The mounting tension. The unexpected disaster. The potential for an over-the-top spectacle. The strutting stars. The chance to decide who's a winner and who's a loser. It's a night of pure drama, of sublime comedy, a roller-coaster ride of the powerful raised high and brought low.
We're talking Oscar Night, of course. But not the Academy Awards. Let's face it: After they announce the half-dozen Big Ones, who cares about the winners of the Best Lighting or Best Sound-Effects Editing Awards?
No, what America is talking about today is who wore what last night and who looked scary (Helen Hunt), who looked divine (Catherine Zeta Jones) and who looked just plain wacko (Val Kilmer).
At this very moment, in offices and supermarkets and health clubs around the country, someone -- between sips of a double skinny latte -- is saying: Yes, yes, it's nice that Judi Dench won for Best Supporting Actress but did you get a load of the get-up Joan Rivers wore?
It's Hollywood's open secret: Oscar Night fashion is the engine that keeps the long, sometimes-sluggish show chugging along to its conclusion. And it's the reason why viewers stay up -- with a silver flask of energy-reviving potassium broth at their side -- way past their bedtime.
You know it. We know it. Bob Dole knows it.
And what an evening it was, this last Oscar Night of the 20th Century! We laughed. We cried. We felt smugly superior. We felt despondently envious.
Still, we had plenty of time to be critical. So here it is: Our special "Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat, Last Oscar Night of the 20th Century Fashion Awards."
The envelopes, please.
Top Fashion Victim: Celine Dion is fast becoming the new Cher of the Academy Awards. What was she thinking when she donned Dior's oversized Fedora-style white hat, white pantsuit and oversize sunglasses? Shades of
Runner-up: The usually elegant Helen Hunt this year traded The Classic Look for The Addams Family Look. With extensions woven into her long, straight, center-parted hair and heavily made-up eyes, it took a few minutes to recognize her.
Top Fashion Master: Cate Blanchett in a stunning black dress, it's lace back embroidered with a hummingbird.
Runner-up: Beautiful Jennifer Lopez in a glamorous black-and-silver Bagley-Mischka gown. She proved sexy can be elegant.
The Something Wicked This Way Comes Award: Melissa Rivers with her hair extensions flying in the wind and her swimmer-goggle sunglasses.
The What Becomes a Legend Least Award: Sophia Loren is still the "face that launched a thousand ships," but the black gown she wore -- with its tacked-on illusion veil across her cleavage -- was bad, bad, bad.
The What Becomes a Legend Most Award: The always-fabu, ageless Goldie Hawn. Her style never changes -- simple chiffon dresses and soft, bouncy hair. We are beginning to suspect that somewhere in her bedroom closet there is a picture of her aging away in secret.
Goddesses: The tall, elegant Liv Tyler, her dark hair pulled back from her high-cheekbones, looked like Minerva -- wise and beautiful.
And Monsters: Sorry, Celine Dion again.
The "You Cannot Know What Is Enough Until You Know What Is Too Much" Award: Alas, the appealing Renee Zellweger whose lilac colored dress seemed to have come from "I Dream Of Jeannie."
The Jane Austen "Pictures of Perfection Make Me Sick & Wicked" Award: Gwyneth Paltrow looking perfect in pink Ralph Lauren. Sans extensions, her blonde hair parted on the side and pulled back in a little bun, she was Grace Kelly Redux!
Coolest Looking Guy No. 1: Roberto Benigni. Here's a guy who knows how to look as happy and playful as a child while wearing a tux. It's a great look.
Coolest Looking Guy No. 2: A becomingly bearded Tom Hanks in an superbly tailored Valentino suit with white shirt and dark tie. Who knew the boy from "Bosom Buddies" could look this elegant? The Two of One-Of-A-Kind Award: To Mariah Carey, pudgy in white, and Whitney Houston, matronly in a marcelled wig. Tacky, tacky. What happened to these usually glam queens?
The Jane Austen "You Have Delighted Us Long Enough" Award: Guess who? Again. Uh-huh. Celine Dion.
The Most Beautiful Woman in the Room: Cate Blanchett. Beauty, intelligence, strength. It's all there, in her finely chiseled face. A woman for all seasons.
Pub Date: 3/22/99