James Cameron was not king of the world this time as his former wife took custody of all the Oscars for an explosive low-budget howl of pain in this time of American rage.
Symbolically, millions of metropolitan New Yorkers were blinded to it all by a clash between two Goliaths of greed, ABC and Cablevision, acting out for the night in their living rooms what Wall Street has been doing to them everywhere for years.
What they missed was the usual Hollywood display of self-congratulatory pseudo-sensitivity with a few new wrinkles in the age of Obama. Oprah was on hand to celebrate African-American suffering in shape of the obese “Precious,” but there was a nod to equal-opportunity insipidity in a cameo by Tyler Perry as a presenter and a loony interracial squabble over the award to a documentary about an African singer.
Pop sociology was also served by the performance of Barbra Streisand, who has been kvetching for decades over not being the first woman to get an Oscar for “Yentl,” as the presenter to Kathryn Bigelow, who broke the barrier with her smashmouth movie about Iraq. “The time has finally come,” Streisand emoted.
Instead of the usual Bob Hope-ish gagfest, MCs Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did a minimalist turn, starting with a low-heat roast of Meryl Streep, George Clooney and all the icons in the front rows, who seemed to be struggling to keep smiling.
Toward the end, in this era of reality, even the losers’ obligatory pasted-on smiles were slipping off after they had endured long valentines from other stars before coming up empty-handed.