Arts Editor Billy Suter wasn't impressed with the televised
77th annual Academy Awards ceremony
Designer gowns, jewels and tuxedos. Swirling spotlights over red carpets. Air-kissing, mutual backslapping, overlong acceptance speeches - it was glitz and glamour as usual as the 77th Oscars ceremony unfolded in Los Angeles's 3 600-seat Kodak Theatre from 3.30am yesterday (SA time).
And if the big winner of the evening, Million Dollar Baby, proved a knockout favourite - the boxing drama took statuettes for best film, best director (Clint Eastwood), best actress (Hilary Swank) and best actor in a supporting role (Morgan Freeman) - the televised ceremony fell flat on its face.
This longtime fan of the most watched awards show on the planet, who rose in the wee hours to catch the ceremony live on DStv, often almost dozed off during what must rate as the most dreary Oscars show to date.
Controversial new host Chris Rock was a bore and looked ill at ease in a show which, for the first time, saw some awards presented from the auditorium and some nominees taking the stage before the naming of the award winners.
The show lacked spark, the nominated songs - three of the five were performed by singer Beyonce Knowles - were dull. And where were all the big names, like Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt?
There were few surprises, other than Martin Scorsese being robbed, yet again, of the statuette for best director.
However his film, The Aviator, about tycoon Howard Hughes's idiosyncrasies and passion for film-making, did collect the most Oscars during the evening, a total of five.
These were for best actress in a supporting role (Cate Blanchett), editing, cinematography, art direction and costume design.
As expected, Jamie Foxx won the award for best actor for his role as Ray Charles in Ray, while the Spanish drama The Sea Inside beat South Africa's Yesterday to the statuette for best foreign-language film.
Two of the most deserved awards of the evening were in the writing categories. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind won for best screenplay written directly for the screen, while Sideways took the award for best adapted screenplay.
Jan Kaczmarek took the award for best original score, for Finding Neverland.
Jorge Drexler's Al Otro Lado Del Rio, from The Motorcycle Diaries, won the award for best original song, which was performed live on stage by Antonio Banderas, backed by Carlos Santana.
The make-up award went to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, while the award for best sound went to Ray, and that for sound editing to The Incredibles, a film also voted best animated feature.
Spider-Man 2 got the nod for visual effects, while the documentary feature award went to Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids.
There might have been a collective groan from around South Africa early yesterday when the isiZulu drama Yesterday, the first local production to be nominated for the Oscar award for best foreign language film, lost to the Spanish drama The Sea Inside.
But, if there was obvious disappointment among the local contingent attending the glitzy ceremony at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, there were no long faces from the team, comprising Durban producer Anant Singh, co-producer Helena Spring, star Leleti Khumalo and director Darrell James Roodt.
Speaking by telephone to East Coast Radio's Lev David, during a raucous after-party about 8am South African time yesterday, Roodt said he and his colleagues were delighted just to have had Yesterday nominated. And he added: "We have the key in the door and we are now going to open it and shine."
The nomination for Yesterday, which was shot in under four weeks in rural KwaZulu-Natal, and in which Khumalo plays a simple villager with HIV who strives to live long enough to be able to send her daughter to school, was reward enough.
It made the shortlist of five best foreign language film nominees from 48 acclaimed films submitted for consideration from around the world.
Roodt said South Africa needed to push out a body of work - a steady flow of interesting, quality films - which would qualify for the mainstream competition and not just in the foreign language film category.
His aim was to make a film that did just that. He said: "I want to be nominated for the award for best director next."
Roodt will soon start the filming, in Johannesburg, of a new drama, teaming musician Mandoza and television heart-throb Colin Moss, of Pop Idols and Fear Factor fame, who started his acting career in Durban. Could this film, titled Number 10 and centred on the world of provincial rugby, be the stepping stone to bigger things for Roodt, whose credits include Sarafina, Place of Weeping, The Stick and Cry the Beloved Country?
Time will tell.
Meanwhile, South Africa continues to find a place on the movie-making map, recent success stories including U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, a Xhosa film version of Bizet's Carmen opera, which scooped the big prize, the coveted Golden Bear award, at the recent 55th Berlin International Film Festival.
Also, South Africa has four feature films out of 20 in competition at the Fespaco Film Festival, which began at the weekend in Ouagadougou, capital of the West African country Burkina Faso.
Winners of the 77th Academy Awards
Picture: Million Dollar Baby
Director: Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby
Actor: Jamie Foxx for Ray
Actress: Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby
Supporting actor: Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby
Supporting actress: Cate Blanchett for The Aviator
Foreign-language film: The Sea Inside (Spain)
Animated feature film: The Incredibles
Documentary: Born Into Brothels by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman
Original screenplay: Charlie Kaufman/Michel Gondry/Pierre Bismuth for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Song: Al Otro Lado Del Rio from The Motorcycle Diaries
Original score: Jan A P Kaczmarek for Finding Neverland
Cinematography: Robert Richardson for The Aviator
Sound: Scott Millan/Greg Orloff/Bob Beemer/Steve Cantamessa for Ray
Sound editing: Michael Silvers/Randy Thom for The Incredibles
Film editing: Thelma Schoonmaker for The Aviator
Visual effects: John Dykstra/Scott Stokdyk/Anthony LaMolinara/John Frazier for Spider Man 2
Art direction: Dante Ferretti/Francesca Lo Schiavo for The Aviator
Short film: Wasp by Andrea Arnold
Short animated film: Ryan by Chris Landreth
Make-up: Valli O'Reilly/Bill Corso for Lemony Snicket:
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Costume: Sandy Powell for The Aviator
Short documentary: Mighty Times - The Children's March by Robert Hudson/Bobby Houston. - Sapa-AFP