Lights! Camera! Glamour!
Hollywood's Glow Is Restored On Oscar's 80th Birthday

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 25, 2008

HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 24 Finally! An awards show you can sink your chompers into. The writers are back at their laptops, the stars have returned to the red carpet, and whoa, would you look at John Travolta? He looks like a Vulcan. Hollywood is back.

"You're here, I can't believe it, you're actually here," began host Jon Stewart, moonlighting from his cable job at "The Daily Show." "It's been a tough three months. The town was torn apart by a bitter writers strike. Tonight, welcome to the make-up sex." Stewart then riffed on the dark, violent, disturbing themes of this year's top contenders, and cracked, "Does this town need a hug?"

The silver-maned George Clooney, who has unseated Jack Nicholson as the public face of Hollywood stardom, stepped to the podium at the Kodak Theatre to celebrate 80 years of Academy Awards. "One thing has been consistent," he said. "It's been long." The audience laughed, wisely, girding itself for 3 hours and 20 minutes. "No, it is unpredictable," Clooney said.

The Best Actress category had been vexing the Oscarologists for weeks: Cate? Julie? Perhaps the young Ellen Page from "Juno"? But it was the fresh-cut flower, Marion Cotillard from France, who went to the stage, trembling and giddy, where she thanked her director Olivier Dahan with "you rocked my life." She continued, "Well, I'm speechless now. Thank you life, thank you love. It is true there are some angels in this city, thank you so so much." She made it backstage where she turned and fell into the arms of Forest Whitaker, who had presented the prize.

A lot of French backstage (and later German, Spanish and Eeenglish English). But Cotillard said, "There's nothing hard about this. It's just joy and so unexpected. It's surreal but I just love it. I just love it. . . . I'm totally overwhelmed with joy and sparkles and fireworks. I just ate all those things and it's going boom, boom, boom right now." The woman was about to explode -- in a good way.

It wasn't a big surprise, but Daniel Day-Lewis, wearing a pair of little hoop earrings, accepted the prize for Best Actor. "Thank you for whacking me with the handsomest bludgeon in town," he said.

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, were triple-timers, winning Oscars for: Best Adapted Screenplay, Directing and Best Picture.

"Ethan and I have been making stories with cameras since we were kids," said Joel Coen (he's the talkative one). He recalled they went down to their local airport with a briefcase and made the film "Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go." "What we do now doesn't feel much different from what we did back then," Joel Coen said.

Steve Carell got off a joke when he introduced the nominees for Best Animated Feature by calling "Ratatouille" a scathing indictment of health code violations, when it is actually about a cute rodent in the kitchen. Which then won, beating Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis," the black-and-white adaptation of her graphic novel about growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran.

"I think I'm going to throw up, too," said "Ratatouille" director Brad Bird, looking a little seasick in the flush of his second Oscar win. He acknowledged that he owed it all to "a little rat who dreams."

This year, the Academy frontloaded the show with the frankly less sexy awards. Among the other early prizes were Costume Design for the regal drama "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and Makeup for "La Vie en Rose," the story of the French warbler Edith Piaf, and Art Direction for the slasher musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

Waiting, waiting. Foot tapping. Finally, a full 46 minutes into the trophy show, the first major prize, for Best Supporting Actor, which went to Javier Bardem, the psychotic killer in the Sonny Bono haircut who stalks the badlands of West Texas like a heartless angel of death in the Coen brothers adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy pulp novel "No Country for Old Men."

Bardem, speaking double time, thanked the Coens for their decision to "to put one of the most horrible haircuts in history on my head." Then he spoke quickly in Spanish, saying, "mama, this is for you . . ."

There was a dollop of politics. When Alex Gibney won for his documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side," about the use of torture in the war on terror, the director said he made it to honor his father, a former Navy interrogator, who was outraged at abuses revealed at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. "Let's hope we can turn this country around and move from the dark side to the light," Gibney said.

Out on the red carpet, Paul Haggis (the director whose "Crash" won Best Picture in 2006) said he didn't know what accounts for all these deeply dark, brooding, troubled films. But isn't it obvious, he asked, flashing an orange ribbon on his lapel. Orange, why orange? "It's Guantanamo," his Max Azria-clad wife, Deborah, said, showing off her orange bracelet, which read: "Silence + torture = complicity." Suddenly, we noticed -- orange ribbons and bracelets everywhere.

Diablo Cody, the retired exotic dancer, took home a gold statue for Original Screenplay for "Juno." "This is for the writers," Cody said, flashing an excellent shoulder tattoo. She also gave a shout-out to her director, Jason Reitman, "who I consider a member of my family." When she began to thank her own family for letting Diablo be Diablo ( aw) she broke down in tears, and then seemed frustrated by her tears.

Owen Wilson was back, as a presenter, looking healthy and calm, after his widely reported suicide attempt last year. He received a polite round of applause. He was followed by Jerry Seinfeld, still flogging that Barry the Bee thing, who gave away the statute for Best Animated Short.

When Jennifer Hudson announced that Tilda Swinton won Best Supporting Actress for her role as a highly unethical lawyer in "Michael Clayton," it looked as if Swinton mouthed the word "wow" over and over. Onstage, she began, "Oh, no, ahh, happy birthday, man." Then she mentioned that she had this American agent, Brian Swardstrom of Endeavor, "who is the spitting image of this," as she fondled her golden man. "Same head and it has to be said, the buttock." Brian Swardstrom died and went to Heaven. Then Swinton talked a bit about her co-star George Clooney's nipples, until the orchestra cut in.

Backstage, Swinton said she was "stoked." Asked about her wow-wow-wow, she said, "I had a reverse 'Zoolander' moment (perhaps you had to see the film, starring Ben Stiller, as a vain male model) when I thought I heard someone else's name and slowly heard my name. You could tell me my dress fell off and I would believe you, so don't be cruel."

There was a sweet moment when Glen Hansard and Mark¿ta Irglov¿ won for the song "Falling Slowly" from the indie film "Once." As Hansard said, "Tanks!" The film was shot for $100,000 with a couple of cheapo cameras. "This is amazing," Hansard said. "Make art. Make art."

Stewart quipped, "that guy is so arrogant." But then he nicely brought back Irglov¿ to say her tank-yous after she had been cut off by the Oscar orchestra, which seemed to rush winners offstage even as the show showed one old movie clip after another. Memory Lane, we feared, was a dead-end street.

Hey, look! Austria won. For Best Foreign Language Film, "The Counterfeiters," about a forger working against his Nazi captors in a concentration camp. "Austria is all about opera and theater and music, but being nominated was something exciting for the whole country," said director Stefan Ruzowitzky.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company