MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, our weekly look into the pages of the Washington Post Magazine brings us the story of a young university student. His struggle to stay in school has nothing to do with his grades or even money but rather a decision his parents made two decades ago. We'll tell you about it in just a few minutes.
But first, the Oscars. Last night, Hollywood got together to honor its own and the best in film in 2008. We want to take a look at some of the highs and lows and even some of the awards that don't receive as much shine. Joining me to talk about this is Wesley Morris. He's the film critic for the Boston Globe. He's with us after a late night. Welcome.
Mr. WESLEY MORRIS (Film Critic, Boston Globe): Hi, Michel. How are you?
MARTIN: Well, I'm good. I probably didn't stay up as late as you did but...
Mr. MORRIS: What time did you go to bed?
MARTIN: Well, I'm not telling, but before we get to the awards...
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MARTIN: But before we get to the awards, what did you think of the production? The Oscars seems to be one of those productions that critics loved to hate. So what did you think of the show, the Oscars as a show?
Mr. MORRIS: I like what they set out to do, which was entertain us, and to try to connect the show in a way that the nominees didn't immediately do for a lot of people. They tried to connect the movies back to popularity, to what people like about the movies last year.
MARTIN: What did you think of that whole thing of having like a group of honorees, a group of previous award winners in each category for the main awards say a little bit about each of the upcoming nominees? What did you think of that?
Mr. MORRIS: I thought that was most brilliant innovation that the production has come up with maybe ever. I mean, because it really sort of exposed in a very good way what the Academy is all about, which is peers recognizing the achievements of their peers. But this format, actually, took it a step beyond that and turned these great actresses into fans of current nominees. It was pretty moving on some occasions, like when Shirley McClain spoke to Anne Hathaway and when Eva Marie Saint said all those beautiful things about Viola Davis. I thought that was just - that was very touching to me. And usually, I'm not typically moved.
MARTIN: The writing was lovely, wasn't it? I mean, the writing at these award shows is usually appalling.
Mr. MORRIS: The writing was really good this year, it's true.
MARTIN: So let's get to the awards. Of course, the big winner was "Slumdog Millionaire" for best motion picture, seven other awards, including best director. Why do you think this film was such a big hit with the Academy?
Mr. MORRIS: I think for the same reason that it was a hit with audiences. I think it manages to do something that doesn't - that people don't often feel they have happen to them when they go to the movies, which is take them to a place they don't feel like they have been before and show them a part the world they don't think they've seen.
I think the irony, of course, with "Slumdog Millionaire," is that, you know, that movie comes out every day in this country. The difference is that it's set in Mumbai, and it's set, you know, in a poor neighborhood, and it manages to - while conveying the horrors of living in poverty, it manages to sort of gloss over all the real sort of daily complications to focus on a love story and winning a million dollars in a game show.
MARTIN: I'm sorry, I don't know how much glossing over you do when a films starts with a kid being tortured, excuse me. Maybe I'm a little tenderhearted...
But let's move on to the - let's move on to the supporting actress category, which was - there was a tremendous amount of diversity in that category. Penelope Cruz took home the award for supporting actress for the Woody Allen film, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." The category was also noteworthy, two African-American actresses in the same category, not the first time but still. So tell me about that. Were you surprised, disappointed?
Mr. MORRIS: With the outcome?
Mr. MORRIS: No, I mean, I predicted Penelope Cruz to win. I think, of those five women, she gave what I thought was my favorite performance of the five, but I think all five of those people were great. And you know, Viola Davis had very little screen time but made the most of it, Taraji Henson - that was a hard part. I think she had the hardest role of anybody of those five because she could have been playing a stereotype and she actually managed to fill it with humanity. She was very good.
MARTIN: So biggest surprises for you - any surprises for you, any disappointments for you? People who you thought deserved recognition and didn't get it?
Mr. MORRIS: Well, you know, I mean, going into the nominations, before they were even announced, I thought - I was disappointed by the fact that the "Dark Knight" didn't get recognized the way I thought it would or should, same for "Wall-E". In the actual winners last night, I think "Departures from Japan" win, the foreign language film Oscar was a real surprise because I think, you know, in the minds of many cynics and many people who understand how the Academy works, they just naturally assumed that the Israeli film would win, "Waltz with Bashir." So, I mean, that - that movie is probably being Fed Ex-ed to art houses as we speak, the Japanese film.
MARTIN: Any other wonderful highlight moments for you, very quickly?
Mr. MORRIS: I - I mean, I just would like to - you know, obviously, Hugh Jackman, I think, is a very good host. I hope that they find a way to sustain what was so exciting about those first 15 minutes throughout the show. You know, he's got a real showman's sensibility. He'll do anything for people to clap for him, he's like a seal in that way.
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Mr. MORRIS: And you know, there's something very likable about him. I think the public likes him, whether he's being, you know, a showman, or whether he's being, you know, Wolverine from the "X-Men" movies. I hope they keep him, and I hope they find a way to better integrate that kind of razzle-dazzle theme throughout the show. There was a moment that he had with Beyonce that didn't really work.
MARTIN: OK. We'll have to leave it there. Maybe you'll bring us some more of your razzle-dazzle some time.
Mr. MORRIS: I would love to that for you, Michel.
MARTIN: Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe, and he joined us from Boston. Thank you.
Mr. MORRIS: Thanks a lot.