At the Oscars, one thing's for certain: the drama was absolutely nothing to do with the films

Jenny Beavan was a woman who had clearly chosen not to starve herself for six months. That was refreshing, at least

Grace Dent
Monday 29 February 2016 19:53

The annual Academy Awards may not be your thing. Perhaps you slope off to bed early, dismissing the whole celebrity hoopla – the bony decolletages, the backslapping, the stiff speeches – as irrelevent. But the following day, Oscar refuseniks are prone to wake up feeling they missed a rollicking, globally-shared, bitch-a-long.

I toyed, here, with the cheerful, antique term “water-cooler moment”. Twitter isn’t anything like a water-cooler. When, for example, Sam Smith collected his Best Original Song Oscar on Sunday evening, Twitter felt more like that moment in Gremlins when evil ringleader Stripe chucked himself in a YMCA swimming pool. Here was billion-snark-per-hour bedlam. Exactly like when Stacey Dash appeared to do her “Happy Black History” joke-gone-wrong.

Or when eco-warrior Leonardo DiCaprio made a passionate plea to save the planet, when we are aware, due to Sony leaks, that he adores a private jet. The Oscar ceremony, despite its many flaws, remains a major world focus and, with irony, the last thing anyone is talking about is the movies.

Newly bone-thin Sam Smith’s main crime was to announce himself, beautifully short-sightedly, as the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. Elton John and Stephen Sondheim have both won previously in his category alone. This isn’t Smith’s main crime for me, more merely one of a plethora of niggles including the tales of his very rich parents giving up their careers to mollycoddle him.

Or the time Smith bought a $3,000 French bulldog puppy and gave it away after a fortnight – keeping rapper Professor Green company in a desktop folder I keep handy entitled “CELEBRITY DOG-DUMPERS”. Or the time Smith covered the joyous ode to the insanity of new love, “How Will I Know” by Whitney, and made it sound like an anthem for women who weep then douche after orgasm.

Nevertheless, Dustin Lance Black – who scooped an Academy Award for the screenplay of Milk in 2009 – was incandescent about Smith’s “First Gay to win an Oscar” claim and began berating the singer for not knowing who he was. In absolute fairness, Sam Smith looks so hungry right now I wonder if he knows who anyone is. The entire Academy Awards audience probably looked like row after row of giant delicious, clapping hot dogs to him. Black also ticked the singer off publicly for text-messaging Black’s fiance, the diver Tom Daley. Black and Daley’s love nest must be ripe with the stench of chlorine and jealousy.

But thank God for these moments, because the average Oscar-ogler – myself included – has seen barely any of the films being celebrated. Oh we meant to, yes. We nearly saw Carol with Cate Blanchett, until someone tipped us off it was 1 hour 58 minutes long and about a lesbian who loses her gloves. My interest in The Revenant was certainly piqued on hearing Leonardo was to be raped by a bear on not one, but two occasions. It sounded like the worst Center Parcs holiday ever. “Don’t bother,” several friends warned me. “It’s over two and half hours of screaming and scrabbling.” Similarly, no one I knew seemed to truly love Mad Max: Fury Road, yet I know several people who adored and cried at the end of Fast and Furious 7. Mad Max’s cast and crew left with six Oscars. Vin Diesel and his cast – noted for their ethnic diversity – were merely left furious.

Host Chris Rock certainly hammered his point home, lampooning the ludicrously slim pickings being celebrated that evening. Rock’s opening speech wasn’t, perhaps, as gut-clutchingly funny as, say, his racial rants during Never Scared or Bigger and Blacker, but then Rock’s views on the 2016 Oscars race debacle are clearly nuanced.

Rock, after all, has been shouting publicly about this stuff for a very long time and before other stars, like Jada Pinkett Smith, became vocal. Rock believes the Oscars are racist, for sure, but he also refuses to be told what jobs he should boycott. “Jada got mad, Jada said she’s not coming,” Rock laughed. “Isn’t she on a TV show? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

And among the oh-so-white guest list, it was illuminating to watch Oscar-winning British costume designer Jenny Beavan walk through the hall, mainly devoid of applause, to collect her gong. It proved how stiff the boundaries of acceptability are if you’re a woman, aged 67, who refuses to wear a £9,000 spaghetti-strap gown and instead opt for a casual jacket and flat shoes. Every woman on the planet who has attended an awards ceremony trussed up like a carnival queen and stood in bare, blistered feet in the freezing cold, waiting for a taxi and holding her shoes, applauded Beavan’s practicality. A clip on the internet, which I have now watched at least 88 times, shows men glowering in her direction as if she is literally an affront to their sensibilities.

Beavan, who recently also won a Bafta for her talents, was a wholly odd spectacle. Here was a woman who had clearly chosen not to starve herself for six months, existing only on legumes, nightshades and grated carbon. Beavan had also not, it seemed, spent months at a pre-Oscars “rock hard abs” boot camp or even spent January recovering from surgery so she could wear a see-through frock. She could walk without wincing or tottering, for God’s sake. The Oscars are still So White, but I took some comfort that Beaven kicked back and made the Oscars So Comfy.

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