Night of The Departed

The 79th Academy Awards by and large went according to script, writes Vikramdeep Johal

Forest Whitaker (left) and Jennifer Hudson won in the best actor and best supporting actress categories, respectively
Forest Whitaker (left) and Jennifer Hudson won in the best actor and best supporting actress categories, respectively
Veteran director Martin Scorsese finally bagged an Oscar, for The Departed.
Veteran director Martin Scorsese finally bagged an Oscar, for The Departed. — Photos by AP/PTI/Reuters

This year’s Oscars virtually boiled down to just one award. The million-dollar question was: Would six-time nominated director Martin Scorsese finally win the elusive statuette? As expected, he did, for his multi-starrer crime thriller The Departed. Nobody — be it the film community, the media or the movie-going public — would have forgiven the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had they voted against the 64-year-old maestro.

He deserved Oscars for classics like Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Goodfellas (1990), but inexplicably didn’t get any (he was not even nominated for the seminal Taxi Driver). His best had not been good enough for the Academy. Now, it was time to make amends for past lapses before it was too late. After all, another great director, Robert Altman, had died last year without ever getting the best director Oscar (even though he was given an honorary award the same year).

The Departed, based on the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs, is by no means Scorsese’s greatest work, but it has proved to be his most successful at the box-office. Warts and all, it did the trick for him. As the cliche goes, better late than never.

There were also no upsets in the best film, best actor and best actress categories. The Departed became the first Scorsese movie to win the best film award. Forest Whitaker predictably got it for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland; so did Helen Mirren for her superb performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen.

While the Academy at last gave Scorsese his due, it yet again snubbed Peter O’Toole. The British thespian had been nominated for his role of a hedonistic old man in Venus, but it was a deja vu case of "so near yet so far". This was his eighth nomination, and it raised hopes that he would finally get an acting Oscar to go with the honorary award he received a few years ago. But it was not to be as he lost to Whitaker. Now the 74-year-old solely holds the unenviable record of most nominations without a win (earlier, he shared it with the late Richard Burton, who went Oscar-less despite being nominated seven times).

Barring O’Toole, the night proved fruitful for the oldies. Mirren, at 61, beat a tough field that included previous winners like Judi Dench and Meryl Streep. In the best supporting actor category, septuagenarian Alan Arkin won for Little Miss Sunshine. This was another example of belated recognition as Arkin has been one of Hollywood’s finest character actors in the past four decades. He was nominated for best actor on debut for the comedy The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966) and also for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968). This time, he did not go empty-handed.

The Afro-Americans, too, hogged the limelight. Only for the third time in the history of the Oscars, two of the four acting awards were won by them. Whitaker’s success in the best actor category was complemented by debutant Jennifer Hudson’s triumph for Dreamgirls (best supporting actress).

Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) had done it two years ago, while Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) formed the winning duo in 2002. Incidentally, all three instances are from this decade, highlighting the growing recognition of Afro-American actors.

Surprise element

The unexpected was almost conspicuous by its absence, but there were a few surprises. Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro’s celebrated fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth was the hot favourite in the foreign language film category, and everything seemed to be falling in place after it won awards for best cinematography, art direction and make-up. However, it lost out to German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others.

This was the third German film to go the distance — after Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum (1979) and Caroline Link’s Nowhere in Africa (2002).

Deepa Mehta’s Water was never among the favourites, but the nomination itself was a huge honour, especially considering that two critically acclaimed movies — Spanish maestro Pedro Almodovar’s Volver and Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes (Australia) — didn’t even make it to the top five. Also, it’s remarkable that it saw the light of day against all odds.

There was another disappointment for Mexico as the multi-lingual saga Babel, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, turned out to be the biggest loser. It had to remain content with just one award — best original score by Gustavo Santaolalla.

The musical Dreamgirls had as many as three numbers in the original song category, but the Oscar went to "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth.

The latter film was an adaptation of former US Vice-President Al Gore’s slide-show lecture on global warming. It also won the Oscar for best documentary. Gore himself was the cynosure of all eyes during the awards ceremony.

Reel nostalgia

There was a glowing tribute to the masterpieces of world cinema in the form of a montage of clips from Oscar-winning foreign language movies. The shots were put together by Italian director Guiseppe Tornatore, who had won the award for his homage to films, Cinema Paradiso (1989).

There were frames from Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and many other classics. This was easily the most cosmopolitan element of the 79th Oscars, which were dominated by the Americans, particularly in the top categories.