Surprises are few, but Oscars still can be hip, heroic

March 22, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

I love Oscar night. I know everybody watches it, and then everybody rips it.

Not me.

You see, people expect the show to be funny or consistently entertaining, or, I don't know, dramatic. Either that, or they expect streakers every year. I know they couldn't wait to slam Whoopi.

When will people learn?

There are at least a couple of truths in life. One: No Oscar host could possibly go through an entire night without a Lorena Bobbitt joke. Two: The show would be boring anyway.

The shows are always boring. But we watch. We watch to see whether or not Spielberg will finally hit. We watch to see what people are wearing. For example, it was pointed out to me by several guys that Geena Davis was not wearing much.

And we watch for the moments, even if you have to invent some on your own.

I spent the evening noting which of the unhip Hollywood types were still wearing AIDS ribbons. Those are the people who don't understand trends. If they did, they'd know that since Hollywood has now done an AIDS movie, you don't have to wear ribbons anymore.

Of course, there are real moments. Like Tom Hanks' acceptance speech. No facile symbolism there.

Or like when Anna Paquin, who is 11 years old, wins an Oscar. She's just old enough to be overwhelmed and still young enough not to understand that there probably won't ever be another moment like it in her entire life.

That was the first surprise of the night. Did I say first surprise? It was the only surprise. If you had her in the pool, you won.

Otherwise, Spielberg won. "Schindler's List" swept. There was too much strength and too much power in the movie for anything else to happen. It blew me away. It blew everyone away. It's good that it came at the end, because how do you follow such a moment?

Before "Schindler," it was Oscar as usual.

The first non-surprise came when they dedicated the show to those who work in production. They are the little people you hear so much about. The ones who weren't actually invited to Oscar night. The ones who park the stars' cars between movies. I'm sure the best boys appreciated the thought.

Then Whoopi Goldberg came out.

I wanted to be surprised. I wanted her to be funny. I mean, really funny. I mean, like-she-was-on-cable funny.

It isn't that I don't like the idea of Whoopi Goldberg as host. I love the idea of it.

She's bad. She's nasty. She's irreverent. She's got attitude.

I dreamt for three nights running that she would come out in white-face. I knew she wouldn't, although I'm sure she dreamt about it, too.

On cable, she might have done it.

On cable, she'd have done a Jessica Rabbit joke that would have had Michael Medved racing from the auditorium with his hands over his ears.

Whoopi isn't network. She's network like Michael Jordan is baseball. Her game is outrage. And outrage is the perfect antidote to the sanctimony that is the hallmark of Oscar night.

I understand why the Oscar folks might have thought Whoopi, who is a fine comic actress and started in stand-up, would be great. She has a funny name. She has funny hair. She has very funny friends.

One of those funny friends is Billy Crystal, who played host for four years and was so good he retired unbeaten.

I miss him, too.

I even miss Richard Gere attempting to commune with Tibetans. That's a moment you remember.

But, hey, we got to see Bruce Springsteen live in his best song in about five years. He even won an Oscar for it.

We also got to see Tom Cruise, the man who would be Paul Newman, introduce the real thing. Newman won the Jean Hersholt award for humanitarianism. It's a pretty self-congratulatory award, but this one time it actually fits. And that doesn't matter so much to me either.

What matters is that Newman was Hud and Luke and Butch and gave us about a hundred other cool roles that every red-blooded American mother's son wishes he could have been. And there he was.

He gave a 30-second acceptance speech, which is about 30 minutes short of the record for people who win that award.

He was my hero to the end. What's to be disappointed about?

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