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Jon Stewart opens Oscars with post-strike humour

Political satirist Jon Stewart returned as Oscar host on Sunday with a slew of jokes about the bitter Hollywood writers’ strike that had threatened the show and the grim, violent themes of many of the films.

“Tonight we look beyond the dark days to focus on happier fare — this year’s slate of Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies,” Stewart dead-panned, adding “Does this town need a hug?”

He then ticked off the titles of several of this season’s bloodier Oscar contenders.

“‘No Country For Old Men,’ ‘Sweeney Todd,’ ‘There Will Be Blood. All I can say is: Thank God for teen pregnancy,” he joked, drawing laughs for his reference to the only comedy vying for best picture, “Juno,” a story of unexpected motherhood.

The introductory monologue by Stewart, making his second appearance as Oscar host, was notably shorter than his opening performance in 2006, owing to production constraints posed by the Hollywood writers’ strike.

The 14-week walkout officially ended on February 12, giving Oscar producers just 11 days to write material for a live telecast that normally takes many weeks to prepare.

For weeks, the Oscar show also was threatened with the possibility that stars might boycott the event in support of striking writers rather than cross picket lines. That dilemma forced cancellation of the Golden Globes ceremony last month.


“These past 3-1/2 months have been very tough,” said Stewart, whose own nightly cable TV show was thrown into reruns by the labor dispute.

“The town was torn apart by a very bitter writers’ strike, and I’m happy to say that the fight is over. So tonight, welcome to the makeup sex.”

One of Stewart’s biggest laughs came as he mentioned that one casualty of the strike had been the cancellation of the annual Oscar party hosted by Vanity Fair magazine, “out of respect for the writers.”

“You know another way they could show respect for the writers? Maybe one day invite some of them to the Vanity Fair Oscar party,” he joked. “Don’t worry. They won’t mingle.”

Stewart acknowledged during the broadcast that a shortage of time to write material had forced producers to fill the show with more than the usual amount of video montages and clips of memorable Oscar moments.

Turning his humor on his favorite comic targets, Stewart used a number of Oscar references to segue into jabs at the candidates running for U.S. president.

“Julie Christie was absolutely amazing in ‘Away from Her’ … a moving story of a woman who forgets her own husband,” he said. “Hillary Clinton called it the feel-good movie of the year.”

And in a reference to the presumed Republican nominee, 71-year-old Arizona Sen. John McCain, Stewart noted that “Oscar is 80 this year, which makes him now automatically the front-runner for the Republican nomination.”

Stewart also took a veiled crack at the Iraq war policy and rhetoric of President George W. Bush and McCain as he joked about the anemic box office performance of several Iraq-themed movies in recent months.

“I am telling you, if we stay the course and keep these movies in the theaters, we can turn this around,” he shouted. “I don’t care if it takes 100 years. Withdrawing the Iraq movies would only embolden the audience. We cannot let the audience win.”

Source: Reuters

‘The Departed’ wins best picture Oscar, Scorsese, Mirren, Whitaker take prizes

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Martin Scorsese’s mob epic "The Departed" won best picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday and earned the filmmaker the directing prize that had eluded him throughout his illustrious career.

"Could you double-check the envelope?" said Scorsese, who had been the greatest living American filmmaker without an Oscar. He also had never delivered a best-picture winner before, despite crafting such modern masterpieces as "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas."

Scorsese received his Oscar from three contemporaries and friends, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. "So many people over the years have been wishing this for me," Scorsese said.

In an evening when no one film dominated as the Oscars shared the love among a wide range of movies from around the world, three of the four acting front-runners won: best actress Helen Mirren as British monarch Elizabeth II in "The Queen"; best actor Forest Whitaker as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland"; and supporting actress Jennifer Hudson as a soul singer in "Dreamgirls."

The other front-runner, Eddie Murphy of "Dreamgirls," lost to Alan Arkin for "Little Miss Sunshine."

"For 50 years and more, Elizabeth Windsor has maintained her dignity, her sense of duty and her hairstyle," said Mirren, who has been on a remarkable roll since last fall as she won all major film and television prizes for playing both of Britain’s Queen Elizabeths.

"She’s had her feet planted firmly on the ground, her hat on her head, her handbag on her arm and she’s weathered many many storms. … If it wasn’t for her, I most certainly wouldn’t be here. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the queen," Mirren said, holding her Oscar aloft.

"The Departed" led the evening with four Oscars, also winning for adapted screenplay and editing.

The Oscars had their most diverse and international scope ever, with wins for two black actors and global dramas that included "Pan’s Labyrinth," "Babel" and "Letters From Iwo Jima."

The soft-spoken Whitaker won for an uncharacteristically flamboyant role as the barbarous yet mesmerizing Amin.

"When I was a kid the only way I saw movies was from the back seat of my family’s car at the drive-in movie," Whitaker said. "It wasn’t my reality to think I would be acting in movies, so receiving this honour tonight tells me it’s possible. It is possible for a kid from east Texas, raised in south-central L.A. and Carson, who believes in his dreams, commits himself to them with his heart, to touch them and to have them happen."

