The Hurt Locker blew up the Avatar party and made history in the process

“Ladies and gentlemen, the show is so long, that Avatar now takes place in the past.”

Co-host funny man Steve Martin said it best as he wrapped up the 3-hour plus show late into the night at the Kodak Theatre while echoing the sentiments of many voters in the Academy. That the supersized show with supersized categories and many random sequences took a toll on proceedings, resulting in a less ceremonious and rushed Best Picture victory for The Hurt Locker. Academy favourite son Tom Hanks even skipped announcement of the esteemed nominees.

And Martin was right on the money on another point – Avatar became an afterthought after losing out to The Hurt Locker in the most talked-about showdown between the low budget war drama and the monster blockbuster 3D sci-fi fantasy with a monstrous budget.

David took down Goliath, didn’t he? Or rather, didn’t she?

For brevity sake, read our condensed version here,  released 5 minutes after the ceremony before you can say The Straits Times. Yep, we beat them to the punch!

For a blow-by-blow, or tweet-by-tweet account, read our twitter feeds here and red carpet transcript here.

For predictions, read here. UrbanWire’s columnist, yours truly, scored 7 correct in 8 major categories and 17 out of 20 overall. Pat on my back! The self-congratulation continues…

The score line read like a tennis game: The Hurt Locker 6 Avatar 3. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing for THL while Avatar won in the visuals section with Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards was produced by Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, the former a judge on reality dance show So You Think You Can Dance. So naturally, the show opened with a song and dance number by Neil Patrick Harris (that bling tuxedo jacket was as Elton John as it gets) in a throwback to Old Hollywood, all glamorous and feather boas. We heard an NBC joke somewhere in the number too.

Hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin did the usual opening jokes, dissing the dolled up stars and running the laugh riot act. Their co-star on It’s Complicated, Meryl Streep, was the butt of several jokes. “Meryl Streep holds the most number of nominations as an actress. Or, as I like to think of it, most losses,” quipped Martin. He continued later, “Can that woman act? And what’s up with all the Hitler memorabilia?” Perfect.

Others were not spared, especially George Clooney who suffered many lingering camera shots just because. “Oh, look, that’s damn Helen Mirren,” Martin pointed at the Supporting Actress nominee. Baldwin corrected with a smug, “That’s Dame Helen Mirren.”

The hosts worked like seasoned pros, or better still, like an old married couple. “Over here is the ‘Inglourious Basterds’ section,” said Martin. Baldwin jumped in, “And over here are the people who made the movie.”

There were 3D glasses thrown in for good measure, as Baldwin and Martin wore them and stared straight at James Cameron, King of the World and Ruler of 3D. And the show went into autopilot drive, dishing out award after award. Christoph Waltz picked up Best Supporting Actor for his devilish role as a Nazi officer in Inglourious Basterds, in what turned out to be the only win of the night for Quentin Tarantino’s star-studded movie.

Up nailed Best Animated Feature as expected followed by ‘The Weary Kind’ by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham in Crazy Heart for Best Original Song.

Tina Fey, star of 30 Rock and Ironman Robert Downey Jr. got the audience cheering and perhaps high-fiving with a not-so-inside joke sequence. “Memorising, not paraphrasing,” Fey the writer told RDJ the actor. He retorted, shamelessly, “Actors want scripts with social relevance, warm-weather locations, phone-call scenes that can be shot separately from that insane actress that I hate.” Can we request for them to return next year?

The audience woke up from its mid-show slumber when Tina Fey read out The Hurt Locker‘s win for Best Original Screenplay, beating out favourite Inglourious Basterds. Was that a sign of things to come for the war drama whose production budget was a tenth of Avatar‘s? Writer and former journalist Mark Boal paid an emotional tribute to the soldiers in Iraq and his late father. The sentimentalities continued with a tribute to writer-director-producer John Hughes of National Lampoon’s Vacation and Home Alone fame.

In the spirit of the times, Ben Stiller outdid himself and appeared onstage in blue as a Na’vi to present Best Makeup. Irony: Avatar wasn’t even nominated in this category. He rattled off in Na’vi language, which he selflessly translated into “this was a better idea at rehearsal”.

He then grabbed the fishing line attached to his tail and flailed it helplessly before staring at James Cameron uttering an ambiguous and the naughtiest line of the night: “I see you, I want to plug my tail, my braid, into your dragon.” Whoa, I bet even the egomaniacal director didn’t see that one coming at all. By the way, Star Trek won Best Makeup.

Winners were kept to 45-second speeches for brevity, which to be honest, might as well not exist at all. Winners were reminded of the Thank You cams backstage where they could thank whoever they wanted, including their neighbour’s dog. But seriously, what about the audience? Where were the teary speeches and catcalls? We don’t mind a thank you speech to Sandra Bullock’s neighbour’s dog, as long it’s hilarious.

Jake Gyllenhaal and the ever gorgeous Rachel McAdams in an Elie Saab Haute Couture floral print dress presented Best Adapted Screenplay and what a shocker it turned out to be because Precious won. Up in the Air was snubbed!

UITA, considered one of the best films by critics and audiences, landed nothing in the category they were expected to OWN. This loss echoed its run-up since autumn 09 with so much promise in the beginning that fizzled out by the time awards season started. Why? My guess is still up in the air.

A standing ovation was in order for Mo’Nique, who won Best Supporting Actress for her monstrous role of an abusive mother in Precious. Her classy speech was a joy to behold as she congratulated the Academy for “showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics”. Mo’Nique refused to campaign or meet the press during awards season. She also refused to shave her legs (read: Golden Globes).

