published Monday, February 23rd, 2009

81st Oscar ceremony had its moments

Casey Phillips: I’m not a huge fan of any awards shows, whether for movies, music or musicals, so I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Oscars. The concept of several hundred deciding for millions what the best movies are seems an inherently flawed approach to a subjective medium like movies. It’s like the electoral college approach to elections — only with better fashion sense.

Still, last night had its moments.

Ben Stiller and Natalie Portman’s presentation for Best Cinematography was a particular favorite. Stiller sported a fake beard and sunglasses, mocking Joaquin Phoenix’s recent bizarre appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

Finally, finally, finally, Kate Winslett won her award after five fruitless nominations. Her acceptance speech was quite moving, especially when she found her father through the clever use of whistling. Sean Penn absolutely made my night by taking Best Actor for “Milk.” Extremely well deserved.

Critical darling “Slumdog Millionaire” swept, winning eight of the nine categories it was nominated for, including best picture, cinematography, screenplay (adapted) and directing. That slew of wins might be more politic than deserved, but that’s the academy for you.

Holly Leber: Well, I think part of the problem is that some people tend to not be discerning in secondary categories like Sound Mixing, but that’s just my guess.

A new method of presenting the best acting awards was introduced — past winners each paid tribute to one nominee before the winner was announced. It took up a little more time than usual, but it was nice to see some old faces. It’s also a fine way of honoring all the nominees.

There were some lovely moments, but no big surprises. The most expected and most somber moment of the night came when Heath Ledger was awarded the Best Actor statue for his role in “The Dark Knight.” His award was accepted by his parents and sister, who gave a dignified, graceful speech. The show featured a good mix of sentiment and entertainment.

Casey: Jack Black and Jennifer Anniston had some clever repartee, but not every pairing was a gem. Beyonce Knowles duet with first-time host Hugh Jackman during the celebration of musicals was interesting, but I have a feeling the medley honoring the likes of “Grease” and “Hairspray” might have upset a few Broadway fans.

The new presentation method was really great. It made every nominee in major categories feel like a winner. There were plenty of tear-jerker moments as a result.

It was nice to see Robert Downey Jr. get his first nod since “Chaplin” in 1992, but when pit against the titanic performance of Heath Ledger in “Dark Knight” he didn't stand a chance. Ledger’s “menacing, droll and diabolical” performance (quoth presenter Kevin Kline) definitely deserved the win, and his family’s acceptance speech was quite moving.

Finally, Pixar Animation Studios surprised no one by winning its fourth Best Animated Feature award with “WALL-E.” Some locals might be disappointed, however, that UTC alumnus Dustin Cawood didn’t receive recognition for his work as a sound engineer for the film, which lost the sound editing category to “Dark Knight.”

Even though my opinion of awards shows wasn’t altered in any meaningful way by last night’s showcase, I certainly appreciate the recognition many deserving films received, even if “Milk” didn’t.

Holly: Unlike my partner in crime, I’m a big fan of awards shows. I don’t take them too seriously, but I find the spectacle amusing, and will absolutely admit to being caught up in the sentimentality of it. I was fighting not to tear up when Kate Winslet finally accepted her first Academy Award, for her sixth nomination. Sean Penn did not resist getting on his soapbox, but knowing how incendiary Penn can be, handled himself with dignity. He also paid tribute to fellow nominee Rourke, with whom he was in a close race. Very gentlemanly.

Inasmuch as the Oscars are spectacle, it is nice to see how humbled some of the winners were. Or they’re just really good actors.

  • 81st Oscar ceremony had its moments
    81st Oscar ceremony had its moments
  • Oscars picks and predictions
    Holly Leber and Casey Phillips discuss their Oscars picks and predictions.
about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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