MaryAnn's Oscar Wrap-Up

Okay, let's be clear about one thing: Al Gore did not win an Oscar. The subjects of documentaries do not win Oscars; the folks who make documentaries win Oscars. I love the newly energized Gore and I love An Inconvenient Truth, and I have no doubt that if we're going to avert the worst impact of global warming we're going to be thanking Gore for getting us started. So I'm delighted that the film won and I'm delighted to acknowledge that it was the power of Gore's message that is responsible for that, but let's be clear about one thing: Al Gore did not win an Oscar. He may have won the White House, but he did not win an Oscar.

Martin Scorsese, on the other hand, won an Oscar, at long last. And hoorah for him. Funny, though, how he looked happier for his old friend Thelma Schoonmaker, who won for editing The Departed. Maybe he was sensing the dramatic change in tenor at this year's ceremony, and what it might mean for him: this might be his one and only Oscar, no matter how many great films he's still to give us (and I think there's quite a few). The fresh and cheeky tone of last night's show made it feel like the kids had crashed the grown-ups' party and were taking over -- this was not our grandparents' Oscars. This is the first time the Oscars had any kind of spirit that felt like us, like Generation X. Maybe the opening montage, which aped Apple TV commercials, tried a tad too hard, but after that, it was all good. C'mon: Ellen DeGeneres hosted as a fangirl, genuinely enthusiastic about where she was was and what she was doing -- look, Ma, I'm at the Oscars! -- but enough of an outsider that she could come across as warm and genuine in her fannishness. That sound effects choir? How geeky was that?

And it wasn't just a gentle new appreciation for the goofy that set the ceremony apart but the meta quality of it all. Ellen spoofed being a fan as much as she actually was a fan, trying to foist a "screenplay" off on Marty and getting Spielberg to take her picture with Clint Eastwood ... and of course that image will show up on MySpace today, as Ellen promised it would. The sense of humor last night was unquestionably of a breezier flavor than the stodgy old cabaret nonsense we've gotten used to. (If you played along with the Oscar Drinking Game, you didn't get very drunk, because this ceremony specifically avoided much of what we've come to see as clichéd about the Oscars, or actively sent up those clichés ... like playing Gore off the stage in the middle of his "major announcement.") There was a chummy inclusiveness about this year's awards that wasn't about fame but about youth and coolness -- Peter O'Toole looked lost and confused when Jack Black and Will Ferrell called him out from the stage during their "lament" about comedy getting no respect, but Helen Mirren was in on the not-really-a-joke joke, so she gets a pass for hipness. It's not that any of the 30- and 40-something Hollywood generation were new in town, but some tipping point was passed this year, and all of a sudden, Xer attitude was the dominant one.

And it wasn't just in the flavor of the show but in who won -- and who didn't -- too. Just a few years ago, with this same slate of nominees, Peter O'Toole would have been a shoo-in for Best Actor, purely for sentimental reasons. A few years ago, Babel, with its complicated plotting hiding an easy morality, would have swept. But not this year. This year, the big winner is The Departed, the film in which ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, cop and criminal get jumbled in what looks like a popcorn movie and feels like Shakespearean drama. Something shifted at the Academy, and the Oscars felt more like what I like at the movies, and less like what my parents like.

Of course, this kind of transition is bound to sit poorly with some -- which of the Oscar writers thought it would be a good idea to highlight, as the award in his category was about to be announced, that Mark Wahlberg had been arrested 25 times as a kid? That kind of snark -- meanspirited snark -- we can do without. It didn't seem to faze Wahlberg, and the joke will be on that writer when he does win an Oscar someday. Besides, as Ellen said, they love it at the Oscars when you come from the Bronx (which I do!), and Mark's from South Boston, which is practically the same thing.

MaryAnn Johanson
author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride
minder of