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Monday, January 26, 2009

And the Oscar goes to... Oscar

By Mark Feeney

What a difference a preposition makes. Oscar for is one thing - Oscar in is quite another. Rare as it is for a film to win an Academy Award, it's rarer still for a film to include an Academy Awards scene. Usually, the scene's played for laughs; and when it's not, maybe it ought to be. Either way, it's Hollywood self-congratulation at its ripest. With this year's nominations announced last Thursday and the big night only four weeks away, here's a look at Oscar onscreen.

"Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult" (1994)

The envelope with the name of the best picture winner contains a bomb, and Leslie Nielsen's Frank Drebin - masquerading as Phil Donahue! - is on the case. He crashes the chorus line of a Pia Zadora production number, tackles Raquel Welch, and reverse peristalts into a tuba. Imagine what he might have done if Barbara Walters had interviewed him beforehand.

"Chaplin" (1992)

The climax of this biopic about the comic legend is his receiving an honorary Academy Award at the 1972 ceremonies. Robert Downey Jr. earned a best actor nomination in the title role. And, if that's not confusing enough, it's Downey who gets to present the best actor Oscar in "Tropic Thunder."

"Tropic Thunder" (2008)

The only way to come up with an untoppable finish for such a procession of can-you-top-this movie-biz outrageousness is, of course, with an Oscar ceremony. Who needs a takeoff on "Apocalypse Now" when you can have a takeoff on the Academy Awards now?

"A Star Is Born"(1937)

Janet Gaynor has just won the best actress Oscar. So who should stumble in and interrupt her acceptance speech but her drunk husband, Fredric March? He's a past Oscar winner himself (March as well as his character), so he's presumably entitled to dismiss the statuette as "that little piece of bric-a-brac." What he's not entitled to do is slap Gaynor, which he also does, albeit inadvertently.

"A Star Is Born" (1954)

The greatest of all movie-Oscar moments consists of three words, all but trumpeted by Judy Garland as she clutches her statuette: "Mrs. . . . Norman . . . Maine!" James Mason's performance, as Mr. Norman Maine, is pretty good, too. Ditto Garland's rendition of "The Man that Got Away."

"The Oscar" (1966)

Ruthless movie star Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) is desperate to win a you-know-what. You'd think the oddest thing about this famous stinker-oo would be the presence of so many Oscar winners in the cast: Ernest Borgnine, Broderick Crawford, Walter Brennan, Ed Begley. No, it's Tony Bennett, in his sole dramatic screen role, as Fane's best friend, Hymie Kelly. The improbability of the character's name is, alas, matched by the improbability of Bennett's performance.

"The Bodyguard" (1992) Whitney Houston has just won best actress. She goes up to accept her award. Security man Kevin Costner

realizes she's about to be shot. He rushes on stage to interpose himself between Whitney and shooter (in slo-mo, no less). Watch for Debbie Reynolds's hissy cameo. Now that they should have shot in slow motion.

"In & Out" (1997)

Making an Oscar acceptance speech, Matt Dillon thanks Kevin Kline, his high school English teacher back home in Indiana, for inspiring Dillon's performance as a gay soldier. Kline is gay? Bad enough that millions of television viewers worldwide hear this. So does Kline's fiancee, the ever-sublime Joan Cusack. Complications most certainly ensue.

"California Suite" (1978)

Maggie Smith won a best supporting actress Oscar for playing a character nominated as best actress. Does that make sense? Michael Caine is her antiques-dealer husband. "I hope you win the bloody Oscar," he says, trying to buck up her spirits in the limo to the ceremony. "Fifty years from now I'll be able to sell it for a fortune." Although the actual ceremony isn't shown, there's a red carpet sequence, as well as the tail end of what looks to be a very dull post-Oscar party.

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