The Oscar show was bizarre this year, with Hugh Jackman pulling out his "song and dance man" shctick and turning an event that is already described as "the gay Super Bowl" 250% gayer, complete with a new sparkle-centric set and a "the musical is back!" medley led by Jackman and Beyonce, and featuring appearances from the "High School Musical" kids, all of it choreographed by Baz Luhrmann. At least Jackman's opening number featured references to the fact "The Dark Knight" richly deserved a best picture nod and that nobody bothered to see "The Reader," even though Kate Winslet won a best actress statue for her performance in the Nazi romance.
"Slumdog Millionaire," a movie I do love for its jolts of life positivity and good feelingness that it injected into my person, swept most of the awards as it was vaulted into the annals of "overrated best picture winners," as the sweet yet slightly shallow fairy tale beat out better, richer, and more interesting films like "Milk" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." "Button" was a film I loved dearly, yet many people seem to have responded to coldly. It's not as good as director David Fincher's masterpiece, "Zodiac" (which was completely snubbed by the Academy last year,) but "Button" is a gorgeous, moody, and heartbreaking film about life, love, and mortality. Though Fincher and Van Sant deserved it more for their movies this year (and Christopher Nolan deserved it most,) it is pretty cool that we can all now say the phrase "Oscar Winning Director Danny Boyle." Now that the slightly demented mind behind "Trainspotting," "28 Days Later," and the totally on crack "A Life Less Ordinary" has won an Oscar, maybe it means the Academy is getting a bit younger and hipper. Or maybe the old voters who refuse to die just liked the story of young kids falling in love through the dramatic use of a game show and have not bothered to watch Boyle's previous work.
Sean Penn won a richly deserved Best Actor award for his work as Harvey Milk, beating comeback kid Mickey Rourke for his very good work in "The Wrestler." Mickey was great as Randy The Ram, giving a physical performance made the more poignant because of the troubled actor's own personal history; but Penn embodied Harvey in every way, showing his heroism, charisma, and flaws and shedding light onto an undertold story of an American civil rights hero. Rourke is terrific and nothing should be taken away for him for his performance... but Penn is nothing short of brilliant in "Milk," and the best actor category is one of the few that the Academy has gotten right two years in a row. I was also glad to see Dustin Lance Black pick up "Milk's" other win, for best original screenplay.
Penelope Cruz's win for her electrifying work in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" was nice, especially since it was for her work in the first truly great Woody Allen movie in nearly a decade. Heath Ledger's posthumous win for his work as The Joker in "The Dark Knight" felt like the evening's most inevitable award, but it was also moving to see his family accept it for him... and it was richly deserved. Ledger was brilliant in the film, and the performance will be his enduring legacy. It was wonderful to see the endlessly imaginative Andrew Stanton take home another Oscar to Pixar's offices in Emeryville for "Wall*E," vindication for a kid's movie that was part art movie, part speculative science fiction, part satire, part love story, and part silent comedy.I agree with the criticism that the film doesn't completely work in its second half; but when you take risks that large, they are not always going to pay off. Thank god the Academy rewarded experimentation and ambition again, even if Pixar has won more than a few times (they continue to do the best work in their medium, so there is no reason for them to stop beating Dreamworks every year.)
Staying on the subject of the robot that won America's heart, one of the night's true injustices was that Ben Burtt was shutout of the two sound awards. Burtt gave Wall*E (and the rest of the movie's menagerie of robots) his voice, and he used sound in brilliant, inventive, and inspiring ways. Stanton appeared at ComicCon nearly two years ago to preview the film, and he introduced Burtt, (who did the sound work for the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" movies,) as one of his most important collaborators, giving characters who do not speak a unique language of their own. Did Burtt deserve to win the sound awards? Not only that, but it could be argued that the man should have been nominated in another category as well... best performance by an actor in a leading role.