Taking on the issues at the Oscars
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In a year when larger events -- the presidential election, the war in Iraq, the writers strike -- overshadowed and even threatened to undo the Academy Awards, Oscar responded Sunday night by incorporating those topics into the show.
Host Jon Stewart, already a vocal presence about the strike on his own late-night series, made a number of joking references to the walkout that shut down Hollywood for three months. "The fight is over," he said as the telecast began. "Now welcome to the makeup sex."
Continuing to riff on the labor stoppage, he referenced the cancellation of the Vanity Fair party with a joke about how writers were treated in Hollywood. "They said they (canceled the show) for the writers," Stewart said. "You know how they can support the writers? Maybe one day invite some of them to the Vanity Fair Oscar party."
Diablo Cody, the winner for best original screenplay, succinctly made the point on behalf of the WGA when she extended her statue and exclaimed, "This is for the writers."
Iraq, too, cast a pall over the Oscars. Five years ago, when Michael Moore won for "Bowling for Columbine" and the Iraq War had just begun, the provocateur documentarian riled up attendees when he attacked the administration for "sending us to war for fictitious reasons."
With Moore failing to win for his health-care docu "Sicko," the 2008 mantle was left to Alex Gibney, who took the trophy for his military-torture film "Taxi to the Dark Side." Gibney gave one of the shortest but most politically spirited speeches of the night, saying that his wife was hoping he'd make a romantic comedy, but "after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and extraordinary rendition, that was certainly not possible."
He then said, "Let's hope we can turn this country around and away from the dark side and toward the light."
Most presenters and winners stayed away from the military and war themes, though. The Academy and producer Gil Cates displayed a well-received touch by having soldiers around the world present the best documentary short subject category, which went to "Freeheld," the HBO Docs pic about gay rights.
Stewart's take on the war and war documentaries was lighter. Noting that the Iraq movies had been seen by a very small audience -- "Taxi" earned $90,000 at the U.S. boxoffice -- he quipped, in an apparent reference to Sen. John McCain and other Republicans, that the movies should stay in theaters for 100 years.
"Withdrawing the Iraq movies would only embolden the audience," he said. "And we cannot let the audience win."
He also made one of the few invocations of the presidential election, citing "Away From Her," about a woman beset with dementia who forgets her own husband. "Hillary Clinton called it the feel-good picture of the year," he said to a decidedly mixed reaction.
Stewart also took a shot at Hollywood liberalism when he said that everyone in the room should closely examine all the issues and then "pick the Democrat you'll vote for."
But he saved jibes for the Republicans as well. The comedian noted that "Oscar is 80 this year, which makes him now automatically the front-runner for the Republican nomination."