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The spirit was willing

Ellen DeGeneres proves a genial cheerleader, while Oscar becomes a green machine.

February 26, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

WATCHING the Oscars was like going to a museum and plunking down an extra 20 bucks for the audio tour.

The emphasis was on experiential enhancement through the miracle of knowledge. Or, failing that, apocryphal-sounding factoids.

"Martin Scorsese calls 'The Departed' the first movie he's ever made with a plot!" said the announcer when the film won best picture.

The nominee for best supporting actor was not just Mark Wahlberg, it was "Mark Wahlberg, [who] had to find it in him to play the kind of Boston cop who arrested him 25 times" when he was a miscreant youth, while the winner in that category was Alan Arkin for "Little Miss Sunshine," who'd initially "been considered too virile" for the part.

Back story about the filmmaking art is interesting, sometimes, and the Oscars is usually at least half-successful at conflating it all. The screenplay nominees -- whose work was read by presenters -- benefited most from producer Laura Ziskin's curator-like equanimity.

She didn't give us a taste of celebrity at the show's top -- best supporting actor and actress awards were pushed into the belly of the show, where she apparently thinks they belong.

Ziskin otherwise produced like a traditionalist. Ellen DeGeneres' obligatory monologue didn't touch on either Britney's head or the paternity of the late Anna Nicole's baby, though her routine marked the first in a series of jokes and triumphs that would crown Al Gore the night's official mascot.

The only line of DeGeneres' opening that stuck out was: "If there weren't blacks, gays or Jews, there would be no Oscars."

Was it a joke, like Travolta's hair piece? Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, the last two experimental hosts, came with a little danger, armed with male writers who hate Hollywood; Ellen comes bearing tolerance and yuks, trailing a whiff of patchouli. She's not a mean spirit, she's America's lesbian -- a uniter where Rosie O'Donnell (Was she asked to host? Just wondering) is a divider.

Give her credit: DeGeneres was hounded off ABC a decade ago amid hard feelings all around that her sexuality had blocked out her comedy, and now here she was back on the network, on its biggest ratings platform of the year.

During the dreaded on-air mingling with the A-listers in the first rows, DeGeneres knelt down to talk to Clint Eastwood, and it was genuinely sweet, like a niece going to visit her uncle to learn bigger facts about life.

And yet that moment was emblematic of the evening -- Hollywood reinventing itself, before your eyes, as the company that cares.

This was, I think, the most political Oscars in recent memory -- and not by the usual means of attacking the guy in charge. The tone, instead, was one of secular humanist caring.

Oscar goes green! Ellen gave out a website address for recycling tips, the best picture nominees were rendered in dance -- a series of human forms coming together as one.

Then Sherry Lansing, the former Paramount chief, was honored for humanitarian work, and two awards were given to "An Inconvenient Truth," including best documentary.

This seemed one of the night's glaring instances of celebrity-hugging. No offense to global warming and the makers of "An Inconvenient Truth," but it wasn't a movie, it was big TV. Even in the year that justice for Scorsese was finally served, Gore stole the election.


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