A relaxed, elegantly attired Whoopi Goldberg immediately allayed concerns about politics or expletives invading this year’s Oscarcast, which turned out to be a stately, rather uneventful affair — about as suspenseful as the ultimate winner.
Goldberg seemed immediately at home and set the respectfully sedate tone with her opening remarks, quipping that she planned to get any political venom “out of my system right now,” then rattling off a list of various causes. The routine got no saltier than a brief reference to Heidi Fleiss and the observation that “Six Degrees of Separation” could be perceived as “the drawing instructions for Jessica Rabbit’s legs.”
While not as showy as Billy Crystal, the host did deliver some smaller spontaneous moments, such as her long take after the two St. Bernards from “Beethoven’s 2nd” wandered onstage or her late-in-the-show lusting after Tommy Lee Jones.
That former sort of sloppy-dog sappiness is generally ridiculed but occasionally succeeds in the context of an Oscarcast, where genuine, uncalculated emotion is usually in short supply and it’s often a relief when the scripted introductions don’t elicit groans.
Such a tingle could be felt sparingly — in the stunned, ebullient reaction of 11-year-old Anna Paquin when her name was called as supporting actress for “The Piano,” writer Steven Zaillian’s terse eloquence in accepting for “Schindler’s List,” and the heartfelt acceptance speech by special Oscar recipient Deborah Kerr.
The crowning of Steven Spielberg for “Schindler,” meanwhile, was appropriately regal and touching despite its clear inevitability from the first five minutes of the broadcast. Best actor winner Tom Hanks’ speech, on the other hand, was comprehensible only in its passion, and about the only political propaganda — other than that the Holocaust was evil — that the show produced.
Turning to matters the producers can control, the telecast got it right in having Oscar-nominated songs performed by the artists who recorded them, highlighted by Bruce Springsteen’s and Neil Young’s soulful renditions (and the former’s humble acceptance) of their dual entries from “Philadelphia.”
Some ideas work, others don’t. While it may have been fun for those in the Pavilion, one could almost hear remote controls clicking away during the ballet number staged to the various nominees for best score.
The overall delivery, however, was efficient and businesslike, as producer Gilbert Cates and director Jeff Margolis deftly managed to incorporate this year’s theme honoring craftsman while keeping their eye on the ball — namely, that Oscar only shines as brightly as its stars.
Considering that the show made a point of recognizing technical achievement, there was some irony that the first two categories — for art direction and visual effects — saw one recipient cut off before his companion could speak, then the others shout simultaneously so they all could get their two cents in.
In a year where no one, not even the documentary filmmakers, called for a boycott of General Electric, Oscar controversy had to be savored wherever one could find it.
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