clue me in: Did the winning song, "Al Otro Ladro del Rio," have exactly the same lyrics as "Believe" from Finding Neverland?) Beyonce's duet with Shrek look-alike Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber was the high point of tedium. And Johnny Carson's dead self got a bigger round of applause than the living Rock.

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Web extra to the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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