The unquestioned highlight of the 2019 Oscars: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, stealing the show with“Shallow.” It was bittersweet as the final “Shallow” of award season, especially for those of us who were rooting for Gaga to take Best Actress. But every detail was intense. The way she glided to the piano. The way he sat on that goofy stool and listened to her hit the Note, just listened. The slightly scary way her eyelashes kept fluttering. As someone who has spent approximately 15% of his waking moments in 2019 karaokeing “Shallow,” I love seeing Gaga karaoke her own song — after her glam-blazing Grammy version, tonight they did it in character as Ally and Jackson Maine. The moment felt raw, electric, suspenseful — everything live TV is supposed to be, in a shockingly unterrible Oscar ceremony. Enter the Shallowverse.
May the Academy Awards never bother hiring an official host again, because this was the zippiest Oscar Night in years. No stupid montages, no dance sequences, no “give sandwiches to the audience” stunts, no moronic “this is what the magic of the movies means to me” clips, no “let’s ride the subway with Sting” comedy sketches. Instead, the 2019 Oscars were full of ridiculous Hollywood moments that will keep giving me life all year. Lady Gaga and Olivia Colman blowing each other kisses. Jennifer Hudson nodding “go on” as Gaga flailed through her speech. Richard E. Grant’s joyful “wow” as Barbra Streisand strutted in. First-time winner Spike Lee jumping into Samuel L. Jackson’s arms. Not even a Best Picture win for Green Book could ruin this Oscar bash.
It couldn’t have happened without Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the hosts in all but name. The three amigas kept cracking that they weren’t really the hosts, but they did everything a host is supposed to do, i.e. welcome the crowd, set the comic tone, get out of the way. They crunched a whole night’s worth of host duties into three minutes, running through their gags at Ramones speed: “Buster Scruggs? I hardly know her!” “Hey, Chadwick Boseman — Wakanda plans you got later?” “These Spanx are so tight, they’ve entered my Spider-verse!” “Roma’s on Netflix? What’s next — my microwave makes a movie?”
Ever since Tina and Amy first hosted the Golden Globes back in 2012, the world has been waiting for this. So give credit where credit is due: Maya, Tina and Amy did one of history’s all-time great Oscar hosting jobs, up there with Chris Rock in 2005, Whoopi Goldberg in 1999, or Billy Crystal in 1992. Rudolph hit the “Shallow” power note, while Poehler noted, “We won’t be doing awards during the commercials, but we will be presenting commercials during the awards.” Bonus points to the horrified faces of J.Lo and A-Rod when Maya sang “Shallow.”
This year’s show was widely expected to be a disaster, as predicted by many longtime Oscar watchers, very much including me. In a debacle last December, Kevin Hart was hired as host for a few hours, revealing the dirty truth that nobody in Hollywood wanted to touch this job, which used to be one of the most prestigious gigs in showbiz. The Academy kept announcing and un-announcing stupid tweaks right up to the final days. But it turned out to be a night full of bohemian rhapsodies and menstrual equity. Roma, A Star Is Born, Black Panther and Bo-Rap spread the love.
Queen kicked off the night with “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” The movie stars got to make their guitar-solo faces — top honors went to Javier Bardem, with special mention for Jordan Peele and Gaga, who must have been reminiscing about “You and I.” Adam Lambert, who was rescuing American Idol exactly 10 years ago, has only gotten better since then — just a couple of months ago he destroyed me and my mom crooning “Believe” at Cher’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. And that “We Will Rock You” beat was a welcome reminder that it’s only a few years before Kacey Musgraves wins Best Actress for Any Man of Mine: The Shania Twain Story.
Regina King won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk. As she walked up the stairs to the stage in a mile-long train, Chris Evans hopped up to escort her up the stairs. (It was almost as gallant as Smokey Robinson doing the same thing for Beyoncé at the 2014 Grammys, or Hugh Jackman doing it for Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 Oscars.) Keegan Michael Key descended with an umbrella to introduce “The Divine Miss M,” as Bette Midler sang a Mary Poppins song that took us all on a strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk. The makers of Period. End of Sentence. spoke out about “menstrual equity.” “I’m not crying because I’m on my period!” said director Rayka Zehtabchi. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!”
