Presenters: Alec Baldwin, Antonio Banderas, Jeff Bridges, Nicolas Cage, Joan Chen, Glenn Close, Tom Cruise, Geena Davis, Johnny Depp, Laura Dern, Kirk Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Gene Hackman, Tom Hanks, Goldie Hawn, Anthony Hopkins, Whitney Houston, Jeremy Irons, Nicole Kidman, Val Kilmer, Shirley MacLaine, Liam Neeson, Rosie O’Donnell, Al Pacino, Sharon Stone, Madeleine Stowe, Donald Sutherland, Emma Thompson, Marisa Tomei, Jack Valenti, Elijah Wood.
Performers: Keith Carradine, James Ingram, Janet Jackson, Dolly Parton, Bernadette Peters, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young.
Arelaxed, 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” were “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 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 for “The Piano,” writer Steven Zaillian’s terse eloquence in accepting for “Schindler’s List,” and the heartfelt speech by special Oscar recipient Deborah
The crowning of Steven Spielberg for “Schindler,” meanwhile, was appropriately regal and touching despite its clear inevitability. Best actor winner Tom Hanks’ speech, on the other hand, was comprehensible only in its passion, and about the only political propaganda in the show.
Turning to what 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 renditions of their “Philadelphia” entries.
Some ideas work, others don’t. One could almost hear remote controls clicking 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 recognized technical achievement, there was some irony that the first two categories — 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 called for a boycott of General Electric, Oscar controversy had to be savored wherever one could find it.