Digging deep for the Oscars’ most memorable moments

Genuine fun was hard to find on a night of old Billy Crystal jokes, but Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen delivered

Topics: Oscars, Movie Awards Season,

Digging deep for the Oscars' most memorable momentsMembers of Cirque du Soleils "Iris" perform onstage during the 84th Academy Awards. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) (Credit: AP)

The only thing that Hollywood loves more than itself is its past. And that slavish attention to nostalgia could not have been more evident Sunday, when perennial Oscar host Billy Crystal was trotted out after an eight-year hiatus, and the theme of the evening was, oh, I don’t know, something about the magic of the movies. That whole James Franco and Anne Hathaway “youth” thing of last year a distant memory and those five minutes we thought Eddie Murphy would host a somewhat less distant one, this year’s Oscars were awash in a self-congratulatory past. Unsurprising, maybe, given how many of the evening’s big winners were movies set in the dreamy past of the Depression and the pre-civil rights era South. Magical! And though we say it every year, my God, this was truly one of the dullest, blandest evenings of millionaires slapping each other on the back ever. A show bloated with Reese Witherspoon’s praise for “Overboard” couldn’t spare three minutes to let Bret McKenzie perform his winning “Man or Muppet”? Is nothing sacred? But there were still a few surprises and oddities and genuine moments of joy to be had. We endured the whole three-hour broadcast to whittle down our 10 standout moments.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s pre-show bit of pouring the ostensible ashes of Kim Jong Il on Ryan Seacrest was so daring! So rock ‘n’ roll! So hilariously calculated and self-promoting for his new movie “The Dictator”! And yet, the event Jezebel helpfully dubbed “the ashing” would prove the first surprise of the evening — and the moment of “Seacrest dumping” America’s waited a good 10 years for.

Billy Crystal, in the predictable opening mashup of nominated films, segued from appearing as a time-traveling, Hitler-killing “Midnight in Paris” blackfaced Sammy Davis Jr. straight into the poop pie scene from “The Help.” Perhaps we haven’t yet cured that whole racial sensitivity thing, America.

A tearful, visibly overcome Octavia Spencer, who got a standing ovation and thanked the entire state of Alabama, still had to end her emotional acceptance speech with “Please wrap up? I’m wrapping up. I’m sorry, I’m freaking out.” At least nobody tried to crowd her offstage to make way for Blur.

A pretaped bit imaging a 1939 focus group for “The Wizard of Oz” was a Christopher Guest alumni reunion, featuring Guest and his repertory veterans Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban and Jennifer Coolidge. A powerful reminder that it’s been way too long since the guys who sent up the Oscars in “For Your Consideration” made a movie together – and that everybody loves flying monkeys.

In one of the night’s few political moments, “A Separation” writer and director Asghar Farhad accepted his win for best foreign film by saying, “At a time of talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their county, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.” The moment was only undercut a little by Steven Spielberg’s pinched O RLY? face.

Cirque du Soleil – which just happened to also advertise during the broadcast – paid homage to the golden age of movies in its uniquely limber, vaguely unsettling way. It was dramatic, for sure, with performers swaying over the audience in trapezes and cavorting about like human slingshots. But we’re not convinced that the best way to “We love cinema” is a lady who can touch the back of her head with her foot.

Former host Chris Rock, so scathing and so on the money, noted that in animation, “If you’re a white man you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man you can play a donkey or a zebra.” Rock, who made an excellent zebra in “Madagascar,” then went on to demonstrate how much “hard work” it takes to be a voice actor in Hollywood. “And then I go, ‘It’s time to go to the store!’ And then they give me a million dollars.” Line of the night.

Flashing a formidable portion of her endless leg, presenter Angelina Jolie – who just a few weeks ago won wows for her Golden Globe look, stumbled over her words and quickly lit up the Twitterverse with comments about how gaunt she appeared. Maybe the actress is looking a bit underfed these days, but all the remarks about how she needs to eat a sandwich seemed remarkably tone deaf in an evening when the show’s writers were dishing out a bevy of fat jokes. Body snarking – still gross when you do it to thin people! On the upside, however, the whole episode did spawn the instantly awesome Twitter account for Angelina Jolie’s Leg.

The cast of “Bridesmaids,” presenting for the short subjects and not so coyly turning it into an opportunity for jokes about how heft, length and size matter, provided a little much needed raunch in a deeply unsubversive evening. Even better than the penis jokes, however, was Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne whipping out their little airplane-size bottles to do shots at the utterance of the word “Scorsese.” Just like all of us at home.

Eternal nominee Meryl Streep admitted that she could hear half of America saying “Oh, no. Come on, why her… again?” when she pulled her upset over Viola Davis. But after adding a sassy, “But whatever,” she tearfully acknowledged her friends and her “inexplicably wonderful career” and confessed, “I really understand I’ll never be up here again.” It was a graceful moment of gratitude, one that almost made the evening worth staying up for. The movies, like Meryl, remain inexplicably wonderful. So why is celebrating them still such a crap shoot?

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.


    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."


    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>