And The Oscar Went To...

Allison Samuels, national correspondent for Newsweek magazine, and Chris Jones, theatre critic for the Chicago Tribune, overview the good, the bad and the ugly from last night's Oscar telecast.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

If you're struggling to keep your eyes open today, it may be because you struggled to keep them open last night until the end of the Academy Award telecast. It took three hours and 47 minutes for the event to make history as the first green Oscar night. Even the notorious traffic outside the Kodak Theatre was mostly hybrid limousines. As usual, there was a lot of chalk. The winners for Best Actor and Actress provided no surprise at all, but there were a few unexpected moments. Director Martin Scorsese's inexplicable losing streak came to an end. Germany, not Mexico, took Best Foreign Language Film. Eddie Murphy did not win for Best Supporting Actor, and as stylists become increasingly important in Hollywood, the red carpet began to look boring. It almost makes you wish for at least one dress that looked like a swan.

Later on in the program, we're going to talk about the Virginia General Assembly's cautious expression of regret for slavery. But first, the Oscars. Maybe there wasn't much of a carbon footprint, but there was a fog of self-satisfaction that hung over Hollywood last night. If you've got a candidate for the smuggest, most self-satisfied moment of the night, we have an e-mail challenge for you. Send us your nomination by e-mail. The address is talk@npr.org. We'll keep a tally and let you know the winner, if that's the right word, at the end of the show. If you have questions or thoughts about the rest of the telecast, our number here: 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. You can also use the e-mail address: talk@npr.org.

Joining us now to talk about the good, the bad and the stunningly well-stylized is Allison Samuels, national correspondent for Newsweek magazine, as well as the author of "Off the Record: A Reporter Catches" - excuse me - "A Reporter Unveils the Celebrity World of Hollywood, Hip-Hop and Sports." She joins us from the studios of NPR West in fashionable Culver City, California. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (National Correspondent, Newsweek): Nice to be here, thank you.

CONAN: And Allison Samuels, here's the most important question you can be asked: What were you wearing last night?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAMUELS: I wore a dress by Kevan Hall, an African-American designer who's based out here. He used to sort of design for Oscar de la Renta and a lot of other people.

CONAN: So getting back to the biggest story of the night, was it in retrospect Martin Scorsese finally getting vindication or Eddie Murphy not getting any?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think it was probably more Martin Scorsese getting his award finally. I think people have been waiting for that for so long, and to see him win and to also have the film win, "The Departed" win...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SAMUELS: ...I think it just was, you know, a real nice topping on the cake. I think he was stunned, although I think he knew, you know, people were sort of rooting for him. I think that's happened before, so I think he really was just holding his breath, sort of holding out thinking, OK, is it going to happen this year? But it did, and everybody - you know, the tone was really happy. Everyone in the audience I think was overjoyed.

CONAN: Yeah, and though it, many would say, it's nowhere near his best film, obviously it's his first Oscar.

Ms, SAMUELS: Right, right. That happens a lot. You know, they award people a lot of times for a body of work, not necessarily the film that they actually put out right then. So I think that, you know, that's a history of the Oscar is they do that a great deal.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Nevertheless, Eddie Murphy, it looked, a lot of people said, like he was going to get that statuette after doing that dramatic role, and then of course he's at the - he's making a lot of money with "Norbit" out, but that may have cost him some prestige.

Ms. SAMUELS: I think that really in many ways probably hurt him. Even if you didn't see the film, I think you saw the billboards. And the billboards, particularly I think to women, was pretty offensive. And then many people who saw it, the critics, you know, panned it.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SAMUELS: People who I know saw it thought it was horrible. So it's one thing to be offensive, but it's another thing to be offensive and not very funny. And I think to have that come right in the middle of the Oscar campaign, I think, yeah, it was pretty hurtful to him. I thought they may have given it to him for his body of work, but clearly "Norbit" was too fresh on people's minds, you know, for them to even overlook it. They couldn't overlook it.

CONAN: Alan Arkin who, as it's been pointed out, spent much of the film wrapped up as a corpse in the back seat of that famous VW microbus...

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CONAN: ...even Alan Arkin looked a little surprised.

