Partying with Oscar

The most anticipated night in film came and went Sunday as the 79th annual Academy Awards honored 2006’s greatest achievements in cinema with Ellen DeGeneres serving as a first-time host for the show.

For local film fans, the Tampa Theatre was the place to be as the cultural landmark hosted the city’s Oscar Night America as one of 49 cities in the nation officially sanctioned to host this event.

With a red-carpet entrance featuring complimentary limo rides around the block and a Joan Rivers impersonator, the Theatre made great efforts to re-create the experience of attending the actual Oscar ceremony. While a VIP reception was available before the show, all guests were treated to complimentary popcorn and refreshments during the Oscar telecast, which was broadcast live on the Theatre’s big screen.

The on-site sale of Oscar ballots allowed guests the opportunity to predict who would take home the statue. With such an unpredictable night ahead of them, participants who tried to predict Oscar winners were guaranteed a memorable night of fun and surprises.

Unlike many past ceremonies, no single film dominated this year’s show, with more than a dozen motion pictures taking home awards. Nonetheless, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed emerged as the big winner with four trophies, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and a much-anticipated first Best Director award for the legendary filmmaker.

In the lead acting categories, Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren, who were heavily favored to win their categories, were appropriately deemed Oscar royalty for their roles in The Last King of Scotland and The Queen, respectively. Likewise, Jennifer Hudson’s performance in Dreamgirls – which was the subject of Oscar buzz for months before the film’s release – earned the former American Idol contestant an Academy Award for her debut film role.

Jack Black, John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell performed a humorous musical number that addressed how comedians are often snubbed at the Academy Awards. Special to the Oracle

Also, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s cautionary tale on the dangers of global warming, was named Best Documentary Feature and beat out a trio of Dreamgirls tunes to snag Best Original Song for Melissa Etheridge’s stirring “I Need to Wake Up.”However, while many of the awards went as predicted, there were a number of surprising wins as well.

Although Eddie Murphy was expected to become the first Saturday Night Live alum to earn an Oscar, Alan Arkin’s performance as a foul-mouthed, drug-addicted grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine marked a surprising victory for the small $8-million film, which also won the award for Best Original Screenplay.

In addition, Spanish-language fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth lost out to Germany’s The Lives of Others for Best Foreign Language Film, despite wins for Best Art Direction, Makeup and Cinematography.

Meanwhile, Happy Feet unexpectedly collected the Best Animated Feature statue, beating out Pixar’s more critically and commercially successful Cars.

Although the telecast ran nearly four hours, DeGeneres’ trademark wit kept viewers’ awake as she schmoozed with top celebrities between awards. This year also marked the addition of several new elements to the ceremony, including a troupe of shadow dancers who re-created silhouetted emblems of some of the nominated films.

While the show was a bit heavy on themed montages, including tributes to foreign films and the on-screen depiction of writers, this year’s Oscar ceremony was not devoid of its share of highlights. For many, Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly’s amusing parody of how comedic actors are rarely recognized by the Academy Awards was one of the night’s most memorable moments – one that seemed especially topical after Eddie Murphy’s loss.

Additionally, Scorsese’s acceptance of his long-awaited Best Director Oscar from his longtime friends Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas was especially fitting. The cast of Dreamgirls fired up the stage with a passionate medley of that film’s three nominated songs, marking Beyoncé’s second year performing at the Oscars.

All in all, the evening was a memorable one, and DeGeneres did an admirable job of maintaining a light and enthusiastic atmosphere, even going so far as to begrudgingly begin vacuuming late in the show.

This year’s Oscar telecast, especially for attendees of Oscar Night America, was certainly a night to remember, easily making it one of the most exciting Academy Award ceremonies in recent years.

Now, with this year’s Oscars already a memory, all film fans can do is bide their time until next year.