Last night; if you missed the Critics' Choice Awards on VH1 live from the Santa Monica Civic Center, then you didn’t see one of the best produced awards shows in some time. It was pretty impressive, so much so that I think CBS’s Les Moonves should seriously consider moving next year’s edition to the mothership network.
The big gasp came from a tie in the Best Actress category—Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married” and Meryl Streep in “Doubt.” The latter was one of two stars who couldn’t make the show from New York, and I’ll be she was sorry in retrospect. Streep’s “Doubt’ co-star Viola Davis had to accept her award, and did so with disarming grace and a bit of comedy. “I know if she were here Meryl would be thanking me,” Davis said.
(The other winner absent, as I predicted, was Kate Winslet, best supporting actress for “The Reader.” She’s still in New York, tending to a sick child.)
And then Hathaway, who at 26 has become the most interesting new player in the Oscar mix in some time. In the last year she’s survived and overcome the scandal of a con man ex-boyfriend now in jail and surpassed her image as a lightweight star of romantic comedies with this heavy, spectacular performance in Jonathan Demme’s almost cinema verite tour de force.
Hathaway is also proving to be incredibly articulate, and, as the year passed, politicized in a way that puts her in the legacy of Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon. She speaks her mind about issues she feels passionately about.
One of them is Barack Obama—whom she backed—and his choice of Rick Warren as the Obama Inauguration’s clergy of choice.
“I am against it,” Hathaway told me at the after party last night amid champagne toasts to her, to Streep, and to her “Rachel” co-star Rosemarie Dewitt. “My older brother is gay, and so its a family issue for me. My father is coming with me to the Inauguration. At first we discussed not going, and then we thought we’d just turn our backs when he [Warren] speaks. But we didn’t want to be disrespectful. So we’re going to wear ribbons protesting his appearance.”
So she’s outspoken, and polite. That’s a combination you can’t beat.
Hathaway is currently in a—yes—romantic comedy called “Bride Wars” which is more like her “Princess Diaries” and less like “Rachel.” But that was intentional. She said she asked her agent—the great Susan Bymel—to look for something light after living as a recovering addict in “Rachel.”
“She said, a comedy, with Kate Hudson, about weddings. And I said, I’m in!”
Hathaway’s win (co-win) kicks her up to the next level, as they say in the biz. Right after the show ended and the cameras went off, she was congratulated by the always gracious Angelina Jolie, who didn’t win for “Changeling” but handled it like a pro. Jolie and consort Brad Pitt were also good sports when host Jason Alexander teased them during his opening monologue about the couple possibly adopting him.
Was it okay, I asked Alexander, since the joke was told right at their table and not from the safe distance of the stage.
“Yes, they went along with it,” said the one time Art Vandelay ("Seinfeld" fans know what I’m talking about). “Brad laughed, although they did look a little uncomfortable when I suggested snuggling in bed with them!”
Jolie, for her part, told me she agreed with me that Pitt was best this year in his comic role in the Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading.”
“I told him that, too!” she said. And don’t doubt Brangelina’s lightning star power. Their presence in a room full of stars from Clint Eastwood to Penelope Cruz is unmistakable. Flashbulbs pop in dizzying split second sequences, crowds form around their table and security guards mass along their border like soldiers in a war zone. No wonder every awards show from the Golden Globes to the National Board of Review wants them at a table. The couple is like a link to Hollywood's past glamour.
One odd note that shows how Hollywood fortunes change with the tides: for a moment, Pitt was sitting next to “Wrester” director Darren Aronofsky. The irony here is that the latter’s career was nearly destroyed when Pitt allowed Warner Bros. to remove him from the Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” at the last minute and put him in the godawful “Troy.”
“Fountain” had to be shut down in pre-production; things looked grim. Now Aronofsky is the toast of the town for his phenomenal work bringing back Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.” “Troy” has been relegated to the dustbin of movie history. And Pitt looked a little uncomfortable during those few seconds when paths crossed last night. Maybe he knew he’d made a mistake.
But it was really a night for “Slumdog Millionaire,” the Danny Boyle directed indie hit that started as a Warner Independent release and wound up with Fox Searchlight. The remarkable Bollywood type comedy drama swept the awards, knocked out both “Benjamin Button” and “Milk,” and is now headed to Oscar gold with a courtesy stop at the Globes this Sunday.
Remember: I told you this would happen from its first screening in September at the Toronto Film Festival. Last night both Boyle and award winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy looked almost as shocked as Fox Searchlight’s Peter Rice. The Warner people are probably kicking themselves, especially since their other Oscar contender, Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” hasn’t launched awards-wise. (The studio seems to have put all its efforts in “The Dark Knight” for some reason. Oscar voters, I hope, will remember Eastwood is so good in “Gran Torino” and deserves his Oscar.)
Meanwhile, there’s a lot to say about Sean Penn getting his Best Actor award in “Milk.” For the first time I can remember in all these years of awards shows, Penn seems happy. He’s smiling, laughing, joking. He’s enjoying himself. Last night he was in fine fettle, chatting up old friend and “Up at the Villa” co-star from years ago Kristin Scott Thomas. Last week, he and Josh Brolin had a good time at the New York Film Critics dinner. The new Penn is a pleasure.
And the final surprise of the night: Kate Winslet’s important win for “The Reader.” She deserves it. The problem is, so does Penelope Cruz for “Vicki Cristina Barcelona.” The two roles could not be more different. Of course, Winslet’s is really a LEAD performance, not supporting. Her “Reader” role was put there in a deal with “Revolutioanry Road” because the peeps that decide these things decreed it so. But “Rev Rd” hasn’t materialized award support so far, and “The Reader” has to some degree. It’s kind of a mess. But it’s possible “The Reader” will still wind up with a Best Picture nomination and carry Winslet in—or vice versa. For the amazing Penelope it’s a conundrum. I say, just give her a special Oscar just for being Penelope!
The Obama Inauguration is turning into a logistical nightmare.
You know all those galas and balls, unofficial, official and otherwise? The organizers are being told that they must have all their trucks and equipment in the city by Sunday the 18th. After that, the city will shut down. At 2am on the 20th, all access to the city is cut off. The bridges will be closed. Most roads will be blocked anywhere near the Capitol.
Everyone—including politicians and celebrities and rich donors—will be forced with the hoi polloi onto the hard pavement or into the subway. This sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
And yes, in case you were concerned: Oprah Winfrey is having a luncheon/reception/something or other on the 20th, after the swearing in, at TenPen restaurant. It’s not clear if she’ll be inviting Harold Simmons, her billionaire Republican pal who funded the anti-Obama ads this summer. But you know, maybe she will in the spirit of the new administration! He can meet ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers, and they can all go on Oprah’s show with Eckhart Tolle and work it out.
Now, that’s an Oprah show I’d pay to see!