Ms. SAMUELS: I think he was stunned. I think he was not prepared to go on stage and - you know, because it was a no-brainer, basically, the way people had Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy. That's the way, you know, the script was sort of written, that these, you know, four people were going to win.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SAMUELS: So I think Eddie was probably a little more stunned than Mr. Arkin, but they never showed Eddie again after he didn't - I mean after he didn't win. So I'm not sure if he stayed for the rest of the night. Didn't see him anymore at parties, didn't see him at all, so I'm not sure what happened to him after he lost.

CONAN: And not seen any quotes this morning, so...

Ms. SAMUELS: No.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, well, I guess we'll - he'll say something soon.

Ms. SAMUELS: Eventually.

CONAN: All right, and how did that thank-you cam work out. I mean the tradeoff for telling people that your acceptance speech had to be, what, 30 seconds...

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CONAN: ...was that you got to go back stage and speak as long as you wanted into the thank-you cam, which was streamed live on the Web site.

Ms. SAMUELS: It's sort of odd. It depends on, you know, just sort of how much - I think most people want their moment right then, right there. I mean you look at Forest Whitaker, who I was really happy that they didn't do that to, he was able to sort of speak as long as he wanted. I think after the fact, you know, your thoughts are there right there when you're on stage, and that's when you want your family and all the people who are important to you to hear you. So I think it's a smart idea, but I don't know if the, you know, it has the same impact. I'm sure it doesn't.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in this conversation. Our guest is Allison Samuels of Newsweek magazine. We're of course talking about Oscar night: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: talk@npr.org. Don't forget our e-mail challenge. If you thought there was a particularly smug, self-satisfied moment during the broadcast last night, send us your nominee: talk@npr.org. Anyway, let's get a caller on the line, and this is Al. Al's calling us from Boulder, Colorado.

AL (Caller): Hi, I wanted to talk about Peter O'Toole, and after all these years, with all the great films he's ever been in, why was it something happened last night and he wasn't able to make it? I know that, you know, the movie with...

CONAN: Forest Whitaker?

AL: Yeah, that was great. But I just - after Alan Arkin won, I was really just wondering.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So Peter O'Toole up for his role in "Venus." And of course the winner turned out to be Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland." And of course Forest Whitaker was, Allison Samuels, touted all along...

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CONAN: ...as the overwhelming favorite.

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah, I...

AL: I know...

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah, and Peter O'Toole's been nominated eight times, so I think, you know, a lot of people were sort of, you know, rooting for him in some ways. Because he's ill, I think a lot of people didn't even expect him to make the trip because he's definitely been ill, you know, and he came over from Europe. So I was sort of thinking that, too, when I saw him. I'm like, well, maybe this is his year, because they do like to award for a body of work. But I think Forest's performance in "The Last King of Scotland" was so absolutely amazing that they couldn't ignore it.

CONAN: And also "Venus" came out rather late in the process, did it not?

Ms. SAMUELS: Yes, it did. It did. But people still - it still was on the radar. And like I said, for him to make the trip when I know he's been ill, I have to believe that somebody thought he might win. But, you know, it is unfortunate, because it is his eighth time.

AL: That's a record, right?

CONAN: I'm not sure what the record is. Well, let's not get into Emmys. That'd be Susan Lucci.

Ms. SAMUELS: It's up there though.

CONAN: But she finally got one though.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CONAN: Anyway...

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah, it's up there. Eight times is certainly up there.

CONAN: Yeah, it's certainly difficult. And that includes Best Actor and best performing - Best Supporting Actor, as well, so anyway...

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

AL: OK, thanks.

CONAN: Al, thanks for the call. Let's see if we can get - this is Paulette. Paulette's calling us from Cleveland.

PAULETTE (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

PAULETTE: I saw just about all the movies that were nominated, and I have to say I was really disappointed last night that "Babel," for getting seven Oscar nominations, only walked away with Best Score. And I felt that because "The Departed" won, you know, several Oscars, it took away from some other very, very worthy films. And it also kind of drove home to me that Americans, you know, are rewarding films that have violence in it, whereas a culturally diverse film that has a lot of thought and meaning in it like "Babel," with so many exceptional performances - I mean I just don't understand it, and I'm very disappointed, so I'd like to have your reaction on that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, Allison Samuels?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think, you know, again, it was Martin Scorsese's year. I think this was their sort of, you know, thank you to him for all the years of being, you know, not given the award. And I think "The Departed," you know, just - it all happened at one time. You know, that is how the Oscars work, and it's not necessarily right, but it does happen where, you know, they've decided this is his night, we're going to give it all to him. I think "Babel" was a great movie. It's unfortunate that it didn't win, but that's sort of typical, you know, Oscars. They really don't necessarily always give it to the movie that, you know, you think it should that particular year.

