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Top Five Moments from an Excellent Oscar Night

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Despite the awkward randomness of Hugh Jackman's two big production numbers (and otherwise nonexistent hosting), this was a good Oscar ceremony. There were interesting changes, moving speeches, and at least one legitimately funny bit (thanks as always, Tina Fey!)

So here they are... my top five Oscar moments in 2009.

5. Winning My Oscar Pool --- For the first time ever in my life, I actually won my Oscar pool. Finally! There was no cash prize this year (because of the recession), but I did win an autographed copy of Foreigner's classic album 4, which features "Waiting for a Girl Like You."

Granted, the album is only autographed by Foreigner's drummer and is dedicated to someone named Jennifer, but I still feel honored to have received it. (Here's a picture of me with my prize.)

4. Queen Latifah's Performance --- It was easy to miss, since she was singing underneath the montage of this year's dead celebrities, but Queen Latifah sounded amazing on "I'll Be Seeing You." I mean, I knew she could sing, but I didn't know she could sing like that. I was impressed that she showed the breadth of her range without being showy. In keeping with the solemnity of the segment, she kept her voice warm and understated, even as she demonstrated her skill.

3. The Unexpected Styx Reference --- When Kunio Kato was thanking people for his Animated Short Film Oscar (for La Maison en petits cubes) he said, "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto."

This was fantastic for several reasons.
  1. "Domo arigato" means "thank you very much," so... totally appropriate.
  2. "Mr. Roboto" is one of the weirdest songs ever to hit the American top ten, and it deserve this kind of attention.
  3. The white Americans in Styx used "Mr. Roboto" to appropriate Japanese culture. Similarly, Kato is a Japanese filmmaker who won a major American award for a film with a French title. His reference may have been a comment on the blurring of national identities...
  4. ... or it could have been a cool joke. Either way... awesome. Note: I've since learned that this was a reference to Robot Communications, which helped make the film. But I still choose to believe in #3
2. Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn's Acceptance Speeches --- Heartfelt, (mostly) articulate, and fearlessly political, both winners used their enormous platforms to take unequivocal stands on behalf of gay rights. It helps that I agree with them, but even if I didn't, I would respect them both for being so adamant about gay rights and about the inevitable shame that will be felt for those who have voted against those rights in our time.

I almost always respect political Oscar speeches. I didn't love the way Michael Moore roped in the other nominees when he slammed Bush during his acceptance, and even though I wasn't alive when it happened, I understand the resentment Vanessa Redgrave engendered when she made her pro-Palestinian remarks at the 1978 ceremony. But it's applause-worthy to stand up for something in the face of so much scrutiny.

If nothing else, taking a stand prompts discussion and it makes for good TV. Anything that brings both relevance and entertainment to the Oscars deserves some love.

1. The "Historical Parade" Before Each Acting Award --- Each acting nominee received a personal tribute from a previous winner in his or her category. This created nineteen personal moments (and one lovely tribute to Heath Ledger), and it gave the ceremony a sense of grandeur it has lacked for years. For the first time that I can remember, the Oscars slowed down long enough to become about the awards themselves, not the funny bits and flashy numbers in between. That patience allowed each nominee to get some highly deserved recognition, and it actually proved the old saw about the honor of being nominated. I mean, Anne Hathaway and Michael Shannon didn't take home statues, but they got amazing kudos from Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Walken. How could they feel like losers? They were being personally ushered into the remarkable legacy of the Academy Awards.

Meanwhile, those of us at home were shown glamour and prestige... exactly what the Oscars should provide. I hope this format becomes an annual tradition.

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