The 77th Academy Awards opened with an array of film images from the serious to South Park. The night went mostly as expected, with Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator coming out on top.
In the spirit of Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal, host Chris Rock opened the show with his signature aggressive comedy. He almost immediately poked fun at Hollywood’s mass production of mediocre movies. Rock repeatedly says, “If you can’t get a star, wait.” He then defines a star as someone such as Clint Eastwood ,contrasting him against Tobey Maguire as just a boy in tights. Rock continued bashing Hollywood for the lack of guts to make controversial films such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ. In usual Rock style, he angrily pronounces the fact that there were six Police Academies but it was a struggle to make just one Passion.
Halle Berry was the first presenter of the evening for the category of Best Art Direction. The Aviator took its first of six awards. Yet, winner Dante Ferretti did not rush up to the stage from the audience in the traditional fashion. This year, the Academy tried a new format for handing out some of the Oscars in an effort to reduce the length of the show. In the technical categories, the nominees were lined up on stage with the winners coming to the forefront to accept their prize. Some of the categories, such as Short Animated Film and Best Live Action Short, did not even get the honor of standing on stage. Instead, a microphone was placed arbitrarily in the audience with the winners rushing to the stand to say their thanks.
Best Supporting Actor was the first major award of the evening, going to Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby. Freeman in his classy manor accepted the award thanking Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank. He humbly said the film was a “labor of love.”
In contrast to Freeman’s quiet style, Robin Williams was appropriately the presenter for Animated Feature. He went into a speech dissecting the sexual orientation of cartoon characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Donald Duck. He teased film legends such as Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro, who lent their voices to the animated feature Shark Tale. Brad Bird, the creator of the Incredibles and voice of the character Edna Mole, accepted the Oscar from Williams.
Recording artists performed all the songs nominated in the Best Original Song category for the big show. Beyonce Knowles performed the first song, “Look to Your Path,” in French, from the film The Chorus. Beyonce also performed “Learn to Be Lonely” from The Phantom of the Opera, and “Believe” with Josh Groban from The Polar Express. After all the songs had been performed, Prince presented the Oscar to Jorge Drexler for “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” from The Motorcycle Diaries, which was performed by Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana.
In the middle of the show, Rock did a segment where he visited the Magic Johnson Theatre to get the real audience opinion on the year’s best films. In this hilarious piece, people state films such as Alien vs. Predator and Saw were the best. While none of these patrons had seen nominees such as The Aviator or Sideways, all had seen White Chicks.
Cate Blanchett had only one former nomination in the Best Actress category for her role in Elizabeth and received her first win for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. Blanchett accepted the award humbly, thanking Scorsese and Ms. Hepburn herself.
Flurries of little gold men were handed out in the smaller categories with The Aviator taking Cinematography, Film Editing and Costume.
Sideways received the honor of Best Adapted Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Charlie Kaufman received his first writing Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay and the only award for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kaufman had been passed before for his screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.
Toward the end of the show, the excitement came to a head as the nominees were announced for Best Actress. The race between Annette Bening and Hilary Swank ended with Swank as the victor for Million Dollar Baby. Swank’s win makes her the youngest actress to receive two Academy Awards for Best Actress. Swank remained calm through her acceptance speech, thanking her husband, Eastwood and her trainers.
Jamie Foxx predictably accepted the award for Best Actor with a mix of joy and appreciation. He immediately thanked Ray Charles himself for inspiring him and director Taylor Hackford for making the film. He also mentioned Oprah for introducing him to Sidney Poitier. Upon thanking his grandmother, Foxx’s eyes swelled with emotion and he gratefully exited the stage.
Julia Roberts, making her first televised appearance since giving birth to twins, handed the Oscar to Eastwood for Best Director for Million Dollar Baby. In 1991, Eastwood won for Best Director and Best Picture for the film Unforgiven. Eastwood did not leave the stage for long as he was quickly awarded the Oscar Best Picture.
Rock ended the show with a “thank you,” “goodnight” and a boisterous yelling of “Brooklyn.”