CONAN: Was there also a theory that, you know, this is an interesting film about a, you know, an ensemble cast, telling several different stories all set around one event, and didn't we give that award, the Best Picture award, to that picture last year, when it was called "Crash"?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think that probably played a little bit of it, but I really just think it was mostly Martin Scorsese and just wanting to give him that moment to shine.

PAULETTE: Could I just ask one other question?

CONAN: Sure.

PAULETTE: What did you think of Jackie Earle Haley's portrayal? I thought it was an excellent, sensitive portrayal of a sex offender, but that he could draw some sympathy from it. I thought it was excellent.

Ms. SAMUELS: No, he was great. He was amazing. No, he really was. You know, again, again, it doesn't necessarily always go the way that, you know, you think it should, which is, you know, why I think people watch, because you just never know.

PAULETTE: Well, it was a great year for movies, so thank you very much.

CONAN: OK, thanks very much for the call, Paulette.

PAULETTE: Mm-hmm, bye.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got, this from Noel. Eddie Murphy lost because of "Norbit"? Nonsense. Alan Arkin won because he was a sentimental favorite, a fine actor in his 70s who will probably never get a chance to be nominated again. And of course Alan Arkin, a journeyman and long-time actor. He's been in some wonderful movies, but this - how much of this was about pro-Alan Arkin, or how much of this was about doubts about Eddie Murphy?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think it was a lot of it, because along with "Norbit," you had the situation he had earlier this year with the Spice Girl, Scary Spice, where she talked about, you know, him being the father of her child, and he denied it. I think all of that. You have Academy members who are older, who are very conservative. I think all of that plays a factor in the campaign for you winning an Oscar.

I think Eddie has had a body of work that's been amazing. I mean he's been around since the early '80s, certainly not as long as Mr. Arkin, but nonetheless, a great deal of time, and he's made Hollywood a great deal of money. So I think a lot of - I think it was probably half in half, but I really think when "Norbit" - there were so many stories, so many angry people about that film. All along I wondered, was that going to have a negative impact on his win, and you know, I think it did. I think it played some part, maybe not all of it, but I think played - definitely played a part.

CONAN: Let's get Steve on the line. Steve's calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

STEVE (Caller): How do you do?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

STEVE: My moment is a smug moment. It was Clint Eastwood translating Senor Morricone's Italian, and he looked very, very happy with himself. But I know enough Latin languages to know that it wasn't a particularly complete or correct translation.

CONAN: Mr. Eastwood did confess, I think during the broadcast, that maybe he should have worn his glasses.

STEVE: Well, yes, and that leads to the fact of whether he was translating it or whether it was on a teleprompter.

CONAN: I believe it was the latter. His Italian may be terrific, but I believe he was reading it off a teleprompter and having difficulty with it. I have to say, mine was when the Academy took credit in its testimony, in its testament to the foreign language films, to say that by recognizing these films, soon theaters all over the country would be showing films with subtitles. Wasn't that generous of the Academy Awards to pat themselves on the back that way and take credit for the explosion of foreign language movies in this country. I think that's wonderful of them to do. Steve, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

STEVE: If I might make one more comment as a board member for the Tucson International Film Festival.

CONAN: If you make it very quickly.

STEVE: It would be marvelous, but the places in this country that are seeing the most foreign films are in the film festivals around the country.

CONAN: Thank you, Steve.

STEVE: I would urge people to attend them.

CONAN: Thank you, Steve. If you've got a moment in last night's broadcast that struck you as smug, we have an e-mail challenge for you: talk@npr.org. Let us know what it was. We'll be back after the break. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

We're talking about the Oscars this hour. Big wins, big upsets, upset stomachs, what did you notice? We're taking your votes for the most self-satisfied, smuggest moment of the night. You can send us an e-mail: talk@npr.org. Our guest is Allison Samuels. She was at the Oscars last night. She's a national correspondent for Newsweek. In a few minutes, a review of the pomp and production through the eyes of a theater critic, and of course you're welcome to join us. What did you think of the telecast: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK? E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Beyond everything else, the Oscars are a production. Here to review the theatrical aspect of the night is Chris Jones, the theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, who's with us from NPR's bureau in Chicago. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. CHRIS JONES (Theater Critic, Chicago Tribune): My pleasure.

