Overview of stage and audience

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All images Copyright © 2008 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and used with permission. Click here to see the complete list of all of the nominees and winners.

Penelope Cruz

Anne Hathaway

Jennifer Garner

Hilary Swank

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OSCARS 2008: The Last Word
A Review of the 80th Annual Academy Awards

- By Diane Clehane

I have spent the better part of the last decade making the annual trek out to Los Angeles to cover the Oscars. I have stood in stifling heat on the red carpet in an evening gown at three in the afternoon the day of the awards waiting hours for the arrivals to begin all while trying to defend my two feet of real estate behind the inconveniently placed hedgerow that protects the stars from the over zealous journalists (Like the ones I always seem to get stationed next to). How glamorous! One year, my ‘credential’ only allowed me to sit in the press bleachers (Why bother?). I spent the afternoon chatting with the comedian D.L Hughley who was covering for the “Los Angeles Times” before we were herded into the cavernous press room with hundreds of other reporters where it was nearly impossible to see the show I was being paid to cover.

Imagine my delight having discovered the best place to cover this year’s ceremony turned out to my living room in Scarsdale.

A few weeks ago I decided that if Graydon Carter was going to sit this one out, who was I to argue? I decided to forego the inevitable six hour delayed flight to LAX to scour the by now passé swag suites and bow out from the frenetic 48 hour period of insanity that is known as ‘Oscar weekend’ to do my reporting from home. After all, most of the best dish is gotten at the parties and if they weren’t having a lot of them – most notably the Vanity Fair bash ‘out of respect for the writers,’ I couldn’t crash them -- so what’s the point of schlepping out there for nothing?

So, with my three year old daughter sequestered in her room with her favorite Blue’s Clue’s DVD on auto play, I settled in at five o’clock to watch E!’s preshow. Let me just say this: the netlet’s crew on deck for the evening made Joan and Melissa Rivers look like Woodward and Bernstein by comparison. Host Ryan Seacrest’s cringe inducing questioning of the attendees was truly baffling. Did he really bring those dolls along so he could play Barbies with “Enchanted” stars Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey? He actually asked the very pregnant Jessica Alba if she intended to breast feed. (Someone has some serious mommy issues) The clueless ‘American Idol’ host seemed to spend much of the rest of the evening fanning the flames of his man crush on George Clooney. Rather than focus on Tom Wilkinson’s well-deserved nomination for best supporting actor, he badgered Clooney’s “Michael Clayton” costar with breathless, gee whiz questions about what it was like to work him. (He did the same to best supporting actress nominee Tilda Swinton later on, but at least he let her talk about herself long enough for her to reveal she’d never even seen an Oscar show before. Interesting.) When Clooney and his girl friend former Vegas cocktail waitress Sarah Larson were ushered over to Seacrest by the star’s publicist Stan Rosenfeld, the actor wisely seemed to not want to get too close to him. Was it me or was George actually leaning away from his biggest fan? Undaunted, Seacrest inexplicably asked the actor what he had done for Valentine’s Day and then further embarrassed himself by inquiring if a story he’d read about Clooney and his latest love strolling along the beach in Malibu until they happened on a dream house – and made an offer to buy it on the spot to the owners was true. The usually unflappable Clooney hid his annoyance by laughing it off but I’m guessing it will be a while before Stan sets Ryan up with his biggest client again any time soon. And as if that wasn’t enough when “Juno” costar Jason Bateman pulled up immediately after Clooney, Seacrest begged him to muss up George’s hair. By then I was screaming at the television – Enough already!

Seacrest was proven even further out of his depth when the strangest television moment of the night occurred shortly afterwards when Gary “How did he get in here?” Busey crashed his interview with nominee Laura Linney and Jennifer Garner. (Forget about who wins and who loses this year, this incident is sure to be the most blogged about from the entire evening) Seacrest proved no match for Busey who commandeered the moment by offering Linney a gentlemanly congratulations and ‘God bless you’ before manhandling a truly frightened looking Garner who seemed not to know who the actor. (She later referred to him as “this man.”) Both Seacrest and Garner seemed genuinely shaken by the turn of events which left both of them asking, ‘Where’s Ben?’ Then, before Seacrest could stop them – or ask Garner about her dress -- both women scurried away to safety.

