Ellen Degeneres has come a long way from doing her standup act at Tommy T’s San Ramon more than a decade ago.
Sporting a red velvet pantsuit, Degeneres rocked never forgetting she wasn’t just there to entertain the home crowd, but also to tickle the audience at home. Too bad the producers didn’t think about the people at home watching. At three hours and 45 minutes, it was a bloated production that needed a good edit. Instead of being a sharp show that came in a little over budget, we were yawning by the time the final credits rolled.
Yet it started out so promising. Degeneres did her best to keep the ball rolling. She yucked it up with audience members like Clint Eastwood, and even got Steven Spielberg to snap their picture for her My Space. And earlier in the evening, she pointed out that America had voted Jennifer Hudson off “American Idol” and yet she was here. And that Al Gore had been voted in by the American public, and yet…
Hudson, who had the good luck to be voted off “American Idol” so she could be free to do “Dreamgirls,” picked up an Oscar for her best supporting actress role.
“I have to take a moment to take this in. Look what God can do,” says an obviously overwhelmed Hudson. “I didn’t think I was going to win. If my grandmother could only see me now. She was a singer with the passion, but not the chance.”
The dazed Hudson barely noticed when her presenter, George Clooney, handed her the envelope as a keepsake.
Talking about dazed, by 8:30 — the time the awards show was supposed to end — we still hadn’t gotten to several major awards. Which meant once again we leisurely go through the awards so only to rush through the awards most people tuning in wanted to see.
The major honors were handed out in breakneck fashion during the last 15 minutes of the show:
Best Actress to Helen Mirren for “The Queen” showed grace under pressure thanking her fellow nominees, filmmakers and even Elizabeth Winsor, the Queen.
Best Actor to Forest Whitaker in “the Last King of Scotland,” who wrote something down because he thought he would be overwhelmed.
“The only way I saw movies as a kid was in the backseat at a drive-in. It is possible for a kid from Texas and raised in South Central (L.A.) to happen,” Whitaker said in an emotional statement. “Thank my ancestors and God.”
Three Amigos — Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, who joked about never having won an Oscar — giving the Best Directing Oscar to their pal Martin Scorsese for “The Departed” who was the only award winner to get a standing ovation.
“Could you double-check the envelope?” he joked.
And finally Jack Nicholson asked Diane Keaton to remind everyone the nominees for Best Picture. We needed the nudge.
The Oscar went to “The Departed, ‘’ with a speech by producer Graham King that made the show go out with a yawn.
Whitaker and Hudson was one of a handful of winners who took Degeneres’ advice early in the evening when she encouraged winners to lie if they had to in order to keep the broadcast interesting. She also provided a precarious moment during the production of the best song nominee from “Dreamgirls” when she almost popped out of her red dress.
Melissa Etheridge ended up winning best song for “An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary who took home an Oscar and inspired the Oscars to “go green.”
“I have to thank Al Gore…caring about the earth is not Republican or Democrat. It’s not red or blue,” Etheridge said. “We’re all green. We can be the greatest generation. The generation that woke up and changed.”
Earlier in the evening, Alan Arkin blandly read from crib notes to accept his best supporting actor statue for his role in “Little Miss Sunshine.” A shot of his little co-star Abigail Breslin said it for us all when she was caught gazing off in obvious boredom.
In fact, if the Oscars just went with what the public wanted, then it would be cut to half the time with all the major awards like best acting, best writing and best pictures. And we would have cut Jerry Seinfeld altogether, although we still got a kick out of the shadow dancers, Celine Dion singing, and the bit by Will Ferrell and Jack Black way back at the beginning of the night.
So why do we keep coming back? We look for those spontaneous award-show moments like the one years ago when Dolly Parton ripped her dress when she got up to collect a music award and said her dad turned to her telling her that was what happened when you tried to put 20 pounds of mud in a 5 pound sack.
Sadly, we didn’t get very many of those moments at the Oscars. But then, it’s been years since there was an impulsive moment on the show. Which could explain the dwindling ratings even for a show that was one of the best productions in recent memory.