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As expected, Britain didn’t fare very well at last night’s Oscars.
The most prominent British contenders – Gary Oldman for best actor in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Janet McTeer for best supporting actress in Albert Nobbs, and Kenneth Branagh for best supporting actor in My Week with Marilyn – failed to score upset victories against advance predictions in their categories.
In fact, it could be said that England’s perennial rival France emerged as the true victor of the evening – long delayed payback for Agincourt and Waterloo, perhaps? The French black and white silent movie, The Artist, won five Academy awards, including major honors for best picture, best director (Michel Hazanavicius) and best actor (Jean Dujardin). Woody Allen won as best original screenplay for Midnight in Paris, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, set in Paris, won five awards.
But all is not lost, mes frères.
Before you say “we wuz robbed,” there were a number of moments last night of which Anglophiles can be proud.
• Meryl Streep won her third Oscar, this time for playing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. (And she had a cute intro from her Mamma Mia! co-star Colin Firth: “We danced, we were in Greece, I was gay, and we were happy.”)
By the way, Streep’s win is being characterized as the most unexpected upset of the evening, because most observers thought that the award would go to The Help’s Viola Davis.
Speaking of surprises, the biggest one of the evening, as far as I’m concerned, appeared to be the Cirque de Soleil stunts. I mean, for those of us watching on TV, it appeared that the acrobats were swinging in the air directly above the Hollywood audience. If that was actually the case, I’m sure that the behind-the-scenes lawyers’ discussions about liability for the celebrities, worth gazillions, must have been more exciting than anything in last night’s broadcast. But I digress…
• James Earl Jones received his honorary award in London, at the Wyndham Theatre, where he was performing in Driving Miss Daisy. He told the audience he’d learned an appropriate English term to communicate his feeling: “gobsmacked.”
• Hugo may have been set in Paris, but it was filmed in England.
• The Muppets, who won an award for best song, have an undeniably strong British connection. Had it not been for legendary producer Sir Lew Grade, the original Muppet Show might never have made it to television. The program was shot in England, in Elstree, north of London, and made Kermit into a superstar.
“Once you get to know him, he’s just like a real frog,” said Bret McKenzie, accepting the award for his song. “And like many people here tonight, he’s a lot shorter in real life.”
And just to get it on the record, I’m registering my complaint that we didn’t get to hear “Man or Muppet” performed at the awards last night.
• But the best British moment of the evening came before the awards ceremony started. Sacha Baron Cohen caused a dust-up on the red carpet. Literally.
Dressed as Adm. Gen. Shabazz Aladeen, the character he plays in his upcoming movie The Dictator, Cohen dumped an urn of soot over Ryan Seacrest.
General Aladeen said they were the ashes of his friend, Korean strongman Kim Jong Il.
As Seacrest wiped the dust off his fancy tux, he didn’t seem too happy.