Over on ABC things weren’t much better. When Ryan and the gang mercifully signed off at 8 (and my daughter was tucked into bed), I checked in on the official Oscar preshow. Why do these always stink? Seriously. Say what you want about Joan Rivers but give the woman back her rightful place on the carpet and you’d actually have a show that people would enjoy and would serve up some real dish. (Just asking -- but what happened to Randolph Duke’s face?) You’d think with Regis Philbin doing the asking the interviews would have the same relaxed feel they have on his daytime chatfest. No such luck. Even Philbin gushed over Clooney exclaiming that “everyone in this town wanted to be Cary Grant, now they want to be George Clooney.” Clooney, who by that time must have been regretting that decision to be the first A-lister to arrive on the red carpet volleyed back, “That’s because he’s dead.” For the rest of the show, Reege acted as if he was on the lam racing through his conversations at breakneck speed. Why, so he could wind up the show interviewing the winners of an online auction for two coveted bleachers seats? The final embarrassment came inside the Kodak Theatre when he was offering viewers what was, at first, the only interesting glimpse of the preshow festivities. As he walked on to the stage and down the stairs leading to the front row where the A-listers had settled in, he ran down the names of who he’d spotted -- George! Jack! Xavier??? We’ll give him a pass on mispronouncing Bardem’s first name (perhaps it’s because the name he mistakenly uttered was the middle of name of his just born first grandchild) but it wasn’t a great way to close the show.

.Back for his second time as host, Jon Stewart seemed like an inspired and natural choice for this year’s show but his remarks were generally less polished than they could have been perhaps due to the fact that he had less than a week to prepare for his hosting gig. Some routines fell flat like his joke about Dennis Hopper which relied on the audience to remember the actor’s drug fueled years. The bit seemed more than a little dated given the fact that half the actors in attendance were too young to know what Stewart was talking about. In his opening monologue (which contained a little too much political humor for my dollar) he joked that after the fighting and bitterness the town had engaged in during the now over Writer’s Strike the Oscars was akin to “the makeup sex.” Only if you were George Costanza. Talk about an anti-climax. Why, oh why, after a season of no show award shows did the producers decide to wait almost forty five minutes to hand out the first acting award. Best Costume Design? That’s the way to kick things into high gear for sure! And poor Amy Adams singing ‘The Happy Working Song’ on a bare stage (Where are those damned animated Disney characters when you really need them?) And by the way, if the best the writers can come up with for their introduction of Patrick Dempsey is to describe the actor as “the versatile and handsome Patrick Dempsey,” I think everyone should head back to the negotiating table.

Nicole Kidman

Cate Blanchett

The entire production had an oddly self-conscious feel to it. The decision to introduce the ‘In Memoriam’ segment with dates flashed on the big screen (I don’t remember seeing those included before) and close with a shot of Heath Ledger from “Brokeback Mountain” seemed very awkward for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m also wondering if the producers are now second guessing their decision to leave in the other countless clip montages as filler that were undoubtedly prepared in the event that the show had to go ahead with the strike still unsettled. Images of the exuberant spontaneity of past winners like Cuba Gooding, Jr. and the touching remarks of icons Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne and even Barbra Streisand seem to cast this season’s winners in the uncomfortable roles as members of the junior class.

In fairness, there were several touching and (somewhat) memorable moments. Best actress Marion Cotillard was utterly charming as she struggled to find the words to thank the academy. “You rocked my life,” she breathlessly enthused. “It is true there are some angels in this city.” Best supporting actress Tilda Swinton was genuinely shocked by her win (As was, I’m sure, sentimental favorite Ruby Dee). She recovered nicely and ended her time at the podium with a shout out to – you guessed it! – George Clooney! Best supporting actor Javier Bardem brought his mother to tears with his personal thank you to her delivered in Spanish. Screenwriter Diablo Cody, clearly overwhelmed by winning for best original screenplay, had to literally turn away from the camera after thanking her family for “loving me for who I am.” Ironically, Stewart had his best – and unscripted -- moment of the evening with one of the awardees when he brought back best original song winner Marketa Irglova to finish her acceptance speech which had been cut short by a commercial break.

