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Latest Oscars shines with flair and fashion

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The 2007 Academy Awards brought nearly one billion viewers more than the usual amount of surprises and whimsy this Sunday night. Complete with interpretive dancers, a sound effect chorale and newbie host (and goofball extraordinaire) Ellen DeGeneres, this year’s quirky Oscars felt surprisingly fresh and more than a little entertaining. With its fair share of glamorous fashion and several unpredicted upsets – especially that of perennial “bridesmaid-but-never-a-bride” director Martin Scorsese – the 2007 Oscars shot a lively jolt of energy into the arm of the nearly 80-year-old broadcast.

Red carpet arrivals were the talk of multiple channels during the hour and a half before the official broadcast began, with E! Entertainment, TV Guide and others dissecting and schmoozing with the Hollywood elite on what is often considered fashion’s most widely-seen runway. Pop culture pundits like Joan Rivers and Ryan Seacrest were in full force as stars and nominees like Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet and even “Daily Show” alum Steve Carell made their way down the red carpet.

Oscar fashion in 2007 saw an interesting mix of standards – legendary designers like Valentino and Armani justifiably remain widely worn on Hollywood’s biggest night – and risk-takers, with fewer stars taking the safer route in their attire choices in favor of “fashion roads less worn” like feather-accented skirts and gold bodices. One such risk-taking star was “Dreamgirls” Supporting Actress winner and “American Idol” alum Jennifer Hudson, who paired a stunning Oscar de la Renta chocolate brown frock with what appeared to be a silver-plated jacket abandoned by an extra from “Barbarella.”

While some, like Hudson, may have had less success with risky fashion, others, such as respective Supporting Actress and Best Actress nominees Cate Blanchett and Penelope Cruz, absolutely shone in their more unique choices. Cruz, for example, wore a flowing, feminine pink gown with enough yards of fluffy, feather-heavy skirt to clothe the entirety of Angelina Jolie’s growing international brood, but pulled off the potentially overwhelming Versace creation with her typical ease.

Other stars to note were Kate Winslet, in a very feminine celadon-colored, one-shoulder Valentino; “Babel” newcomer Rinko Kikuchi, who was sporting a form-fitting, black lace-laden Chanel; Gwyneth Paltrow in her pleated and peachy gown from hip newcomer Zac Posen; “Little Miss Sunshine” herself, fifth grader Abigail Breslin, in a sweet, pink fluff-fest of a dress; and Best Actress winner Helen Mirren, who left audiences pleasantly surprised with her gold-embroidered gown from classic designer Christian Lacroix that was anything but matronly.

Once the broadcast got underway, it was first-time host Ellen DeGeneres who put her own unique spin on the often-stuffy awards ceremony, leading a sizeable gospel choir through the aisles of the Kodak Theater within the first 15 minutes of the show. Adding a decidedly “Ellen” flavor of unassuming irreverence to the evening, DeGeneres opened with a low-key, funny monologue about both her lifelong dream to host the Oscars and her decision to, this year, celebrate the nominees rather than just the winners. A subsequent short film featured a series of endearingly awkward interviews with the 2007 band of nominees, summed up succinctly by Supporting Actor winner Alan Arkin’s thoughts on winning and losing.”Losing builds character,” Arkin said with a smile. “Winning is easy. Anyone can win.”

The statement was ironic coming from Arkin, who won the Supporting Actor prize for “Little Miss Sunshine” over predicted favorite and Golden Globe winner Eddie Murphy.

Arkin’s win was one of several surprises at this year’s Oscars, with the seemingly heavily favored “Pan’s Labyrinth” losing the Foreign-Language film award to “Das Leben Der Anderen,” a critically-favored German film about the complexities of the East German Secret Police. Another such surprise was the environmentally-conscious fable “Happy Feet,” which won in the Animated Film category over Disney and Pixar’s wildly popular ‘Cars.” In the seemingly innocuous Best Original Song category, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” found unexpected Oscar gold with an original Melissa Ethridge song, “I Need to Wake Up,” over a record three tunes from the night’s lone musical, “Dreamgirls,” marking the first time in recent memory that the Original Song winner came from a documentary film.

Other 2007 winners came with far less surprise. Both Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) and Mirren (“The Queen”) had won an impressive series of critical prizes between them since award season began, and despite an impressive breadth of competitive talent in both categories, the two were rewarded a final Oscar cap to their respective growing lists of accolades.

Sofia Coppola’s controversial “Marie Antoinette” won the prize for Costume Design, hardly a surprise given the sheer volume of gowns worn by Kirsten Dunst in the film. Jennifer Hudson’s win for Supporting Actress was also somewhat expected, given her win for the role at the Golden Globes in January.

The ultimate surprise, however, was that of Scorsese’s Best Director win – Scorsese, effectively the Susan Lucci of the Academy Awards since 1981’s “Raging Bull,” finally got his prize for his frenetic and fantastic Best Picture winner, “The Departed.” Presented by a trio of venerable directing legends, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg, Scorsese’s long-awaited trophy seemed nothing short of totally deserved.

Other highlights of this year’s Oscars included a hysterical song-and-dance number featuring Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly lamenting the fate of the oft-ignored comedian come Oscar season; the pairing of youngsters Abigail Breslin and Jaden Christopher Syre Smith to present both short film awards; and “Little Miss Sunshine” stars Steve Carrell and Greg Kinnear’s cheeky take on the importance of sound editing.

Ultimately, the 2007 Oscars will be remembered as the year of Scorsese and “The Departed,” of what DeGeneres called the “most international” grouping of nominees the Oscars have ever had, and of an overall rejuvenation of Hollywood’s most storied night.