CONAN: And how would you rate it, as a success?

Mr. JONES: Yeah, I think so. It all depends what you want from your Oscars, really. If you wanted sort of bad-boy behavior or political edge or withering wit, you know, this wasn't really your year. It was kind of the kinder, gentler Oscars, I thought. You know, multicultural, sort of the Benetton Oscars, you know.

CONAN: The Benetton - it did not move all that quickly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JONES: Well, it was, you know, it was all very chic green in many, many ways. And you know, in Ellen DeGeneres you had a really sort of fascinating host, I thought. She's sort of a - she's like a fan's representative, really, like a representative of us who just happens to have got lucky enough to, you know, host the show. And if you look at a lot of the humor they did last night, it was very much in that sort of persona - you know, Ellen vacuuming up the floor and telling Penelope Cruz to watch out for her dress, and using Steven Spielberg to take a photo, handing, you know, Marty Scorsese a script, like she was a waitress in L.A. who just sort of got lucky. It was a, you know, a million miles away from Jon Stewart or Billy Crystal or Jack Palance doing pushups. It was just a much more sort of People magazine Oscars, you might say.

CONAN: I think we have a response to that from a caller. Anyway, if you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255. Let's go to Sheila. Sheila's with us from Cleveland.

SHEILA (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: OK.

SHEILA: I have just the opposite feeling regarding Ellen DeGeneres as host. I actually found myself channel searching every time she came on screen. The Oscars is kind of a grand event, and her, you know, daily talk show approach to, you know, the people in the audience and the things that they've accomplished were horribly disappointing to me. I really felt like I was, you know, kind of hankering for a little more spitfire, you know, a little more production, a little more rehearsal, you know, better jokes, that kind of thing. I was really disappointed. I'll take my answer off air, thank you.

CONAN: OK, Sheila, thanks for the call. Obviously you disagree, Chris.

Mr. JONES: Well, I take that point. It was not the most incisive, you know, exciting Oscars in the world. And I, you know, I'm always fascinated by what these things mean, because nothing is accidental at the Academy Awards.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JONES: And, you know, clearly the Academy and the networks are trying to present this, you know, very different style of ceremony. A lot to be made about the female demographic that many people say that now Oscars are very much about women viewers, and a great attempt is being made to sort of fulfill the desires of women viewers, you might say. And then there was the whole, you know, this whole internationalist idea that came out so strongly last night. I mean I had the sense at times like the old Hollywood icons were almost like exhibits in a museum, it felt, you know, like people would say, look, there's Peter O'Toole, you know. He's still alive, I can see him. And you had this sense that these are sort of the dying breed. I mean at the very beginning of show, they did that montage of all the nominees, in that kind of, you know, fake, casual way. And there was poor Clint Eastwood in a suit looking like he hated the entire thing.

So you had this sense of - I mean I thought a really interesting sense of a changing of the guard in many ways. I mean there were bits of the old Oscars. I thought the comedy number about the comedian in Hollywood, with Mark Shaman on piano, that was very much the old style of Oscars. But really much of it was quite different from that. You know, I was struck, too, by - if you remember, they used to - if you went over your time on an acceptance speech, you'd get 500 strings coming in.

CONAN: Right.

Mr. JONES: At one point the microphone would disappear into the floor. Last night you got like a gentle piano, like don't offend you, you can finish what you have to say. It's a whole different, much more user-friendly sort of sense, and you have to think that that's what Hollywood's trying to do, to be sort of accessible and compassionate and decent, and it seemed to play into that whole green motif of the evening. And you know, it was a very, very different style of Oscars, I thought.

CONAN: One thing that was different - I'd like to bring Allison on this well - is that, look, I like makeup and set design as much as the next guy, but in the first half hour of the broadcast, we're accustomed to seeing one of the major awards - Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress - come out early in the broadcast, and we didn't one of those for about 45 minutes last night.

