Liz Smith: Oscar Night — Meryl Wins Her “Iron” Gold, But the Winner Is … Ellen DeGeneres?

Our Liz critiques the big night

“SUSAN’S FINALLY won. Thank heaven. Now we can all relax!”

That was producer Walter Wanger back in 1959, expressing the relief of an industry that his star, Susan Hayward, finally took home the Oscar gold on her fifth try for her film “I Want to Live!”

There was probably a similar sentiment on Sunday night, when Meryl Streep ascended the podium at the Hollywood and Highland Center Theater (no longer The Kodak), accepting her statuette for “The Iron Lady.” Miss Streep has been famously nominated 17 times, and already has two Academy Awards. But they were given to her way back in the Paleolithic era, when people still used VCRs, cell phones were the size of your head, and nobody could even imagine the Internet or 24-hour cable news stations. Since the, Streep’s been nominated endlessly, but always smiled gamely as somebody else won. It became ridiculous, for a variety of reasons. And so Meryl’s Maggie Thatcher nabbed her a third award, which she richly deserved.

Perhaps Miss Streep was genuinely surprised. Viola Davis was running neck-and-neck, and Glenn Close, a five-time nomine, is overdue for Oscar dazzle on her own bookshelf. But Meryl certainly dressed like a winner, in glittering, draped gold, determined to be all matchy-matchy with her statuette. (The only other woman in gold I spotted at the ceremony was George Clooney’s towering trophy, Stacy Kiebler.)

Anyway, Meryl won. We can relax. And Meryl may have been correct when she joked, “I know I’ll never be up here again.” (Oh, she’ll be there “presenting” but odds are, she won’t be nominated again, until maybe she’s 75. She is a vibrant 62 at this moment of triumph.)

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AS TO the big wins for “The Artist,” time will tell if this charming, virtually unseen film goes down as truly Oscar-worthy. But what the hell does that matter to Harvey Weinstein, who is king of the hill again — he also released “The Iron Lady” in the U.S., and he had a nominee in Michelle Williams. The Drudge Report hailed him with a photo and a headline: “Harveywood!”

I am pleased about Woody Allen’s original screenplay win for “Midnight In Paris” (which would have been my best picture choice) … and the one for 82 year-old Christopher Plummer … for the darling Octavia Spencer, who must be a darling. How else to explain her standing ovation? The industry is guilty that talented women of color are still given short shrift? And no matter how anybody spins it, “The Help” was a movie about black people conceived to make white people feel good. Candy-coated civil rights history. Brilliantly acted, but manipulative to the max.

Jean Dujardin, who won Best Actor, seemed truly surprised and moved. And I loved that he was cuddling Uggie the dog at the end!

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THE SHOW? Well, it was competent. It didn’t sit there like a lox, exactly. But excitement was hard to come by. Billy Crystal played it safe, and that was fine. (Especially if you happened to catch Seth Rogan’s profanity-filled hosting job for the Independent Spirit Awards, held on Saturday in Santa Monica. Crude and stupid.)

I liked the little snippets of various stars — from Julia Roberts to Ed Norton to Barbra Streisand — talking about what movies mean to them, what a great movie is, and why they wanted to make movies. The show could have used more of that. Some of the onstage interplay was amusing — Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey JrEmma Stone and Ben Stiller. The evening program moved reasonably well, if not exactly like a locomotive. The glamour quotient was so-so, despite the insistence of some that Jennifer Lopez briefly popped out of her gown. I thought Miss Paltrow’s simple white number — which she wore with a cape on the red-carpet — was elegant. As was Penelope Cruz’s sea-foam blue number. And Natalie Portman in vintage red Dior, with glittering diamonds at her neck, was a petite, lovely throwback to Audrey Hepburn. With the exception of Miss Lopez’s skintight effort, there was no real vulgarity, which is always welcome on Oscar night. (Not that Jennifer looked really vulgar. She did wear her hair in a ladylike, snatched-up chignon. Although it somewhat resembled a breakfast croissant.)

All the major men looked terrific in their tuxes or designer suits — Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, and Tom Cruise, who was a knockout. You’d never know he’s fast approaching fifty. Still boyish and still with the smile that slays. (But, a note to all you guys — black tux shirts are horrible and make a deadly impression.)

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TO be totally honest, the most entertaining aspects of the Oscar telecast were Ellen DeGeneres’ JCPenney commercials. Hilarious. I especially loved the one where Ellen is back in ancient times. “I want to return this toga,” she says to a vendor. Asked when she bought it, Ellen deadpans. “Back around the time the locusts arrived. When was that? When were the locusts?” Forget the awards, I could have had a better time with three hours of Ellen.

