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Chicken Little Drops Trou: 78th and Most Heinous Oscars Yet!

By Richard von Busack

When the salacious high point is a cartoon baby chicken taking off his pants, you can tell your awards show is moribund. Hopefully, someone livened up the Oscars after-party by driving their beater into Paul Haggis' limo: a desperate way of testing Don Cheadle's assertion that people have car accidents in L.A. because they want to feel something.

"I feel something, I feel something!," the anti-schmaltz terrorist could howl as he pranced around the twisted smoking metal. Cruel, but the Director's Guild probably has superb nondeductible car insurance.

In not only appropriating the theme of Altman's Short Cuts but the title and subject matter of J.G. Ballard's best-known work (about a club of car-crash fetishists who slam their autos into stuff to feel something), Haggis' victory honors a movie that is and always will be a bigger noise in Los Angeles than it can be anywhere else.

The 78th Oscars truly had the feel of a 78th birthday party. The motto could have been "We're still alive!" A morsel of cake, some disconnected memories, sedatives and an early bedtime: just what we all can expect if we make it to our 78th birthdays.

Neither Robert Altman nor Larry McMurtry said anything inflammatory (although Altman's cardiac rip-and-replace job isn't common knowledge; maybe if he'd directed John Q. it would have amounted to something). McMurtry's "reading is FUNdamental" message was about as provocative as his blue jeans. Reduced to a lack of wardrobe zingers, host Jon Stewart had to go after Bjork's dead-goose gown of several years ago. Speaking of McMurtry, where was Annie Proulx? In the audience, but how come we didn't get to see her? Her constant readers had to imagine her showing up at the Oscars in a coonskin hat and buckskins.

What was the high point of somnolence: Bill Conti's peppery-as-Connecticut-salsa version of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line"? The president of the Academy's deadening speech, hauling in New Orleans? ("Let the good times roll!" Robert Stone was right, only idiots and people from Shreveport say that).

Or was it is the show's tragic urging people to leave their iPods and go back to the movies, illustrated by a montage of classic movies that no one between the coasts actually gets to see in a theater, because no exhibitor—except for a noble few in the big cities—takes the financial risk of exhibiting them?

Though the gay cowboy montage was instructive (the appropriate quotes from Red River and The Outlaw among them), the big-screen montage itself didn't encourage dropping everything to head for the movies. Seeing the match-up of Gandhi with Lou Gerhig, and Henry V with E.T. Seeing that parade of hallucinations, Stewart could only retort by applauding "Hollywood's Salute to Montage."

It was the largest laugh-getter in what must have been a painful night for him. Stewart's deadpan face registered shock as he saw the words on the TelePrompTer: Oh, dear lord, no, not a joke about Ben Stiller being circumcised.

Speaking of Stiller's pretty good green-screen routine, did anyone notice the graphic that went with the best-pictures sequences? A pair of gloved disembodied hands clapping, presumably to be accompanied by that lone applauder they used to have at the end of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. (The one pair of hands must have represented the low box-office totals of the winners.)

Feeling something—something like scorn—happened during emetically family-centric speeches by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Reese Witherspoon. What was all Witherspoon's guff about "a real woman," some kind of submerged reference to The Rules?

At least it didn't seem as eerie as Hoffman's salute to his mother: "Her passions became my passions." Vincent Price, next up?

A Smilexed Dolly Parton—possibly under the influence of a left-over pinch from Jack Nicholson's stash from playing the Joker—sang the theme from Transamerica as a sort of opening act for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" ("The Love Theme from") Hustle & Flow. After a preliminary bleep, ABC let the crunk anthem alone; maybe their censors heard the chorus as being about how "a lot of witches give him ship."

The Three 6 Mafia gave the show a sudden pump of adrenaline. Still, it's worrisome when the denizens of Hollywood, who traditionally recognize themselves as whores, suddenly start identifying with the pimps. Or, to use the code ABC coined in the pre-game show, "a dreamer": i.e., the pimp in Hustle & Flow was "a dreamer." What, like Mother Teresa?

Unfortunately, the crowd only half-heard the funniest lines, drowned by numerous references to George Clooney's ability to share the love (recycled from all the Warren-Beatty-the-male-slut gags of years previous.).

Twelve highlights:
1. Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep's routine. Streep caps her acting career with an tone-perfect embodiment of Goldie Hawn, while Tomlin murmurs how Robert Altman "bloodied his own nose" (meaning financial failures like O.C. and Stiggs, or cocaine? Either one pretty verboten as an Oscar topic.)
2. Tom Hanks' description of an imaginary movie, "From the streets of Toronto to the mountains of Jamaica, they took us on a quintessentially American journey."
3. The film noir montage—enough to make you turn off the show and turn on Double Indemnity.
4. Rachel Weisz winning for an unsung movie at this Oscars, The Constant Gardener. That was one surprise: it was considered in the bag for Amy Adams' terminally cute role in Junebug. And then the second surprise: like the lady she played, Weisz was robustly pregnant.
5. The only really alarming wardrobes in this evening of strictly enforced sumptuary laws: low-cut was one thing—most alarming in the case of "Flicka" Huffman's plummeting neckline, an outfit that screamed "I'm a woman dammit!" More interesting was the Dark Side approached in two macabre looks: (5a) Uma Thurman's "Night of the Living Dead" face powder; (5b) Frances McDormand's glowing crimson brooch, apparently a demonic rune a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
6. Jennifer Garner. She walks in beauty like the night, only she can't wear high heels and chew gum at the same time.
7. Stewart's line after the Three 6 Mafia: "Do you know what? I think it just got a little easier out here being a pimp."
8. Ed Wood's photo in the "bio-pic" montage.
9. The decision not to haul a stuffed King Kong out onstage, instead preferring to address that 500 pound gorilla in the room, Scientology. (Joaquin Phoenix was not amused to have his mail-order religion mocked.)
10. Dame Judi Dench's eye-gouging tactics exposed. About time. She's going to track down the fecking bastaad who made that political ad parody, and give them a Lambeth-style, Ray Winstone-caliber sorting-out.
11. For aging Merry Marvel Marching Society members: Eric "The Hulk" Bana meets Jessica "The Invisible Girl" Alba.
12. Feeling something (internal-disruption) when Paul Haggis mangled a famous Bertolt Brecht quote: "This Oscar is a hammer to shape reality, not a mirror to admire oneself in, eh, wait, no!"

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Web extra to the March 1-7, 2006 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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