For "Old Men", Young Women and Oscar: Golden Glory, Emotion and 80 Ways To Say "Thank You"

Ethan Coen and Joel Coen won the night's biggest prizes, for "No Country For Old Men", while Marion Cotillard was overwhelmed with joy winning the best actress Oscar for playing Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose"; Diablo Cody accepting the best original screenplay honors for writing "Juno", and in a surprise, Tilda Swinton beams as she accepts the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as corporate attorney Karen Crowder in "Michael Clayton".  (Photos AMPAS)

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

February 24, 2008

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Surprises marked the 80th Annual Academy Awards tonight, both in the brevity of speeches and some of the winners, with Scotland's Tilda Swinton most visibly stunned at being called to the stage to receive the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as corporate attorney Karen Crowder in "Michael Clayton".  In a moment of enthrallment and charity Ms. Swinton announced that she would give her Oscar to Brian Swardstrom, her American agent.  She also declared that "Clayton" director Tony Gilroy "walks on water" and celebrated Oscar's 80th by neutrally intoning, "happy birthday, man."

And with the Academy making good on its guarantee to keep its night of nights to under three and a half hours (by eight minutes), there was no shortage of emotion, especially for Marion Cotillard, so overjoyed as she collected the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose" that her ecstasy clearly overwhelmed and moved many in the star-studded audience at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.  "La Vie" also won for best make up early on, perhaps signaling a good omen for things to come for Ms. Cotillard.  Julie Christie was widely expected to win in the leading actress category, but in the last few days whispers in Hollywood rumored or foretold a different scenario, with the French actress looking like a surer bet by the hour.  Miss Cotillard hugged presenter and last year's best actor Oscar winner Forest Whitaker for dear life, clinging to him tightly both onstage and backstage as if she would fall off a cliff if she let go.  She was that sky high in her joy.  Full of unrestrained happiness Miss Cotillard paid tribute to her director Olivier Dahan, saying, "Olivier, what you did to me, maestro Olivier Dahan, you rocked my life.  You truly rocked my life."

The announcement of the best picture award however, rocked few.  "No Country For Old Men" garnered that honor and three other top awards, including best supporting actor Javier Bardem as the bloodless Anton Chigurh.  In an exuberant speech Mr. Bardem praised his mother in Spanish, and said of playing the psychopathic character Chigurh: "Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think that I could do that and put one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head. "  Speaking of those brothers, it was a great night for Joel and Ethan, who won best director, adapted screenplay, and picture honors as producers, along with Scott Rudin.  Between them the Coens took home six Oscar statuettes.  Ethan Coen was often speechless.  "I don't have anything to add to what I said the last time," he wryly joked.  On stage and backstage, both he and his brother exhibited the amusing, deadpan and idiosyncratic behavior they are known for on their sets and in the emblematic characters of their films, and it showed.  Of all the winners tonight, they were indeed the biggest, but also the most subdued, even non-plussed.

It was almost as gratifying a night for "The Bourne Ultimatum", which took home all three of the Academy Awards for which it was nominated (editing, sound mixing, sound editing.)  Mr. Gilroy wrote the screenplay for the action film, and many thought that he would win the original screenplay Oscar for "Michael Clayton", the other film he scripted, but that honor went to Diablo Cody, who wrote the popular "Juno".  Miss Cody, whose previous occupation as a stripper had not been lost on many, thanked her parents for "loving me the way I am".  Decked in a leopard spotted dress, an anime tattoo of a near-naked woman on her right shoulder, and an attention-getting split in her dress all the way up to her crotch, which almost showed as she walked offstage, Miss Cody burst into tears and attempted to hurry off it, in a moment that proved to be almost too much for her.

Numerous winners cited the abundance of quality films for 2007, and what was expected to be a tight race eventually became a solid night for "No Country For Old Men".  "Atonement", which was expected to pick up more than a few Oscars from the seven for which it was nominated, settled for one, Dario Marianelli's original music score.  The film had won the BAFTA award just two weeks prior.  The British film featured Saoirse Ronan, one of the youngest acting Oscar nominees ever, and some, including former film producer Peter Guber, expected the film to take best picture honors. 

