Little gold men

"The Artist" (2012 best picture) and "Hugo" each earned five of these babies

Talk of “little green men” was all the rage when I was growing up during the ’60s, as early space exploration fueled American curiosity about possible extra-terrestrial life. But fascination with little gold men, those lovely statuettes presented to Academy Award of Merit winners, has been going strong since 1929.

Despite the proliferation of award-based television fare, I’m a big believer in the trinity of Academy, Tony and Grammy Awards — and last night’s Academy Awards ceremony felt especially grand. I underappreciated host Billy Crystal in my youth, but nowadays find his humor delightfully disarming.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards felt more tasteful than tacky, but there were moments that felt unmatched to its many marvels. A dictator get-up on the red carpet. On-stage drinking games and references to little men of a whole other order. A big diss for little dog Uggie. And umpteen nods to Tom Cruise. I was hardly amused.

But never mind all that. Moments like Octavia Spencer’s acceptance speech, preceded by a nervous bit of wobbling up stairs that must feel to winners like the narrow path to the top of a very steep mountain, make Oscar night magical. As does the marvelous mix among winners of relative newcomers and longtime legends.

I loved the vignettes with actors sharing memories of their earliest encounters with the cinema, which reminded me 0f childhood movie theater experiences — and a bit of nagging undertaken with my daughter Lizabeth, our family’s best lover of all things stage and screen.

I encouraged her many years ago to see the 1979 film “Kramer vs. Kramer,” starring Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, hoping she’d share my enthusiasm for their command of the craft. I feel rather vindicated this morning after watching Meryl Streep, whose take on Maggie Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” is unflinching, take home yet another little gold man.

Both Lizabeth and Jennifer have long appreciated the stuff of early cinema, often sparring over who gets which part of the couch for viewings of old black and white films. In a day and age when self-reverence is sickeningly common, the film industry did an especially lovely job this year of elevating their art.

The black and white “In Memorium” homage to big screen professionals lost since last year’s Academy Awards ceremony felt especially moving this year as “Hugo” and “The Artist,” the year’s best picture, lit or rekindled a passion for the early days of filmmaking within us all. The musical accompaniment was beautiful but breeched in some ways by quotes I’d have appreciated more in a separate segment.

Good taste was in good supply at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Fashions were exceedingly elegant, though I hated seeing that giant red bow distract from hometown girl Emma Stone’s beauty. I’ve already had my fill of Spring’s newest offering — a sad mix of teal and seafoam green. Self-titled “Bossypants” Tina Fey rocked both evening gown and updo.

I loved seeing musicians playing drums, strings and keyboard in loge sections of the Kodak Theatre. Some have interpreted the performance of “What a Wonderful World” by Esmeralda Spalding and the Southern California Children’s Chorus as a tribute to the late Whitney Houston. But it was something more — a glorious goodbye to everyone memorialized at this year’s Academy Awards, including Elizabeth Taylor. Perhaps one of its songwriters, George Davis Weiss, as well.

There was just a touch of politics at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, mostly free of the meanspiritedness oozing from other outlets these days  — though the “blues” surely liked Crystal’s “Super Tuesday” joke more than their “red” counterparts. Two statements honored those fighting for everyday justice in the Middle East.

The only downside for viewers of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony was Ellen DeGeneres. Spots for JC Penney, who stood by DeGeneres despite a ruckus of anti-gay hatemongering, made refrigerator runs during commercial breaks impossible. Who doesn’t love to see a woman successfully returning an ancient toga because it’s only got one arm?

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including its many education and outreach programs. Click here for a complete list of winners.

Coming up: What’s so great about Gatsby?

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