* * *

MORE FUN was had on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, right after the Oscars. He brought on Oprah Winfrey, straight from the theater, where she had taken a bow for receiving her Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar. Miss Winfrey and Mr. Kimmel get on like a house afire. She was super-relaxed, funny,and  said she wanted to do more acting. Then Jimmy showed a comic skit he and Oprah had filmed. It was pretty great. “I used to have standards before I met you!” said Oprah, cheerfully.

Anyway, the awards season ended with a great big bang for my pal Harvey Weinstein. If this Oscarcast seemed a bit muffled to the rest of us — or at least to some of us — we are probably unrealistically nostalgic about past awards shows and movie stars. This is what we’ve got now, folks. It ain’t Joan Crawford and Clark Gable — but it ain’t chopped liver, either.

P.S. Oh, and the memorials were stunning and sweet. Especially Miss Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra” wink at the end.

7 comments so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I didn’t watch for years. But got curious this year. Mainly because of the “return” of Billy Crystal. Hopefully the Academy will realize that some of us really do miss the old elegance and the old “decorum” and will stick with the winner they had this year. Particularly Billy Crystal.

    As for the “red carpet” I suspect what Hollywood needs most are new “image consultants” to help with the hair and gowns. For the most part this year it seemed to work for most. Except for Jennifer Lopez. Who seems to be channeling the old “sex bombs” of yesteryear. She needs to “change channels.” Lots of jokes. My favorite is the “looks like her plastic surgeon forgot where the implants went.”  T&A as they say. Without the T.  

  2. avatar Tee Zee says:

    Maybe just maybe Ellen will host the Oscars next year…Cheers!

    • avatar rick gould says:

      The Academy turns themselves inside out every year to come up with a “fresh” approach and always promise to cut back on the music numbers, montages and comic bits, and whaddya get? Music numbers, montages, and bits. And a bad “concept.”

      KISS…Keep It Simple, Stupid!

      Stars, film clips of pertinent films, speeches and get it done under 3 hours!
      And a straightforward, classy host.
      Ellen would be an excellent choice.

      • avatar JCF4612 says:

        Loved Billy Cristal, Ellen’s commercials, the look back in memoriam thankfully slotting Whitney into place without overkill, and the overall elegance of this Oscar presentation, with sophisticated acceptances like Christopher Plummer’s.

        Still it seem’s silly to rush a winner like Octavia off the stage, when lesser production types (frequently in groups) get to go on and on forever about how difficult it was to get backing for the film, etc. All of these folks except for, say, best director, cinemetographer and costume designer need to be shuffled off to some pre-Oscar event to gush their thanks to insiders. Let the Oscar evening for the viewing public be held to no more than 2.5 hours, keep focus on the stars, and stop the silly search for a fresh approach. Fresh, funky, and tacky never works.

        Oh, and do we seem to have a shortage of stars? What’s Gwyneth done in the movies lately that we should be so everlastingly fixated what she wears or whether she’s even there?       

  3. avatar Ellen Apgar says:

    “… odds are, she won’t be nominated again, until maybe she’s 75.”  Liz, we’re talking about Meryl Streep here!  There’s no doubt in my mind that she will be nominated over and over again well before she turns 75!

  4. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    Surely Ms. Streep will be nominated and may even win again. I believe Katharine Hepburn was past sixty when she won her second Oscar, and she went on to win two more.

    There was more elegance and glamour in this year’s Oscar telecast than in recent years, I thought. I especially liked Penelope Cruz’s lovely gown, and I was quite struck by how flattering and lovely Octavia Spencer’s gown was. Her dressmaker knows how to dress her.

    I am glad Elizabeth Taylor was given pride of place in the memorial tribute. Her final “wink” was, as Ms. Smith suggests, a splendid way to end that.

    I thought the Wizard of Oz preview audience skit was pretty awful, but the show had its entertaining moments.

  5. avatar Aline says:

    So happy for Octavia Spencer. She was just getting ready to say some good stuff in her acceptance speech when they rudely cut her off. Really pissed me off.
    Meryl Streep did not even acknowledge Viola Davis (who should have won) or any of the other Best Actress nominees. I am quite frankly sick of Meryl.
    It would be a nice touch if any of the winners would acknowledge the movie-going fans who keep them employed.
    Loved the Ellen commercials.
    Penelope Cruz was the most gorgeous of the evening.
    Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow were dull as usual, especially with the blond hair and white dresses; so washed out looking. I wish they would just go away and take their room temperature IQs with them.
    And hooray for Christopher Plummer!!