Arkin played a foul-mouthed grandpa with a taste for heroin in "Little Miss Sunshine," a low-budget film that came out of the independent world to become a commercial hit and major awards player.

"More than anything, I’m deeply moved by the open-hearted appreciation our small film has received, which in these fragmented times speaks so openly of the possibility of innocence, growth and connection," said Arkin.

Hudson won an Oscar for her first movie, playing a powerhouse vocalist who falls on hard times after she is booted from a 1960s girl group. The role came barely two years after she shot to celebrity as an "American Idol" finalist.

"Oh my God, I have to just take this moment in. I cannot believe this. Look what God can do. I didn’t think I was going to win," Hudson said through tears of joy. "If my grandmother was here to see me now. She was my biggest inspiration."

"Little Miss Sunshine" also won the original screenplay Oscar for first-time screenwriter Michael Arndt.

The film follows a ghastly but hilarious road trip by an emotionally messed-up family rushing to get their darling girl (10-year-old supporting-actress nominee Abigail Breslin) to her beauty pageant.

"When I was a kid, my family drove 600 miles in a VW bus with a broken clutch," Arndt said, describing a road trip that mirrored the one in the film. "It ended up being one of the funnest things we did together."

The nonfiction hit "An Inconvenient Truth," a chronicle of Al Gore’s campaign to warn the world about global warming, was picked as best documentary.

"People all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis. It’s not a political issue. It’s a moral issue," Gore said, joining the film’s director, Davis Guggenheim, on stage.

"An Inconvenient Truth" also won original song for Melissa Etheridge’s "I Need to Wake Up."

"Mostly, I have to thank Al Gore for inspiring me, showing me that caring about the earth is not Republican or Democrat, it’s not red or blue. We are all green," Etheridge said.

The openly gay Etheridge kissed her partner Tammy Lynn Michaels on the lips when her name was announced and onstage referred to Michaels as her wife. The couple held a commitment ceremony in 2003 and are the parents of twins.

"Maybe someone at home is going, ‘Did she say wife?"’ Etheridge said backstage. "I was kissing her because that’s what you do, you kiss your loved one when you win an Oscar, that’s what I grew up believing."

Earlier, Gore appeared with best-actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio to praise organizers for implementing environmentally friendly practices in the show’s production.

DiCaprio set up a gag with Gore, asking the 2000 presidential candidate if there was anything he wanted to announce.

"I guess with a billion people watching, it’s as good a time as any. So my fellow Americans, I’m going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce my intentions …," Gore said, his voice trailing away as the orchestra cut him off.

Composer Gustavo Santaolalla won his second straight Oscar for original score for "Babel," a film "that helped us understand better who we are and why and what we are here for," he said. He won the same prize a year ago for "Brokeback Mountain."

The dancing-penguin musical "Happy Feet" won the Oscar for feature-length animation, denying computer-animation pioneer John Lasseter ("Toy Story") the prize for "Cars," which had been the big winner of earlier key animation honours.

"I asked my kids, ‘What should I say?’ They said, ‘Thank all the men for wearing penguin suits,"’ said "Happy Feet" director George Miller.

The savage fairy tale "Pan’s Labyrinth" took three Oscars. The Spanish-language film won for art direction, makeup and cinematography.

"To Guillermo del Toro for guiding us through this labyrinth," said art director Eugenio Caballero, lauding the writer-director of "Pan’s Labyrinth," the tale of a girl who concocts an elaborate fantasy world to escape her harsh reality in 1940s Fascist Spain.

Only one of several Canadian nominees walked away with a trophy. Montrealer Torill Kove won best animated short for "The Danish Poet." Ryan Gosling, who was raised in Cornwall, Ont., lost out to Whitaker for the best actor prize, while Toronto’s Deepa Mehta went home empty-handed in the best foreign language film category.

That prize went to Germany’s "The Lives of Others," about a playwright and his actress-girlfriend who come under police surveillance in 1980s East Berlin.

"Letters From Iwo Jima" won the sound-editing Oscar for Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman. Murray’s father was an Iwo Jima survivor.

"Thank you to my father and all the brave and honourable men and women in uniform who in a time of crisis have all made that decision to defend their personal freedom and liberty no matter what the sacrifice," Murray said.

The record holder for Oscar futility, sound engineer Kevin O’Connell, extended his losing streak to 19 nominations without a win. This time, O’Connell and two colleagues were nominated for sound mixing on "Apocalypto," Mel Gibson’s portrait of the savage decline of the ancient Mayan empire, but they lost to another trio of sound engineers that worked on "Dreamgirls." "Apocalypto" lost in all three categories in which it was nominated, all for technical achievements.

Once an evening of back-slapping and merrymaking within the narrow confines of Hollywood, the Academy Awards this time looked like a United Nations exercise in diversity.

The 79th annual Oscars feature their most ethnically varied lineup ever, with stars and stories that reflect the growing multiculturalism taking root around the globe.

"What a wonderful night. Such diversity in the room," said Ellen DeGeneres, serving as Oscar host for the first time, "in a year when there’s been so many negative things said about people’s race, religion and sexual orientation.

"And I want to put this out there: If there weren’t blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars," she said, adding: "Or anyone named Oscar, when you think about that."