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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The Oscars: Not exactly an enchanted evening


I guess reinventing the Oscars is harder than it looks.

The academy gave the gig this year to producers Larry Mark and Bill Condon, two classy industry veterans who've been involved with all sorts of admirable films over the years. But after watching this year's Hugh Jackman-hosted awards, which were undermined by a pair of lackluster Jackman musical numbers, nearly three hours of earnestly dull, emotion-free acceptance speeches (of course excepting Kate Winslet, who's apparently been overflowing with emotion for the entire awards season) and hardly any surprises, I'm beginning to believe that saving the Oscars is a job for Iron Man or Hancock, a kick-ass superhero with the kind of unassailable powers that would allow them to radically overhaul what has become the year's stodgiest awardsfest.

From Jackman's strangely self-conscious low-rent opening musical number to Ben Stiller's very inside-the-Beltway spoof of Joaquin Phoenix's recent appearance on David Letterman's late-night show, the awards had a tone problem--they tried to be something for everyone, coming off like a movie script that had its edginess and guts airbrushed out by too many studio notes. It was hard to find any focused narrative for the awards, which were busy veering wildly from making fun of serious movies (mocking "The Reader," for example) to being entirely too reverential about the past, treating a banal montage of supporting actress "thank you" speeches as if they were lost outtakes from "Citizen Kane."

It's hard to blame the producers for some of the problems. It certainly wasn't their fault that "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the evening, robbing the proceedings of any real suspense--you know you've got a drama deficit when the biggest upset of the night came in the foreign language film category. New ideas were attempted but not always executed with success. It was a treat to see Queen Latifah crooning and Sophia Loren paying tribute to Meryl Streep. My 10-year-old son was especially impressed that all his favorite movies were represented in a nicely edited action film montage, although it reminded us only of how cloistered the Oscars have become, since virtually none of the films in the montage were nominated for any major awards (and the visual effects Oscar went to "Benjamin Button," the one non-action film in the bunch.

It also wasn't the producer's fault that the much antipated Judd Apatow comedy sketch, which featured his "Pineapple Express" costars, was so hit and miss that the best line in the whole bit came from Polish cinematographer Janus Kaminski, who waved his Oscars and, with perfect timing, apologized by saying, "They made me do it, Mr. Spielberg, [work is] really slow in town."

But you'd have to say that Jackman was a bust. The idea of having a song and dance man instead of a traditional comedian seemed like a step in the right direction. But Jackman never radiated any real heat. His shortcomings were especially obvious when Will Smith, someone with real star power, showed up to give out a bunch of technical awards. You wanted Will to stick around--he had real presence. Jackman disappeared for so many big chunks of the evening that I found myself shouting at the TV: "Who kidnapped Hugh Jackman?" (Of course, I also found myself shouting: "What does Philip Seymour Hoffman have on his head?)

I find it hard to quibble with anything "Slumdog" director Danny Boyle might have to say after making last year's most wonderful movie, but when he announced on stage that the show felt "bloody wonderful in the room," those of us at home, on the couch, begged to differ. After all, the Kodak Theatre crowd gave six standing ovations during the course of the evening, including one for Jackman just for showing up, but back at home, we were mostly sitting on our hands. Even Jerry Lewis, who was expected to bring some loose-cannon fireworks to the evening, was surprisingly restrained, giving a very pro-forma acceptance speech for his Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. And where was Jack Nicholson--at a Lakers game?

Jackman was supposed to earn his stripes with a knock-'em dead musical extravaganza created by Baz Luhrmann. But the much-vaunted, Busby Berkeley-style number felt like most of the rest of the show--awkward, listless and underwhelming, the opposite of what Luhrmann brought to his great Oscar-nominated film, "Moulin Rouge." It hardly felt like a surprise to see Jackman trading licks with Beyonce, who (memo to the academy) has been wildly overexposed lately, showing up everywhere, including at the inaugural ball.

What the awards sorely lacked--with rare exception--were the wonderful unexpected, unrehearsed moments that make live TV worth watching, one of the rare exceptions being Boyle's Tigger-like pogo bounce after he arrived to accept his director award. It was a joyous burst of spontaneity in an otherwise over-scripted evening that made Hollywood's oldest award show feel even older and more in need of reinvention than ever. 

(Photo courtesy Getty Images)


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Comments () | Archives (305)

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Jeez, lighten up. I thought it was a pretty entertaining show. Maybe you've been covering film for too long -- 30 years is a long time to be doing anything. Maybe you should move to a new area of journalism. Or perhaps you should just watch the Oscars on T.V. with friends, food, and drink like most Americans do and not take them so seriously.

Wow! Did you get wrong. I must say this was one of the best telecast ever and played very well in our room. Jackman was great and all the actors on stage to welcome a new member to the club was a very nice touch.

I think this was one of the worst Oscar shows in recent memory mainly due to the host as well as the directing of the show. Here are two prime examples of how poorly directed the show was. 1) During the Baz Luhrmann musical number there was a montage of classic Hollywood musical numbers projected on a screen in the back of the performers that was so faint hardly any viewer on TV could make it out. 2) The memorial to those who passed away was horribly shot so that half of the time the viewers could not make out the names or positions of those being honored. Just do what they've always done: show full screen close-ups of the deceased one after another without a camera moving around all the time. Finally, can the Best Song category be put to rest? Great songs are not being written anymore. Can you imagine anyone still playing "Jai Ho" 10 years from now? The funniest bit of business was Steve Martin who should return as host (if Billy Crystal is busy).

If you didn't find the pineapple sketch funny, you're a sad little man.
Hugh Jackman was a great host.

Wow, harsh. I was carried away by the apparently "low-rent" opening musical number. C'mon, Hugh was great. Yes SJP and Daniel Craig were excruciating and the middle section with its interminable technical awards was a good opportunity to open another bottle of wine. But ill-advised movie star pairings are par for the Hollywood course (and we do so love bad chemistry) and I'm not going to deny the guy who spent interminable months editing Slumdog Millionaire his 45 seconds. I thought Will Smith was the least charismatic of his career and Queen Latifah should have let the dead speak for themselves. I loved the past acting nominees introducing this year's crop but I dearly wished that there were some big surprises, but, hey, there is always next year. And you know there will be a next year, so, as something like Kate said to Meryl, suck it up.

Thank you Patrick!
Well put. what a disappointment!
though i was not expecting anything more than blandness from prefect-boy jackman, it was amazing how stiflingly controlled and unspontaneous the affair was. man, i couldn't breath!
it felt somehow such a lonely happening.

anyway, thanks for speakin my thoughts..

phew. some relief...

Yes, yes, and yes. This sums up exactly what I was feeling throughout the Oscars. Merely getting a foreign actor to sing for 2 sketches is not a "reinvention." What's worse is that said foreign actor, Mr. Jackman, couldn't stop laughing during the musical numbers.

Bring back more versatile comedians, skim the amount of awards given out, and stick with a clear theme that reflects the crop of movies from the previous year. One last point -- scrap the incessant montages. We live in the age of YouTube, where an effortless search on the internet can give you all the montages your heart so desires. On the biggest night of film, in which we're only given three hours to celebrate (if you don't include the time that is strangled by increasing advertising), it would be nice to honor and enjoy the present.

Great post, but I fear it will be lost in a storm of unyielding adulation for this Oscar's "international" qualities.

you got it all wrong

absolutely right! you've hit the nail on the head. the sexiest man alive is also the dullest.


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