It felt strange to see Jennifer Lopez onstage without writhing on a piano to screech “Please Mr. Postman.” Rage Against The Machine’s guitar god Tom Morello made a bizarre but welcome appearance in a tux to praise Vice. A shame he didn’t get to make speeches for all the Best Picture nominees. (“Rally around The Favourite! With a pocket full of shells!”) Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprised their ever-lovable Wayne-and-Garth “we’re not worthy” chemistry. I’m sure I’m not the only sentimental fan who hoped Myers would do his “Oscar Clip” moment from Wayne’s World. (“The saddest part is, I never learned how to read!”) Mahershala Ali spoke beautifully about “my grandmother, who has been in my ear my entire life.”
Bao director Domee Shi made the night’s coolest speech: “To all the nerdy girls out there who hide behind your sketchbooks, don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world.” Angela Bassett and Javier Bardem made a dashing pair — especially their relish when they said, “Rrrrrroooma.” Other dynamic duos included Awkwafina/John Mulaney, Jason Momoa/Helen Mirren and James McAvoy/Danai Gurira — not to mention Billy Porter and everybody he schmoozed on the red carpet. Tragically, Timothée Chalamet did NOT show up, and Henry Goulding did not get a nanosecond of screen time, both very unpopular decisions in my apartment.
Kacey Musgraves made a wonderfully frou-frou pink entrance to the orchestra playing “Moon River” (a sweet touch) as she introduced Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who sang a spare and lovely “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings.” Streisand saluted Spike Lee: “We’re both from Brooklyn and we both love hats.” Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry did a cute gag with rabbit puppets. Not mentioned all night: Andrew Dice Clay.
Olivia Colman made one of the funniest and most charming acceptance speeches in Oscar history, winning Best Actress for The Favourite, noting, “It’s genuinely quite stressful” and ending with two words: “Lady Gaga.” After her years of genius on Peep Show, it’s a joy to see her get this recognition. As she so eloquently put it in a classic sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look, “Now we know!”
Rami Malek was heavily favored to win Best Actor, so you’d think he might have prepared a better speech (like his charming Golden Globes speech last month), just as you’d figure the orchestra would have learned a second Queen guitar solo. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Malek must be the first nominee in history whose Oscar clip is lip-synching somebody else’s song. But note: I happen to love Bohemian Rhapsody and I love how you think I’m supposed to be offended at the ridiculous historical inaccuracies. This is Queen, remember? It’s not like “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a historically accurate representation of opera. They literally titled an album Jazz. Bombastic fraud was their whole point. So I loved how the movie butchered details for the sheer comedy value of it. (Structurally, there was no reason to put the “Hey guys, I just wrote ‘We Will Rock You’” scene in 1980, except to troll viewers like me. It worked. Loved it.) It was even funnier than the VH1 Def Leppard biopic where Anthony Michael Hall played Mutt Lange, though not quite as funny as the VH1 Twisted Sister flick where Mariel Hemingway played Tipper Gore.
And at the end of the night, we got a new contender for the worst Best Picture of all time, good news for fans of Crash, Slumdog Millionaire or Gladiator. Even Julia Roberts had trouble faking a smile at that point. As Maya Rudolph would say, Wakanda bullshit is this?
The “In Memoriam” loop was poignant, though they turned the audience applause all the way down, so there was no competitive Clap-O-Meter. Since I happen to love this tackiest of Oscar rituals, I missed the applause — but I bet this year Burt Reynolds would have driven off with it. The roll call was up to date too — glad they saved room for Bruno Ganz, who gave the cinema’s all-time best depiction (in Wings of Desire) of how it feels to step into a rock club and get your life blown up by a Nick Cave show. That’s basically how I felt watching Gaga and Cooper sing “Shallow.” Too bad this movie won’t have a sequel. (Or will it?) But always remember them this way.