With no one picture sweeping the awards and the acting Oscars all going to foreign actors for the first time since the sixties, the ceremony -- despite its call sheet of old and young Hollywood -- seemed to lack the buzz that only high star wattage can deliver. When “No Country for Old Men” won the top prize of the evening it was pretty much in keeping with the overall slightly indifferent, lethargic mood of the night. Not surprisingly, the telecast was Oscar’s lowest rated ever.

Since there was little suspense – or interest, frankly – over who would win or lose this year, it was left to the last red carpet of this truncated award season to deliver the glamour that viewers and the heavily vested fashion crowd were hungering for. Unfortunately, the result was equally lack luster.

Jessica Alba.

Before you fashionistas work yourself into a snit, hear me out. Yes, there were plenty of pretty dresses (and God knows too many red ones!) but there was no stand outs. Go ahead, name one person who took your breath away when you saw them? Come on, George Clooney doesn’t count. And note to Sarah Larson: when you have the best accessory imaginable on your arm you might want to pick a dress that has some life to it. This is a woman who should have been wearing the Versace dress Patrick Dempsey’s wife was wearing. The pastel floral Valentino looked like it was left over from a Palm Beach deb ball circa 1999.

I knew there was going to be trouble when, in the week leading up to the awards, there was literally no buzz about the year’s most important fashion show otherwise known as the Oscar red carpet arrivals. The usual deluge of pitches from over zealous publicists that clog my email had dwindled to a trickle. “People really aren’t talking about dresses at all,” one LA based stylist told me. “There are no huge campaigns being launched to woo people by designers. People don’t know what to do.” One designer explained it this way: “We had less than two weeks with the strike being called off to make dresses. Unless you were going with a sure thing, it was going to be an even more of a speculative venture than it is every year. I know a lot of people who just were ready to write this one off and gear up again next year.”

Jennifer Hudson

Renee Zellweger

That said, the red carpet regulars knew they still needed to show up camera ready and were quietly securing dresses with the idea that the show would go on somehow. “We made the decision to dress one nominee only a while ago,” says one designer rep. “Once we knew we had her, we didn’t try to do anything else because everything was just too iffy.”

In a year when one would think there would have been plenty of reason to go for best dressed honors, most actresses played it too safe – or just didn’t really seem to care all that much. Even the squadron of red dresses – with the exception of Anne Hathaway’s gorgeous Marchesa (which all but erased her unfortunate choice of last year’s faux bowed Valentino) – cancelled each other out. The American Heart association must have been thrilled. Actresses who thought they would stand out from the crowd, not so much. Can’t you just see the endless photo montages of ‘Red Haute!’ in the tabloids?

For all the talk about color, the evening’s best dressed chose to wear oh so serious black and navy. There were no ‘Wow’ moments but this trio of gals pulled themselves together beautifully. Penelope Cruz (for the second year in a row) gets my vote for the evening’s best dressed star for wearing her midnight Chanel Haute Couture dress with such grace and enthusiasm. She also gets extra points for having red carpet ready hair and the perfect Chopard jewels. Chopard, by the way, won the bling broker derby snagging many of the evening’s most elegant women – but everything was understated to say the least. All those strapless, one shoulder gowns were missed opportunities that I’m sure have jewelers on both coasts gnashing their teeth.

I’ll even excuse Jennifer Garner for stealing Cameron Diaz’s (a complete disaster) bedhead look because I loved her jet black Oscar de la Renta Flamenco dress and Van Cleef jewels (one of the only real statement necklace of the night) so much. Hilary Swank, who hasn’t always done well by Versace, also looked very much like the star she is in Donatella’s latest creation offset by the perfect Chopard (again!) earrings that I’d kill to own. Yes, the dress was a bit fussy, but it fit her perfectly, showed off her killer bod and, unlike most of the women there, Swank looked like she actually had a say in what she wore and liked it. Note to Jennifer Garner: the effusive thanks offered to Rachel Zoe during the ABC preshow made you sound like you don’t get out much and do your all shopping at Target. We get your just a ‘regular gal’ -- who happens to be married to Ben Affleck -- but you’re a movie star for goodness sakes!

