The day before the 77th Annual Academy Awards, Sideways costar Thomas Haden Church was asked if he thought there could be some surprise winners at this year’s ceremony. ”I hope there are,” the Best Supporting Actor nominee responded. ”If it was straight down the middle and everything was exactly what everyone predicted, it wouldn’t be very interesting.”
Church’s hopes for an upset may have been dashed, but the final awards show of the season at least provided excitement for the winners. When all was said and done inside the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 27, virtually all of the front-runners, from Million Dollar Baby director Clint Eastwood to acting faves Jamie Foxx, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, and Cate Blanchett to the writing teams behind Sideways and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, added another victory to their rosters. Even the one major category that didn’t echo its guild-award counterpart — Best Picture — wasn’t really a shock: Though The Aviator scored the Producers Guild prize, most Oscar prognosticators were forecasting a Million Dollar night. ”This was the most predictable Oscars ever!” pronounced Elton John at his annual AIDS-research fund-raising bash after the ceremony.
But if the trophies didn’t prompt much chatter, the show itself inspired plenty of conversation among attendees, especially at the bar. (Which, by the way, is where everyone seemed to be during the show: In the future, the Academy might want to consider springing for a few dozen more seat fillers or cutting back on those balcony shots.) After weeks of hype surrounding host Chris Rock and his allegedly controversial remarks (originally printed in EW) about the Oscar viewership, attendees were anxious to hear his sure-to-be-daring material. ”That guy’s a rock star,” said Super Size Me Best Documentary Feature nominee Morgan Spurlock on the red carpet. ”I think he may tone it down a little bit, but believe me, he’s gonna put a lot of Rock in there.”
Within minutes of taking the stage, Rock was quickly shortening the list of actors who will ever work with him. In explaining his theory that there are only four real movie stars in the world, Rock opined, ”Clint Eastwood’s a star, Tobey Maguire’s just a boy in tights,” and spent a good minute disparaging the recently ubiquitous Jude Law. ”I thought it was funny,” said Hotel Rwanda Best Actor nominee Don Cheadle. ”I was just saying ‘Just please keep my name out of your mouth.”’ (TV’s younger audiences must have liked what Rock was cooking; despite a 2 million overall dip in viewership from last year, the show’s 18- to 34-year-old watchers were up 4 percent.)
Other Oscargoers were a bit more measured in their praise of the host. Asked to give a review of Rock’s opening monologue, R&B singer Usher paused, then said, ”Um…hey, man, that’s comedy. Chris Rock has always managed to be offensive and yet fun at the same time.” Indeed, Rock’s often-touchy material caused palpable tension in the Kodak Theatre seats. ”I felt like his mother in the audience,” Oprah Winfrey told EW at the Governors Ball. ”’Oh, don’t go there. Oh, come back.’ I thought he walked the line perfectly. I don’t know if Jude Law will think the same.” (Winfrey also complained aloud that Rock didn’t have nearly enough stage time — though most viewers weren’t complaining about the ceremony’s relatively speedy 3-hour, 12-minute running time.)