Thank goodness for the comedians. At three hours and 26 minutes, the show had its moments when things came to a screeching halt. Sure, this year’s producers promised us changes: a party-like atmosphere, more music, more dancing, more everything. But they really tried the patience of movie fans.
Thank goodness for the comedians.
At three hours and 26 minutes, the telecast of the 81st Annual Academy Awards had its moments when things came to a screeching halt. Sure, this year’s producers promised us changes: a party-like atmosphere, more music, more dancing, more everything.
But they really tried the patience of movie fans who tune in to see whether their favorites will bring home an Oscar, the everyday person who enjoys watching someone’s dreams come true, and anyone east of Needles, Calif., who has to be at work in the morning.
The evening had its moments of joy and hilarity – some of them a direct result of the changes in this year’s Oscars telecast. (Most of the rest came from the extremely grateful people who worked on Best Picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire.”) But they came so far apart, I found time to fold laundry and get in a game of spider solitaire on the computer.
Bob Hope. Billy Crystal. Steve Martin. Johnny Carson. Jon Stewart. We’ve become accustomed – conditioned, really – to having a comedian guide us through awards shows.
But this year, the Oscars producers opted for actor Hugh Jackman. He won an Emmy Award for hosting the Tony Awards. He can sing, dance and act, all skills he demonstrated Sunday.
Jackman immediately disarmed the audience by joking about his lack of nominations, and launched into a hilarious low-budget song-and-dance number about this year’s nominated films.
The later song-and-dance number with Beyonce Knowles celebrating music in movies was great … when it was done in the 1970s on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” Jackman laid blame for that mess where it was due: on director Baz Luhrmann, who apparently found use for some choreography he did not use in “Moulin Rouge!”
Every man in Hollywood – and this includes the accountants from Price Waterhouse Cooper, who look about as comfortable at the Oscars as a cattle rancher at a PETA convention - looks better in a tuxedo than I do. Of course, the last time I wore a tuxedo, I couldn’t help but wonder if the last guy who wore it had a good time at the prom.
Having said that, I’m over the monochromatic black-on-black trend (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Murphy, Sean Penn). A white shirt looks better. Still digging the necktie over the bow tie, though.
I’m still not sure what Mickey Rourke was wearing.
Oh, wait, you wanted commentary on the GOWNS worn by Oscar attendees? I’m a guy. Reviewing the Oscar telecast is already kind of girly. I think I need to go dig a ditch now.
Here’s one change to the program that I liked. Banter between two barely matched celebrities is always the most painful part of any awards show. It’s never funny, it’s poorly delivered as people who never use a Teleprompter try to read it, and it wastes time.
For the most part, Sunday’s ceremony dispensed with banter. Instead, Will Smith, Daniel Craig and others explained what it is the behind-the-scenes people do. And Smith seemed like he was enjoying himself … until giving out his fourth award, when he quipped, “Yes, I’m still here. I believe Hugh is napping.”
THE BEST QUIPS
* Jack Black deflating the idiot interviewer on the red carpet by saying, “What, is someone more famous than me coming?”
* Jackman, star of the film “Australia”: “Everything is being downsized due to the recession. Next year, I’ll be starring in a movie called “New Zealand.”
* Jackman, to the foul-mouthed Rourke near the beginning of the telecast: “Say what you want, we have a seven-second delay… but if you win, we switch to a 20-second delay.”
* Penelope Cruz, winner for Best Supporting Actress: “Art, in any form, is, has been and always be, our universal language and we should do everything we can -- everything we can -- to protect its survival.” Amen, sister.
* Sean Penn, winner for Best Actor: “I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me … often.”
“INNOVATIONS” THAT NEED TO GO
Many new things about this year’s telecast did not work.
* The “yearbook” look back at the films of 2008. OK, the comedy one with James Franco and Seth Rogen, reprising their roles as potheads in “Pineapple Express,” was pretty good. Everything else was a waste of time. “High School Musical 3” had no place at the Oscars.
* The “tributes” to this year’s nominees for Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress by five previous winners. My guess is Shirley MacLaine has never met Anne Hathaway. Addressing the nominees by name and saying how wonderful they are seemed insincere when done by strangers. Plus, it took more than four minutes for the best supporting actress nominees to be introduced.
* As the orchestra played the snippets from each of the five nominees for Best Original Score, did anyone else think it was just one long song?
* A vocal number during the “In Memoriam” segment. Queen Latifah is immensely talented. But no one should have sung “I’ll Be Seeing You” as the images of actors, directors, producers, costumers and others who died during the past 12 months swept across the TV screen. Go back to the dignified, low-key instrumental music and stop turning Bernie Mac’s death into a production number.
WHAT WORKED WELL
The Academy Awards never seem to honor comedy. But if it weren’t for comedians, Sunday’s telecast would have been a complete snoozer.
From now on, Tina Fey and Steve Martin should present any and all awards at any and all awards ceremonies. Narrating their own silhouetted entrance on stage to present nominees for writing awards was inspired. Their brilliant timing and complete deconstruction of awards show banter (we learned that the person who wrote, “To write is to live forever” … is dead!) was genius.
And the biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the night was when Martin noted Fey was starting at him, stopped mid-sentence, and said, “Don’t fall in love with me.”
Ben Stiller made many of Hollywood’s biggest stars guffaw with his parody of Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre, fuzzy-bearded, out-of-it, gum-chewing appearance on “Late Show with David Letterman” … and then behaved long enough to help announce the nominees for best cinematography. This joke will be obsolete in a couple of weeks, but Stiller struck while the iron was hot.
WORST ATTEMPT AT HUMOR
Bill Maher, after the late Heath Ledger’s family accepted Best Supporting Actor on his behalf, pointing out that he had to come on stage after everyone was feeling blue. Way to make a young man’s death about you, Bill.
* Kate Winslet, after finally becoming an Oscar winner (for her role in “The Reader”) after six nominations, asked her father to whistle so she could find him in the Kodak Theatre. She also admitted what no one else dared admit: She started practicing her acceptance speech at age 8 with a shampoo bottle.
* Philippe Petit, star of the documentary “Man On Wire” about his 1970s tightrope walk between the World Trade Center, balancing the Oscar trophy on his face, and making a coin disappear.
* Pretty much every time someone associated with “Slumdog Millionaire” who received an award … and there were a bundle. A film made with largely unknown actors that almost never made it into theaters won eight Oscars, including Best Picture. And every winner seemed so thankful, grateful and stunned to have such good fortune.
Brien Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.