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah, I was very surprised about that. That's definitely a huge change. And I'm not sure how that works, because I think the average person sitting at home in their living room, I'm not sure how much they're, you know, twiddling their fingers wondering who's winning Best Sound. I mean it's a great, you know, award, and we're happy those people win it, but I really prefer it when they do bring on a major award early on to get people interested and get - to sort of just get the ball rolling. I'm not sure why that was a change.

CONAN: Did you have any reaction to that, Chris Jones? I mean it just seemed like, hey, come on.

Mr. JONES: It felt like an incredibly slow start. I mean it just felt like the first half hour was just going at the speed of molasses. And then it - and then I think it picked up. I mean there were some funny stuff. The Al Gore shtick was very funny...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JONES: ...where he was about to - he did a fake announcement that he was going to run for president, we all assumed. And we all knew it was going to be a gag, but we didn't know what kind of gag it was going to be, and of course he got drowned out by those strings that finally showed up.

And that was a, you know, that was a fun moment. They used a modern dance troupe, Pilobolus, to sort of create these very inventive little images of - from the various movies, like a gun from "The Departed" or, you know, a pump from "Devil Wears Prada"...

CONAN: Penguin from "Happy Feet," and there were...

Mr. JONES: Yes.

CONAN: ...the nice thing about them, they were very, very short.

Mr. JONES: They were very, very short. And you know, if you're dance person you were like, oh God, it's - a dance troupe has to be literal in order to get on network TV, but nonetheless, you know, I image their bookings just went through the roof.

CONAN: On the other hand, is there - there must be three or four other montages we didn't get a chance to see. I mean there were montages for everything last night.

Mr. JONES: There were.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

Mr. JONES: And some of them were better than others. I mean the What Is America montage was particularly strange, I thought, and I thought that the foreign film montage probably the better of the two.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, Chris Jones, thanks very much.

Mr. JONES: My pleasure.

CONAN: Appreciate it. Chris Jones is the theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, and he joined us today from our bureau in Chicago.

Here's a couple of e-mails. This from Pepe in San Francisco. While charming, "The Danish Poet" was not the best animation short. The honor should have gone to "No Time For Nuts," a hilarious portrayal of one squirrel's unrelenting quest for a nut. It was a crowd-pleaser that won many laughs. It's won unanimous votes among my friends. In fact, I like "No Time For Nuts" so much that I purchased it on iTunes. What can I say, the best $1.99 I've ever spent.

This is also an e-mail. This one from Diana. One new distracting feature of last night's Oscars was the voiceover comments that were said of the winners as they walked up on stage. In years past, comments mentioned how many times the winner had been nominated or had won an Oscar. Last night they decided to say random factoids about the winners. Some were silly and trivial. For example, the gentlemen who won for screenplay for "Little Miss Sunshine," as he walked to the stage, the announcer mentioned he used to be an assistant to Matthew Broderick. This comment, like the others, was off-point, distracting, and a new Oscar low. I have to ask Allison Samuels, could you hear those announcements in the hall?

Ms. SAMUELS: Yes, we could hear them on and off and, and yeah, I thought they were sort of distracting. And it was interesting when J-Lo, Jennifer Lopez, walked on, they said, you know, someone who - a reason to get HDTV. And you looked at her face, and her face just was like, oh, that was so not funny.

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. SAMUELS: I don't think she appreciated it at all, and that's another reason why I think they're trying to be kinder and gentler, because I think celebrities now take such a beating from the tabloids, I don't think they go to the Oscars to get a beating as well. I think that's why a lot of the changes are going on as well, because I do think, you know, it's sort of harsh out there for them when it comes to the media, and I do think they like to come there and feel like, you know what, we're among our peers, we're at home. Please do not drag us through the mud while we're sitting here.

CONAN: Let's get Kimberly on the line, Kimberly calling us from Saugatuck in Michigan.

KIMBERLY (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi.

KIMBERLY: Hi. My bright moment last night was me sitting on the edge of my seat when Al Gore won. It just made me feel like when Bill Clinton won his first election for president. I just hope that Mr. Gore decides to run. It was just - it gave me goose bumps.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Interesting. Thanks very much for that call, Kimberly. But interesting, the Academy would have been presented with quite a problem had Mr. Gore announced before the broadcast that, well, he might change his mind and think about running, because he got a lot of free time last night.