Still, European actors dominated this year's top acting award wins, with Spain's Bardem, France's Cotillard, Scotland's Swinton, and Ireland's Daniel Day-Lewis all winning.  Mr. Day-Lewis, who as expected picked up best actor for his role as the calculating and venal Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood", was the recipient of a mock knighting by last year's "Queen" Oscar winner Helen Mirren.  "And that's the closest I'll ever get to being knighted, so thank you."  In a speech typifying humility, graciousness and economy, the method actor lauded "Blood" director Paul Thomas Anderson as he brandished his Oscar.  "I'm looking at this gorgeous thing you've given me and I'm thinking back to the first devilish whisper of an idea that came to him and everything since and it seems to me that this sprang like a golden sapling out of the mad, beautiful head of Paul Thomas Anderson."  The win for Mr. Day-Lewis was his second best actor Oscar, which came 18 years after his first, for "My Left Foot".  The actor joined only a handful of other men who have won two best actor Oscars, and two of them were presenters tonight, Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks.  Denzel Washington, who presented best picture tonight and had a strong 2007 with "American Gangster" and his own directed film "The Great Debaters", has won both a supporting and a lead actor Oscar.


Marketa Irglova embraced by fellow songwriter Glen Hansard, both of whom won the Oscar for best original song "Falling Slowly", from the film "Once".  Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem, both of whom played the most venal and unrelenting pathological male characters of 2007, hold aloft their best actor and supporting actor Oscars respectively, for their respective roles in "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country For Old Men".  (Photos AMPAS)

In something of a rarity, each of tonight's major winners in the four acting categories were under the age of fifty, a remarkable occurrence in a high productions telecast which reveled in its 80 years of memorable moments featuring mainly seasoned thespians, with footage of past winners celebrating and being shown just prior to the minting of a new winner on this night.  And with a roughly 6,000-member Academy, more than 70 percent of whose membership is 60 years of age and above, a special night that could have honored golden ladies of film like Miss Christie and Ruby Dee, instead hailed a significantly younger glow of recipients. 

In that vein, new faces and popular sentiment dotted Oscar's golden landscape, with "Falling Slowly" from the film "Once" winning best original song.  Songwriter Glen Hansard was near tears as he exulted in the triumph, but fellow songwriter Marketa Irglova was figuratively cut off at the knees as her microphone was cut as she approached it, to comply with the time-limit speech requirement of 45 seconds.  In an unprecedented move, Oscar host Jon Stewart brought her back to the stage after a commercial break and she got to say what she wanted.  Miss Irglova, a very quiet person by nature, appeared very much at home as she delivered her speech.  "This song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are," the Czech-born musician said during her comments.  Minutes earlier Mr. Hansard, his Irish brogue lilting the Kodak Theater, had labeled his and Miss Irglova's presence there as "insane".  He thanked the Academy for taking "Once" seriously.  "It means a lot to us," he said.  Both musicians, collaborators on prior occasions, also starred in John Carney's romantic film, and wrote and performed all of its songs.  The film, as noted by Mr. Hansard, was made for $100,000 and in just three weeks.

On balance, most of the night's acceptance speeches were not only succinct but also eloquent and heartfelt, even those bursting with the irrepressible feeling of euphoria.  Through the magic of technology an Oscar was announced via Satellite from Iraq by a platoon of several U.S. soldiers -- best documentary short subject went to "Freeheld", about the travails of same-sex couples.  With her voice trembling from start to finish winner Cynthia Wade said, "It was Lieutenant Laurel Hester's dying wish that her fight for, against discrimination would make a difference for all the same sex couples across the country that face discrimination every day.  Discrimination that I don't face as a married woman."  It was a significantly stirring speech, and it was not the only one to evoke such deep passion and emotion. 

Though some scheduled presenters did not show up because of the uncertainty of the end of the writer's strike, there was a feeling of relaxation and relief among many of the show's presenters and winners, even though George Clooney talked in an interview about the specter of a potential Screen Actors Guild strike and walkout in June if a new deal isn't struck.  Tom Cruise was expected and could not be present, and Oscar winners Dame Judi Dench and Halle Berry also were absent.  "Superbad" and "Knocked Up" actors Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill made the most of the moment as they presented an award, in an amusing battle over who wanted to play Ms. Berry, as they joked that neither wanted to play Dame Judi, who was busy filming "Quantum Of Solace", the forthcoming James Bond adventure.

Director Alex Gibney, who won best documentary feature for what was arguably his most personal film, "Taxi To The Dark Side", dedicated his Oscar to the film's subject, Dilawar, the Iraqi cab driver who was renditioned, tortured and killed by U.S. military during interrogation, and to his own late father, a former U.S. Navy interrogator who encouraged him to make the film and find the truth.  The characteristically serious and focused Mr. Gibney, who also executive produced another film in the category, "No End In Sight", flavored his comments with a political wish.  "Let's hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and back to the light," Mr. Gibney said. 

