Academy Awards 2014

03.02.14

Whoever Wins What, Watch Out For Minnelli

The pre-show red carpet fandango on E! and ABC had everything the Oscar watcher could wish for: bad dresses to bitch about, presenters mouthing a stream of relentless vapidity, and Liza Minnelli stalking everything like a cobalt blue shark

It is just after 8pm. I do not know what will happen next, but I do know Liza Minnelli is at the Oscars ceremony doing something in cobalt blue, an equally livid streak in her hair, making my heart race. And she's walking, head bobbing, with an odd kinetic purpose, behind other people's camera shots. Is anyone with Liza? Accompanying her? Her half-sister Lorna Luft is, but is anyone making sure Liza's not near open flame or an exposed electronic cable? Really, I just want the evening to go off without a hitch.

I mean, don't let her near Jennifer Lawrence. The poor woman's already gone down once tonight, apparently sabotaged by one of the traffic cones that had turned up on the red carpet in perhaps a surrealist art exercise. If you see Minnelli, rugby-tackle Ms. New York, New York. For all our sakes.

There she was, behind Ryan Seacrest on the E! pre-Oscars red carpet show, where this year, Ryan did not get doused with ash, which was fortunate as he was in a white Christopher Bailey tux. Ryan's job is thankless, although he is thanked a lot by others. The celebrities tell him how great he is at his job. And although he smiles grittily through it, you also know he feels he is a Hollywood player himself, dammit, and here he is asking about dress labels and showering people with the same empty compliments and superlatives. He's really thinking about how he might wind up the latest series of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Why doesn't anyone show him some respect? This year, he got zero out of anyone. Not even when he asked Benedict Cumberbatch what the atmosphere was like on the 12 Years a Slave set. (Oh party central, Ryan, it was just a laugh a minute, especially the hour-long lashing scene.)

The problem with the pre-red carpet is that for the celebrities, it is the chance to clear their throats of the platitudes they hope to repeat later on stage accepting their awards. And so we hear how moved and grateful they are to be there and we hear about their dresses. The women this year—with the trend for "nude" continuing—looked like a line of Victorian governesses. When Minnelli was sighted with her cobalt blue, when Bette Midler was sighted in red, when Jennifer Lawrence wore the same siren color and fell, and when Sandra Bullock turned up in a stunning navy dress, things crackled into life. Lupita Nyong'o really did look beautiful in a Grecian-style dress in a color she called “Nairobi” blue. Sandra Bullock quite rightly said to the ABC presenter interrogating her about her frock, "Is there anything else you want to know?" It was a delicious, pointed response, skewering on the vapidity of asking such things, even if she didn't intend it to be.

The fun on E! was to be had with Ross Mathews and Kelly Osbourne, who were given a balcony which was meant to be a vantage point from which they would observe the celebrity fashion as it unfolded. But whenever Giuliana Rancic, whose self-tan had mysteriously leveled off on her forehead, threw to the duo they were giggling and shrieking, often mid-joke and this was made more demented by Osbourne just shrieking more as she tried to explain why.

On ABC there was a man who knew nothing about fashion, who with a series of slides of various dresses, chose adjectives such as "great" and "amazingly blue" and "long." Anna Wintour will be offering you a job in the morning, dear. Robin Roberts just told everyone she loved them and said how amazing the atmosphere was. Over and over again. Jimmy Kimmel struck gag after gag for the poor persecuted stars, who are being tweeted about, by supposedly jumping into a regular person's living room and telling them off for their mean tweets. It was meant to be funny, but instead reeked of all of celebrities’ thin-skinned, navel-gazing personalities.

With Seacrest, the queue of big-name Miss Havishams in lacy, "nude" boring dresses reached a critical mass. After too many uses of the adjective "amazing," the standout moments were few, but June Squibb definitely came out on top. The 84-year-old actress wandered over to Ryan, said she was yes, happy to be there, and she'd had a few fittings for the dress. But she wasn't phased or full of hot air. Then, Jared Leto busted her interview and playfully insinuated that they'd had a relationship. She said they'd had a wonderful time in Santa Barbara.

Jason Sudekis revealed he was wearing Prada, or "Pray-da as we say in Kansas." Then the fashion action moved inside, and a wonderfully telling silence; for as well as the lacy hideousness on the red carpet there had also been Amy Adams's navy dress, which I predict will be praised by fashion types, but had me screaming "Boring, boring, boring, where is LIZA? Find the MINNELLI!" at the television. Giuliana Rancic, to her credit, just let the silence hang a second too long when the question was asked, "What did we feel about that?" with her reply. "It's very sophisticated," she said. Hated it, I presume. Snaps to Rancic.