Ms. SAMUELS: He did. He got a lot of free time, and he was the belle of the ball. I told everybody, you know, afterwards, during, I mean he was the rock star in the house. People were gravitating towards him all night long, all at the parties. People loved him. I mean he was enjoying it. He's not the stiff guy that you're used to seeing, that you saw during - you know, when he did run for president. That guy was nowhere around last night. This guy was on top of the world, enjoying all the attention he was getting. And maybe he'll run, but I think he was smart enough to know he didn't need to make that announcement before the Oscars.

CONAN: At the Academy Awards last night, green was the new black, and here to tell us more - no, it's not Friday, but it is the host of TALK OF THE NATION'S SCIENCE FRIDAY, Ira Flatow, who joins us now from his office in Connecticut. Ira, nice to have you on the program.

IRA FLATOW: Thank you, Neal. Nice to be here.

CONAN: And Hollywood last night claimed that they had gone green for the Oscars. What does that mean?

FLATOW: Well, you mentioned earlier that there were this - there's a fleet of like hundreds of hybrid cars, came first to the red carpet. And when they got out of the red carpet, they went into a green green-room. I mean just about everything in the green room was environmentally friendly. They ate off biodegradable dishware. Even the furniture, the wallpaper, the carpeting, everything was made from recycled material. And this was a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Remember, Leonardo DiCaprio came out with Al Gore?

CONAN: Uh-huh.

FLATOW: He is a trustee of the NRDC, which is the greenest of the American environmental groups. and this was a project of the NRDC, I think, to show America that if Hollywood could go green, if Hollywood as a business, as a corporation, could go green, then the rest of America could go green.

CONAN: But it was about more than just, you know, China dishes that had to be washed and silverware as opposed to plastic forks and sporks that were apparently offered to the celebrities in years past. What about all the electricity? What about all the power?

FLATOW: Yeah. They bought 100 - this was interesting - according to the NRDC, the organizers bought 178 megawatt hours of green electricity. And that's to offset all the non-green electricity that powered all the lights and the electronics and everything, you know, that needed electricity. So that was a major buy.

CONAN; So they're obviously - and Mr. DiCaprio's appearance with Mr. Gore at the event certainly capped this off - but they were certainly sending a message and you'd have to say probably more symbolic than real.

FLATOW: Well, I don't know. You know, what's interesting, I thought, about Al Gore being there, besides winning the award was that we'll really know how serious Hollywood takes being green by what happens if Al Gore announces he's running for president.

Because so many of Hollywood's moguls have thrown their support - we've seen the scandal of the last couple of weeks - their support and their dollars behind Hillary and Barack Obama, it's really going to be interesting to see whether they're going to switch their alliance to Al Gore if he runs. Sort of will green follow green?

CONAN: We'll have to see. Ira Flatow, thanks so much.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

CONAN: Ira Flatow is normally in this chair on Fridays when this program's called TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. He was kind enough to join us for a little bit from his home - his office, rather, in Connecticut, which I think is very close to his home in Connecticut. Ira, thanks very much for that.

Still with us, of course, is Allison Samuels. And here's an e-mail we got from Faith in St. Helena, California.

I really miss the spectacular diamond necklaces on the women, especially with all the unadorned strapless gowns that seemed to be favored last night.

Was it a low wattage night for the jewelry?

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah, I think it was. I think that - you know, and typically with a strapless gown a lot of times you want to, you know, emphasize the neckline and not necessarily take - if you emphasize the neckline too much, you take away from the dress. So I think this was just this year that you didn't see as much bling.

I think next year when the trend is not necessarily off the shoulder, you know, the diamonds will be back. I mean, that's such part of Hollywood, the diamonds and the glam and fabulous jewels. So I think that'll come back. It just wasn't there this year.

CONAN: We're speaking with Allison Samuels, national correspondent for Newsweek magazine, about last night's Oscar telecast. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail: talk@npr.org. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Matthew. Matthew with us from Hudson in North Carolina.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

MATTHEW: I just want to comment on - I'm an animation buff and I was really disappointed that "Happy Feet" won the Best Animated Feature Oscar. That I think it's - artistically it's a much lesser movie. It's a heavy-handed plot, a loose plot. I mean it's so much like all the other CGI animated features they've been releasing. It didn't seem to have the character or development of "Cars."

