My favorite Oscar moment was when Hilary Swank won the best actress award for "Million Dollar Baby."
That creepy female voice-over lady, the one who also tells you about how the white zone is for passenger loading and unloading only, and who in the dystopian future will remind your great-grandchildren not to spit on the moving sidewalk or think unhappy thoughts about Our Leader, informed us that this was Swank's second Oscar, which of course we already knew.
"She's also the first female in Academy history to be nominated for playing a boxer," the voice purred. Well, who could have guessed that? I thought surely Audrey Hepburn? No, wait, Grace Kelly. Nah, guess not.
Swank is really rewriting those Oscar record books. She was also the first female in Academy history to be nominated for playing a cross-dressing teenage girl from Nebraska who gets raped and murdered.
I get to talk about this because "Million Dollar Baby" was a boxing movie, and also because I'm not spending two hours and 45 minutes doing anything without putting it in the column. Not in February, pal.
And yes, only 2:45. That's how long it takes to watch the Oscars if you start late and then TiVo-skip over the commercials and nominated songs. Listen, I like Beyoncé as much as the next red-blooded American male who gets an extra few thousand page views every time he mentions her in his daily column, but I'm not sitting through Oscar songs. I'll get enough syrupy music watching the pregame features during the NCAA Tournament.
So I haven't seen "Million Dollar Baby." I've been meaning to, but haven't gotten around to it, just as I haven't seen a single one of the movies that was nominated for an Academy Award, no matter how minor the category. I feel bad about that because there seemed to be a real sports theme this year.
There were the competing Dan Quisenberry biopics, "Sideways" and "Closer." There was "Shark Tale," about Scott Boras; "The House of Flying Daggers," which examined Sammy Sosa's last year in Chicago, and I hear had a great salsa soundtrack; "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," about the hockey lockout; and "Troy," which followed the USC marching band. I heard that one was really repetitive.
"Super Size Me" was an adaptation of Jose Canseco's "Juiced"; "Hardwood" was about a former Harlem Globetrotter (really); "Downfall" examined the Lakers; "I, Robot" nearly brought Bjorn Borg to life; and "The Motorcycle Diaries" was yet another sports biopic, this one about Jay Williams, the erstwhile Chicago Bulls player who's now recording "The Basement Tapes" with the Band.
The Academy Awards have something in common with the sports world. Like the various powers that be in the major sports, the Academy is constantly looking for ways to hurry the damn thing up, get it over with and let the poor audience beat it.
Baseball has been enforcing the time limit between pitches and trying to discourage dawdling in the batter's box. Football has spent the last few decades inching toward a "live time" model, where the clock almost never stops.
The Oscar method is to give everyone the bum's rush. Never mind that the shell-shocked, giddy, floating-on-air walk to the stage and up the steps, and the rambling, goofy, thank the lawyer's baby sitter speech are staples of a fine, stately tradition. Never mind that these things sometimes drag but always provide the best, most memorable moments. We've got to hurry things up! We gotta get outta here! People in the East have to go night-night!
I wonder the same thing about the Oscars that I do when I see people leaving close playoff games in the eighth inning or midway through the fourth quarter: What the heck is so important that you can't spare another half hour? Or an hour? If getting home, or going to bed, or whatever, is so important, just stay home, or just go to bed. Turn the recorder on.
Sunday's Oscars ceremony was the shortest since 1994. Congratulations. "Well, that wasn't worth watching, Mother, but at least we get to hit the hay on time."
For that, we got the spectacle of Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Irons wandering around in the audience like ushers, and the winners of the various best whatever Oscars that got this treatment taking the statuette handoff, then padding down the aisle a few feet to a microphone, looking for all the world like someone about to ask Oprah's guest a question.
If you're in the movie business you spend your whole life dreaming of that moment when you'll get to make that walk, climb those stairs, kiss some movie star and stare out at a sea of faces that looks like one of those pizza-parlor murals, the ones with all the Hollywood royalty from Charlie Chaplin to, oh, those usually end around a youngish Woody Allen and Burt Reynolds, but you know the ones I mean.
Then you finally win one and the experience is a little like getting up to tell the City Council that your neighborhood has quite enough liquor licenses already, only a little less satisfying.
But that's nothing compared to the Academy playing the "Scram, we've got to get to the late local news!" music on the big shots. It's one thing to play the multiple winners of the most neatly typed screenplay Oscar off the stage. A mean, boorish, classless thing, but only one thing. It's quite another to make Clint Eastwood walk Spanish.
The orchestra played a single staccato note as Swank took a breath while rattling off the names of various people nobody's ever heard of, a musical "Shut up, we have to get to the best foreign film!" She wagged her finger -- just like Dikembe Mutombo, this being a sports column -- and said, "Uh-uh, you can't do that because I haven't gotten to Clint yet. I saved him for last."
Good for her. A few years ago Adrien Brody shut up the band by saying, "Cut it out, let me finish. I've got one shot at this," and the audience applauded.
Eastwood was one of three producers who accepted the best picture award for "Million Dollar Baby." Before the third of them, Tom Rosenberg, began talking, the orchestra struck up. He started in on his thank yous anyway. Eastwood leaned in and said, "Keep talking. Don't let 'em run you off."
Exactly. Can we get back to sloppy excess, please? Can we get back to hideous, over-the-top dresses and inappropriate political blathering? I'm talking about sports again here. I don't just mean more Cher and less Gwyneth Paltrow, I mean more crazy Randy Moss and less polished Alex Rodriguez. Can we stay up past our damn bedtime once in a while? Isn't that still OK?
And just so my bosses don't yell at me for completely abandoning my idiom: How about that Kansas-Oklahoma State game Sunday!
- - - - - - - - - - - -