In an illuminating moment, Academy president Sid Ganis presented a video about the process of how the Oscar winners are voted on, one that lasts months.  Whether intentional or not, the moment seemed like a silent declaration of transparency about the voting process, a subtle cry to detractors in both the entertainment and political worlds, lest anyone have doubts or dare be cynical about the Oscar winners.  A lot has been said about the politics of Oscar, including on this site, and perhaps the Academy felt the need to clear up any misconceptions.  "We arrive at the winners, picking them fairly and honestly," said Mr. Ganis.

Didier Lavergne (left) and Jan Archibald backstage, winners for best make up for "La Vie En Rose", which also won for best actress Marion Cotillard.  (Photos AMPAS)

Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Counterfeiters", from Austria, about the real stories of Jewish concentration camp prisoners enlisted by the Nazis to manufacture money during World War Two, was named best foreign language film, following neighboring Germany's win last year for "The Lives Of Others".  "Ratatouille", about the misadventures of a French rat who yearns to be a chef, won best animated feature film.  And if there ever was a country for old men, 98-year-old production designer Robert Boyle proved it, simply and coherently effecting his acceptance of the honorary Oscar awarded him, and doing so far better than director Brad Bird, who had stumbled and stuttered when accepting for "Ratatouille".

Host Jon Stewart kept the evening moving amidst astonishing sets and one or two slight technical glitches expected in a live show, and as expected politics was on the menu.  Early on, the Comedy Central satirist and commentator quipped, "normally when we see a black man or woman president an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty," in reference to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Democrats currently competing for the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination, both of whom were on the Kodak Theater stage in a one-on-one debate just three weeks ago.  Wesley Snipes, expected to play James Brown in a future Spike Lee-directed biopic on the late Godfather of Soul, and Mr. Lee, currently directing a true-life World War Two epic about black soldiers in the U.S. military trapped in Italy entitled "Miracle At St. Anna", were seen in the Kodak Theater audience laughing heartily at Mr. Stewart's observation. 

Mr. Stewart also made light of the number of actresses who were pregnant.  One of the night's funniest moments featured his mock award announcement for best baby.  With expecting mothers Jessica Alba, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman present, Mr. Stewart declared, "and the baby goes to . . . Angelina Jolie."  He had opened an envelope for effect, and joked that Ms. Jolie couldn't be present tonight "because it's hard to get 17 babysitters."  By all accounts tonight, Mr. Stewart excelled as master of ceremonies, slightly bettering his prior hosting effort two years ago and becoming more comfortable in the process.

And after Laura Ziskin had produced the previous two or three Academy Awards telecasts, Gil Cates returned to produce the show, and he didn't disappoint.  Over 200 countries and one billion worldwide viewers witnessed the live awards show, the biggest and most prestigious awards show, film, or otherwise, in the world.

Earlier, Colin Farrell slipped and slid as he approached the podium on the stage, and warned that the slick spot which caused him to almost fall to the floor should be cleaned.  His appeal fell on deaf ears as John Travolta later slipped as well. 

Even so, the most bizarre event of the night occurred prior to the Awards telecast, on E!  Entertainment Television's live red carpet pre-Oscars show, when an either drunk or drugged Gary Busey wandered into the interview Ryan Seacrest was attempting to conduct with Jennifer Garner.  In a very awkward moment, Mr. Busey took the liberty to wander into the frame and kiss a stunned Ms. Garner on the neck.  It was clear that she was shocked at the unwelcome event and had no idea who Mr. Busey was.  He had also embraced Laura Linney before hunkering nearby Mr. Seacrest, who improvised with Jonah Hill and Mr. Busey, who had wandered between them.  Mr. Busey appeared drunk as he lauded Mr. Seacrest's work.  Perhaps out of fear or trauma surrounding the impromptu indiscretion of Mr. Busey, Mr. Seacrest abruptly, if not curtly told Ms. Garner to "come here".  "Can I help you?," she replied sharply, perhaps feeling affronted by the brusque comment as well as the inappropriate kiss Mr. Busey, a troubled actor and multiple motorcycle accident injury recipient placed on her neck. 

"I have no idea what's just happened here on this carpet," said a somewhat winded Mr. Seacrest to his television audience.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.

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