Marion Cotillard

Cameron Diaz

Surprisingly, some of the fail-safe best dressers were the biggest disappointments. Nicole Kidman’s black Balenciaga was blah. The L’Wren Scott necklace distracted from her flawless face and seemed an after-thought. I will say, though, Kidman is by far the most radiant pregnant woman I have ever seen and facially, she looked more beautiful than ever. Speaking of ‘bump watch’ (a truly wretched tabloid term that has found its way into pop culture), I thought Jessica Alba’s Marchesa looked like she plucked it from the J.Lo reject pile with its descending and distracting row of feathers – and the milk maid hair was wrong, wrong wrong! Cate Blanchett’s oddly hemmed Dries Van Noten did nothing for her. But again, I don’t think she was overly concerned about it.

Kudos to Keri Russell. Her Nina Ricci was a terrific choice. Ironically, the neutral color made her stand apart from the red menace. It fit beautifully, was perfectly suited to her delicate frame and features – and big score – she looked totally comfortable in it. Loved the H. Stern necklace. Bravo!

I’m still not sure about the Jean Paul Gaultier mermaid dress – complete with fish scales -- worn by best actress winner Marion Cotillard but that hardly seems the point. The dress isn’t the same degree of fashion faux pas it would have been if someone like Renee Zellweger (who committed her own crime of fashion in a silver Carolina Herrera that looked like she borrowed it from the wardrobe from “Chicago.” Time for a new look Renee!) The more I saw Cotillard in her dress, the more it seemed to suit the lovely actress. Ditto for best supporting actress Tilda Swinton’s much maligned voluminous Lanvin. Let’s face it -- the actress looks as if she landed in Los Angeles from Neptune, so her choice of a gown that could easily have been the uniform on a planet once visited by Captain Kirk seemed oddly right for her. And an Oscar in hand can brighten any look.

In a night where there were no outlandishly bad outfits (sigh), there were plenty of misses. Instead of looking like the fresh young star that she is, Ellen Page looked downright dowdy in a shapeless vintage Jean Louis Scherrer. Cameron Diaz opted for a pink bedsheet by Dior instead of the white one she wore last year. And what’s with the ‘I could give a damn’ hair? A little lipstick wouldn’t have killed her, either. Maybe her best pal Drew Barrymore could send over a few of those Cover Girl Lip Slicks she gets for free. Poor Julie Christie – she actually designed that disaster she was wearing herself with her stylist. And the pink gloves! Yikes! Finally, Jennifer Hudson managed to outdo herself in selecting an even more unflattering dress than last year’s. There was too much skin sticking out of her white Roberto Cavalli in the back. And from the front, it looked like a mini space ship had landed where her breasts should have been. Get Rachel Zoe’s number from Jennifer Garner – now!

Left: Patrick Dempsey

Left: Jason Bateman

With the exception of fashion eccentrics Daniel Day Lewis (he’s just too damn talented and nice to diss) and Johnny Depp (Does it really matter what he wears?), the guys looked pretty good. For the title of the evening’s best dressed man, it’s a tie between two television stars who are undergoing the always interesting metamorphosis into movie stars. For my money, Patrick Dempsey finally earned his ‘McDreamy’ moniker last night and dazzled in Versace. ‘Arrested Development’ star (and former child actor – remember ‘Valerie’s Family?’) “Juno’s” Jason Bateman looked absolutely gorgeous in his Dolce & Gabbana tux. He stood just out of reach of the long shadow George Clooney cast on the red carpet when the sun finally poked through the dark clouds that had brought rain just a few minutes earlier

All in all, I got a bird’s eye view of the festivities while never having to set foot out of Westchester. Did you happen to notice that most of the ‘on location’ fashion reporters were perched high atop the carpet or sequestered at some nearby hotel watching the whole thing on a monitor anyway. Why travel to LA to watch television? That makes absolutely no sense. Unless, of course, a stay at Hotel Bel Air is involved. I was perfectly happy in my pajamas in glamorous Scarsdale. I even stayed up into the wee hours watching the back stage press conference with the winners at the Kodak Theatre (It’s televised on E! but thankfully Seacrest was no where in sight) and the goings on at the Governor’s Ball. Nothing much to report from there.


Then I toddled off to bed.

I was asleep in no time.

- Diane Clehane is Lookonline’s Entertainment Editor. She is the author of several New York Times best sellers and is currently at work on a memoir. She writes the popular ‘Lunch’ column for mediabistro.com . Email her at DClehane@aol.com

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