The wackiest moment of Hollywood’s weekend of backslapping came when the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles serenaded Laura Dern, who responded by shimmying in her seat in a way that rivaled any moves by John Travolta on the dance floor. But that bizarrely bold performance took place Saturday at the little-seen 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards, not Sunday’s Academy Awards, an event that seems more and more determined not to rock the boat.
Today’s Oscars, for better or worse, would never think for a moment to invite a host like Seth MacFarlane, who made his mark in 2013 by singing a number about celebrity breasts. In fact, for the second year in a row, the event proceeded without any host, dramatically reducing the chances of some comedian going rogue.
No surprise that the most scathing jokes of the whole evening came from a couple of former emcees, Steve Martin and Chris Rock, who poked fun at Jeff Bezos’ divorce and the running length of “The Irishman.” No one was hurt in the process.
They weren’t the only well-paired duos giving out awards. Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are such pros you almost didn’t notice that their bit about being clueless stars should have been part of the In Memoriam segment years ago. James Corden and Rebel Wilson showed they had thick skins by showing up in “Cats” costumes and pawing at the standing microphone.
Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, who used their stage time to “audition” for dramatic roles, were dynamite; they always are.
In fact, the case has never been stronger that they — or some other female combo from the “Saturday Night Live” family — should be front and center throughout the evening, especially if your goal is to throw a feel-good party that won’t trigger internet trolls.
Janelle Monáe did her best to set that tone in the opening, working hard to get the star-studded front row to sing along with her on “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Leonardo DiCaprio looked like he would rather be getting roasted by Ricky Gervais.
Props to broadcast director Glenn Weiss who has developed a second sense on which celebrities to cut to for reactions. Thanks to his instincts, we got Billie Eilish scrunching up her face when Wiig and Rudolph mangled “Blueberry Hill,” and “Marriage Story” director Noah Baumbach wiping away a tear as winner Dern thanked her parents.
Politics was set aside — for the most part.
“They told me I only have 45 seconds up here. That’s 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” said winner Brad Pitt, who still managed to be so charming in his put-down that Mitch McConnell would probably still seek his autograph.
Joaquin Phoenix went further. He spent so much of his acceptance speech getting emotional about animal rights and the power of redemption that he barely mentioned the film that got him to the podium.
There was a lot to be said throughout the night about the need for more women behind the scenes, a mantra that wouldn’t be necessary if the industry actually put more women in charge. Gal Gadot riffed on starting a fight club with Sigourney Weaver and Brie Larson. Men can join, she quipped, but losers “have to answer questions about what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood.”
Hildur Guðnadóttir, whose work on “Joker” makes her only the third woman to win for film scoring, was succinct, but strong in her acceptance speech.
“To all the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters, who hear music bubbling within, please speak up,” she said. “We need to hear your voices.”
Those moments struck a much deeper chord than the Oscars slightly forced attempts to show they really, really, really care abut diversity.
Whoever had the idea of having second-tier stars like Kelly Marie Tran introduce A-listers, probably had the best intentions in mind. But the impression it left was that the newcomers were just taking a break from parking cars.
A much more inventive idea was having Eminem show up to perform “Lose Yourself,” the song that won an Oscar in 2003. Some may grumble that the rap number has nothing to do with this year in movies, but there was no denying the look of pure boredom on Martin Scorsese’s face — and pure joy on the faces of just about everybody else.
The only thing missing was Dern dancing in the aisle.