Oscar night still grand after all these years

OPINION

One watches the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards presentation without fail for the same reasons, no matter which teams are playing or which films you might not have seen are nominated.

The unscripted moments are fixed indelibly in our minds. A streaker racing across stage on Oscar Night 1974, moving presenter David Niven to say that the poor man might only be remembered for "exposing his shortcomings." In real life, the poor man was murdered, another entry in "Hollywood Babylon."

It's the off chance that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, reunited to present 2017 Best Picture and promote the 50th anniversary of "Bonnie and Clyde," so botched things that for the proverbial brief shining moment "La La Land" was Best Picture. Cutting through all the confusion, the chagrined superstars revealed it was a phony that "Moonlight," the antithesis of "La La Land," received the top prize. It was a moment that Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest." might have milked for all it was worth.

Even if you long since forgot, or never knew, that the Best Picture of 2021 was "CODA," concerning deaf adults, Oscar Night is a must-see in many households. No one outside the accounting firm that counted the ballots knew that the 1968 Best Actress envelope contained two names, Katharine Hepburn winning for the third time for "A Lion in Winter" (with a fourth Oscar to come) and screen newcomer Barbra Streisand for "Funny Girl." Judy Garland had TV cameras in her home to film the 1954 Best Actress outcome; the cameras were dismantled after Grace Kelly's name, for "The Country Girl," and not Garland's for "A Star is Born," was announced.

Groucho Marx called the Garland snub the "biggest heist" since the one involving a Brinks armored car. I would hold out for 1941 ("How Green Was My Valley" -- anything really -- over "Citizen Kane") or 1967 ("In the Heat of the Night" over "Bonnie and Clyde," though "The Graduate," which brought director Mike Nichols an Oscar, might have been the most influential film that year if for no other reason than it introduced Dustin Hoffman).

Nothing has upset me lately, and quite by surprise, than the 2005 selection of "Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain." A movie about unconventional cowboys that I vowed never to watch, "Brokeback Mountain" earned Ang Lee the Oscar as Best Director for his discreet handling of sensitive material. It is a better film, frankly, than 1969 overall winner "Midnight Cowboy," which served up career performances by Hoffman and Jon Voight but moved critic Roger Ebert to ask where were the editors, calling the John Schlesinger-directed look at the seamy side of New York "a great movie with a masterpiece trapped within."

Whereas he raved about 1972 winner "The Godfather," Ebert submitted a negative review two years later of Francis Ford Coppola's sequel to an inside look at organized crime. Depends, I guess, whether one prefers Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone, Oscars going to both for playing the same character.

Sunday night's presentation marks the 60th anniversary of an American Indian accepting Brando's second Oscar win. Often forgotten is that until the final award was announced, "Cabaret" had the inside track for Best Picture with eight awards to two for "The Godfather." Clint Eastwood announced "The Godfather," produced by Albert S. Ruddy, as the big winner. I am a fan of both 1972 releases, giving a slight nod to Coppola's film over that for which Bob Fosse was named Best Director.

Twenty years later, my late mom stayed up late to watch "The Unforgiven," starring and directed by a Hollywood icon, win the prize. I watched with my wife-to-be and told Sue, "Mama will enjoy this." Asking why she would be watching at such a late hour to clap for a film she would never view, I responded, "Because it's Clint Eastwood. No explanation necessary."

There still isn't. And one reason we watch on Oscar night -- just to see Charles Chaplin (1971) or, months before his 1979 passing, John Wayne, Laurence Olivier among those standing to cheer the Duke.

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