And by the time Sigourney Weaver wearing a bold red gown (didn’t she get the memo from the rest of the cast?) appeared onstage to present Best Art Direction to Avatar, there was a sense of relief that the 3D blockbuster was not slighted or ignored by the Academy. Tom Ford, fashion designer and director of A Single Man, and Sarah Jessica Parker, fashion muse, presented Best Costume to Sandy Powell for The Young Victoria. “I already have 2 of these,” said Powell. You can pass your third statuette to me, if you ask me.

The hosts appeared again to show us a spoof of Paranormal Activity. A slapstick act well done, including the watching-the-awards-show-from-backstage scene. In a conspicuous and vulgar move to boost ratings, young starlets and eye candies Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart appeared onstage looking radiant (and constipated), sending millions of Twilight fans gushing worldwide. They presented a very random Horror Movies montage, which included clips of Psycho, Rosemary Baby, The Exorcist and…Twilight. Seriously?! I always thought Twilight was a teenager stripper movie (oh the abs!). Somebody return me my $10 movie ticket money stat!

Morgan Freeman narrated the Best Sound Editing and Mixing category using The Dark Knight as an excellent example. Well done Academy for reminding us TDK was shut out from last year’s Oscars! More Young Hollywood beckoned as Zac “Immaculate” Effron and Anna Kendrick presented the abovementioned awards to The Hurt Locker.

Sandra Bullock presented Best Cinematography to Avatar and James Taylor performed In Memoriam. We saw Brittany Murphy, Natasha Richardson and even Michael Jackson. But where was Farrah Fawcett?

In another show of excess and extravagance, the Best Original Score nominees were performed and interpreted vis a vis a modern dance troupe. But we didn’t care, not even for that weird robot dance. Only if Ben Stiller danced…so Up won Best Original Score and Avatar won Best Visual Effects.

The Cove, a brilliant documentary on dolphin slaughter and trading in Japan filmed with passion and bravery, won Best Documentary Feature. In a sign of activism (remember Michael Moore?), Ric O’Barry held a banner urging audiences to text to a number for updates on the dolphin trade.

And the ceremony shifted into high gear despite the ticking bomb um, clock. 5 colleagues (Michelle Pfeiffer, Vera Farmiga, Julianne Moore, Tim Robbins and Colin Firth) appeared on stage to honour the 5 nominees. It’s a nice gesture but time’s running out! Perhaps the segment should be canned. Film an Inside Studio segment instead and screen it in future, please?

Best Actor award went to Jeff Bridges for playing Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. The highly regarded and underrated actor let out a joyous laugh and went on to thank his “Mommy and Dad (the late Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges) for turning me on to such a groovy profession.” The Dude had spoken and the self-congratulations continued in the Academy.

Sean Penn, in an incoherent speech, presented Best Actress to Sandra Bullock who gave a heartfelt speech, considered the best of the night. “Did I really earn this or did I wear ya all down?” exclaimed Sandy. For the record, she earned an Oscar and a Razzie, setting a new record. She went on to praise (“Carey, your grace, your beauty and your talent… makes me sick”) and flirted (“Meryl, you’re such a good kisser”) with her fellow nominees. And to her mom, whom she considered a trailblazer. That’s when we all started to well up.

And out came diva and 2-time Academy Award winner Barbra Streisand to present Best Director, an obvious hint Kathryn Bigelow would win. She opened the envelope and announced fittingly, “Well, the time has come.”

There were cheers and catcalls, which we then saw Kathryn Bigelow making history and walking onstage to collect the Best Director award. Bigelow is the first female director to win Best Director in an industry crowded with alpha males and infused with gender politics. She is also the first female director I have seen with such nice biceps.

Bigelow dedicated her award to Mark Boal “who sacrified his life”, the people of Jordan, and the soldiers overseas. “May they come home safe,” said Bigelow. By then, the air of excitement was palpable. The Hurt Locker looked all ready to blast.

Academy Governor Tom Hanks rushed onstage, skipped announcing the 10 esteemed nominees and uttered The Hurt Locker for Best Picture. Bigelow rushed back onstage to collect her award and the entire Academy looked on at Cameron in sympathy. The contest between Avatar and The Hurt Locker turned out to be pedestrian, as THL took home 6 awards and had all the languishing independent film studios believing they can.

The show closed with Martin stealing Bigelow’s statue, finally introducing Baldwin, and Baldwin quickly bidding farewell (“That’s all the time we have!”) to the weary audience (half of them were already at the bar or canoodling backstage), informing us once again why the Academy showmasters never learnt.

In an age of online streaming, live twitter updates and minute-after uploads, the Oscars broadcast on television may seem out of touch but it can still be relevant. If the audience waited months watching Hollywood turn into a circus during awards season, the additional 20 or 30 minutes showing Ben Stiller dancing or actresses giving long-winded teary speeches would be just fine. Just spare us the modern dance segments.

Images captured from recorded footage.

And the winners are…

Best PictureThe Hurt Locker


Best ActorJeff Bridges, Crazy Heart


Best ActressSandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds


Best Supporting Actress
Mo’Nique, Precious

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Original ScreenplayMark Boal, The Hurt Locker


Best Adapted Screenplay
Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious

Best Animated Film

Best Foreign Language Film
El Secreto do Sus Ojos (Argentina)

Best Art Direction

Best Cinematography

Best Costume Design
The Young Victoria

Best Documentary
The Cove

Best Film Editing
The Hurt Locker

Best Makeup
Star Trek

Best Original Score

Best Original Song
‘The Weary Kind’ from Crazy Heart by T-Bone Burnett & Ryan Bingham

Best Sound Editing
The Hurt Locker

Best Sound Mixing
The Hurt Locker

Best Visual Effects

Best Documentary Short
Music by Prudence

Best Animated Short

Best Live-Action Short
The New Tenants