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Oscars 1999: The Show

The 71st Academy Awards telecast was a riveting spectacle, filled with poignant speeches, high drama, and sidesplitting gaffes...we wish

Next year, could Jim Carrey be the host, please?

There were more laughs concentrated in Carrey's brief presentation of the film-editing Oscar — feigning a weeping breakdown over his own lack of a nomination for The Truman Show; pretending to get a paper cut opening the envelope — than there were in all the many squandered minutes of Whoopi Goldberg's assiduously self-congratulatory (''I'm crackin' myself up — it's alright, y'all catch up'') and determinedly lame hosting. Goldberg may have collaborated with comedy writer Bruce Vilanch to come up with the amusing idea of making an entrance in whiteface — a reversal of the unfunny blackface jape her ex-boyfriend Ted Danson perpetrated with her support at a Friars Club roast a few years ago — but did the host also need him for the double entendres about ''scoring,'' ''queens,'' ''beaver,'' and for the whimsical notion of using the S-word twice?

Just two years ago, Carrey was still using the stage of the Shrine Auditorium to talk through his butt; that he — and, all too briefly, Mike Myers — would prove the sole souls of wit at the 71st annual Academy Awards suggests the scattershot unpredictability of the night.

I still haven't figured out the purpose of Tom Hanks introducing John Glenn to introduce a montage of clips of mostly uninspired films about people ranging from Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe to James Stewart as Glenn Miller. The compilation was supposed to represent what exactly? People who made wise career decisions without the advice of Mike Ovitz? On the other hand, it always boosts the entertainment value of your Oscars when you get a winner who's willing to cross major celebrities' seats to get to the stage, quote Dante, and announce, ''My body is in tumult.'' Nick Nolte wouldn't have done that, no siree. Mr. Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor, Roberto Benigni, whose effusiveness turned into shtick pretty fast, had better moves than the five Debbie Allen-choreographed, normally brilliant dancers, who didn't even bother to dance in time to the nominated scores being played. Maybe their bodies were in tumult.

As for the Elia Kazan controversy, it will apparently never be settled: Does the guy pronounce his name EEL-ia or — the suddenly popular interpretation, but one frequently ignored on Oscar night — Ah-LIE-a? In either case, that which we craved — more extensive panning shots of the audience to see who besides Nick Nolte, Ed Harris, and Amy Madigan weren't applauding — went unfulfilled by producer Gil Cates. Instead, Kazan willed camera attention to himself by insisting that his award's presenters, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, come forward and flank him like the classy bodyguard/apologists they were.

For the dedicated TV viewer, of course, Oscar night means a whole lot more than just the Academy Awards ceremony itself. The two must-see camp events preceding the Oscars are Joan and Melissa Rivers' squawking early-bird coverage on the E! channel and Barbara Walters' traditional three-celeb bagatelle on ABC. Rivers mere outgrossed Whoopi right off the bat, throwing to the first commercial of her preshow coverage by saying ''Let's go to a break — I have to douche.'' Gee, who'da thunk the savage parody of Joan as a bloodsucking witch that ran the night before on Saturday Night Live wasn't crude enough?

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