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I have never missed an Academy Awards show—not when I was in kindergarten or away at college, not when my sister was ill and my family canceled its annual Oscar-viewing party. Katie was sick the year Braveheart won—such an odd way to date it, I know—and we watched the show in her hospital room. Laughs had been scarce for a long while, but there we were, critiquing red carpet wear, rolling our eyes at maudlin acceptance speeches, and cracking up when “And the Oscar goes to…” was drowned out by “We need an EKG machine in room 115.”
The only time I didn’t watch the telecast was when I attended the ceremony five years ago with my husband. We’d been advised by Oscar vets to walk the red carpet as slowly as possible for maximum celebrity viewing. We did our best to drag our feet as guards, who looked to be on weekend furlough from Mossad, nudged us along. The stars were tiny and shiny. Seated high in the Kodak Theatre, we viewed most of the proceedings on a monitor. I was nostalgic for a couch, a bowl of M&M’s, and the freedom to yell stuff at the screen, which, it struck me then, had always provided my primary sources of Oscar joy. By hour three we were yawning (the big winner was Million Dollar Baby, which I didn’t care for), so we hit the bar and toasted the nice folks clutching well-deserved statuettes for their documentary Born into Brothels.
Save for Sean Penn getting huffy about a Jude Law joke, that 2005 awards ceremony held few surprises. As with any live event, the best Oscar moments are unscripted: Cuba Gooding Jr. jumping out of his skin, Jack Palance demonstrating the one-armed septuagenarian push-up, everyone finally liking Sally Field! We brace ourselves for the effusive, we watch for the glamour, we fume over who’s been robbed. Above all, we hope for a little naked truth, forgetting that this is not Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
Let’s face it, no matter how much we love the Oscars, they are most memorable when they bomb: David Letterman introducing Uma to Oprah; Telly Savalas, Dom DeLuise, and Pat Morita kicking things off with a tune from Guys and Dolls; or most famously, Rob Lowe’s duet with Snow White. In this issue writer Robert Hofler dissects that 1989 show, which was a toxic meld of San Francisco camp and moussed-up Hollywood glitz that was all our own. Say what you will, it was never dull, and for an awards show, that is an achievement.