Michael Moore Rants On The War, Steve Martin Delivers Zingers Galore: By Kurt Loder

First of all, how relieved were you not to be subjected to three-and-a-half hours of preening anti-war moral instruction from a parade of Malibu millionaires? Even Barbra Streisand, that lovable, out-of-control diva, limited herself to praising the American tradition of free speech, "even for artists."

(There appears to be a widespread delusion within the celebrity community that somebody has passed a law prohibiting them from declaiming their political opinions at every possible podium. Until the right-wing talk-show harridan Ann Coulter ascends to the presidency, this probably won't happen.)

Most of the war references were of a restrained, support-the-troops and pray-for-peace variety. Who could disagree? Steve Martin — one of the best Oscar hosts, back for his second go-round — dedicated the whole show to "our young men and women overseas"

(see "'Chicago' Dances Away With Six Oscars; Eminem's Will Be Mailed To Him").

The only exception, not at all unexpected, was Michael Moore, who won the best documentary feature award for "Bowling for Columbine." Moore brought all of the losing nominees in his category up onstage with him as a show of "solidarity." (Uh oh.) He then launched into a raving denunciation of "our fictitious president," which ... okay, a lot of people feel this way. But Moore's spittle-flecked ululations were so over-the-top, that even the Oscar crowd — his natural constituency, you might think — erupted in a storm of boos. This was totally unexpected.

Apart from that, there were few surprises. Well, one: Eminem's "Lose Yourself" trumping the competition for best original song (a category that included the annoying "I Move On" from "Chicago") was pretty startling. The only thing left for Em to win now is ... I don't know, the papacy?

Last year was a good year for good movies, and in several of the major categories, a deserving winner could have been selected simply by throwing a dart at the list of nominees. However, it was especially gratifying to see Chris Cooper win the best supporting actor award for his singular performance in "Adaptation." ("I wish us all peace," he said, on the verge of tears.) And to have the late Conrad L. Hall win the best cinematography prize for "Road to Perdition" was equally just.

I don't know about "Chicago" winning best picture. Is it a better film than "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"? "The Hours"? "The Pianist"? Really?

Actually, "The Pianist" did very well, especially for its star, Adrien Brody, who won the best actor award and got to run up onstage and plant an unusually enthusiastic kiss — possibly a tongue-kiss — on Halle Berry.

And who would have predicted Roman Polanski winning the best director award for "The Pianist"? Polanski fled the country 25 years ago after being charged with the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. (Now a grown woman, she recently proclaimed a qualified forgiveness, or at least indifference.) He has lived as a fugitive in Paris ever since, so of course he wasn't on hand to pick up his statuette. (He would have been arrested if he were.) He got a standing ovation anyway.

The show was briskly directed; it moved right along. Steve Martin fired off zingers nonstop. (He saluted Mickey Mouse as "one of the most beloved black actors in the history of cinema.") And Meryl Streep, bringing on the 70-year-old Peter O'Toole for one of those vague, sorry-we-shafted-you-for-the-last-40-years "honorary" awards, was actually poetic. Streep praised O'Toole's "fierce grace," and celebrated his famously aquamarine orbs: "He has a light in his eyes as if he'd swallowed a pale-blue moon."

What an eloquent thing to say. It almost evaporated the memory of Michael Moore's witless flip-out earlier in the show. I say almost.     

Kurt Loder