And I have problem with whole category too, that there are so few animated features released, it doesn't seem like much of a competition. Still, as small as the competition is, the lesser film won, I think.

CONAN: Allison Samuels, there was - this is a new category and this was an especially thin year.

Ms. SAMUELS: It was a thin year and that movie was so huge. I mean, you know, people loved it. The kids loved it. I mean, you know, that I think is a category that they really look at the box office. It did so well at the box office. People just, you know, went there in droves to see it.

I think that definitely had a big, you know, sort of - that impacted how they actually voted on that. I think that's the movie that everyone knew as well. Like the general public understood that movie. Their kids loved the movie. I think that's why it won.

CONAN: I did wonder. Did they have little animations if in case the penguin was disappointed and the characters from "Cars" were thrilled?

Ms. SAMUELS: I don't know. I didn't see that. I didn't see them around. So I don't know.

CONAN: Oh. Oh, they weren't there. They weren't actually there. On TV we did see that the penguins were happy that they'd won and that the other characters were a little bit disappointed. And I assume that they had little animations ready for any eventuality no matter who won.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right. They didn't come in the green room.

CONAN: No, no. Was the green room actually green?

Ms. SAMUELS: No. It actually wasn't. They didn't make it - whatever color it was, they were not there.

CONAN: All right.

Ms. SAMUELS: Not at all.

MATTHEW: I wonder. Did their environmental message - do you think that helped it win at all?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think it could have. I mean, this is certainly the year for it. The last couple of years, the Oscars have certainly embraced that. So I think it's that, but I definitely think it was the most popular film, and people - everyone knew it and all the kids loved it and everybody in Hollywood's kids loved it. I think that's why it won.

CONAN: All right. Matthew, thanks very much for the call.

MATTHEW: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. I must say the one film that I came from that broadcast actually wanting to see was "West Bank Story." The live action documentary that was a take off on "West Side Story." That looked fascinating.

Ms. SAMUELS: It did. It really did. And I think a lot of people after last night - and that's the great part about the Oscars, a lot of times when you watch the Oscars you do get, you know, you get a chance to see a film that you might not have thought you wanted to see. But once it's given the hype of the Oscars, you think, you know what, maybe I'll go out to see it.

That's the traditional thing that happens after the Oscars. The box office, you know, sort of blows up for particular films that people, you know, hear a lot about and are given that time to sort of see a clip of it.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in. This is John. John with us from Bend, Oregon.

JOHN (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Uh huh.

JOHN: My comment about the Oscars is that they recognize everybody under the sun who makes the movie except that they do not recognize the stunt people who make the people make the movie work. And I'll take my comments off the air.

CONAN: Okay, John. Thanks very much for the call.

Ms. SAMUELS: I think that eventually that's going to happen, though. You're seeing it. You know, it used to be a time where you didn't see the awards that you're seeing now on the screen. And they weren't - you know, animation, all these things are sort of new. So I think it's only a matter of time before we start seeing, you know, stuntmen get their due.

And I think the more you hear it talked about, the more, you know, people sort of write in and talk about it, I think, you know, that is something that's going to happen. Because it is such a big part of movie making, particularly when you look at a film like "The Departed" or any of those film where there's so much action. You have to have stuntmen. So I think that's on its way, without a doubt. In the next five years.

CONAN: And interestingly, they do have this sort of secondary craft and they tend to give those shorter and shorter shrifts every year. But anyway...

Ms. SAMUELS: Definitely.

CONAN: We do have some winners to announce in Our Most Smug Moment of the Broadcast award. The runner-up goes to Brad in Berkeley, California, who wrote the smuggest moment at any event that includes the presence of Jack Nicholson has to be anytime that Jack appears.

And this from Cathy in Cincinnati, Ohio. How dare Hollywood, California lecture the rest of the country on energy conservation. The Melissa Etheridge "Inconvenient Truth" song was so bad, especially with the lecture being flashed on the screen behind her.

Well, those are the winners for out contest of most self-satisfied moment at the Oscars last night. Allison Samuels, thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate your time.

Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you so much, too.

CONAN: Allison Samuels is the author of "Off the Record: A Reporter Unveils the Celebrity World of Hollywood, Hip-Hop and Sports." She's also national correspondent for Newsweek magazine and attended the Oscars last night.

When we come back from a short break, Virginia edges toward an apology on slavery but stops just short. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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