Monday, March 8, 2010

This Year's Oscarcast Makes History

Every year they try it. Most years, they fail. This year, they failed (this hot new producer duo of Shankman and Mechanic), but produced some good moments.

It's not easy trying to juggle many potentially time-consuming things. How to make an Oscarcast fit within three hours? Here's what they tried: telling all nominees that speeches had to be 45 seconds long. That they would have a chance to thank every last person with the webcam that was backstage. Into this webcam, they could ramble and thank every last teacher they've ever had. At least, that was the working theory.

They also decided, early on, to cut the traditional Best Song performance. After all, Peter Gabriel had been angered the previous year when they asked him to perform only 45 seconds of his nominated song. (Can you blame him?) This year, they got rid of it altogether.

However, in some quarters, Best Song nominees and rambling incoherent acceptance speeches are why we watch the Oscars. So, what else you got, new golden boy directors?

Well, their idea seemed to be to court the youth vote. Get the youngsters to watch the Oscars by having Miley Cyrus and the kids from Twilight present. (A colossally bad idea, as it turned out.)

Then there were the hosts. Plural. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had been enlisted this year. As Oscar hosts go, they weren't quite Letterman bad, and not nearly Jackman good. The opening banter that reeked of "Oprah-Uma"ville, was pained and awkward. Their own jabs at each other were stagey and mostly unfunny. Although the concept of them descending from the ceiling (wasn't this stolen from the MTV awards?) mostly worked well.

There were other ouch moments. Neil Patrick Harris (who should've been hosting) appeared in an opening dance number that seemed apropos of nothing. Although the fan dancers were... um, colorful.

Their Snow White moment came when they chose to honor film icon John Hughes (who passed last year) with a film montage. And several of his featured actors onstage, each saying a few words (some of which had just been in the montage). Judd Nelson looked scary sick. Macauley Culkin has seen better days. We get it. John Hughes created some great, memorable movies. We miss him. But the endless homage to him was out of place.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, apparently Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman had been given honorary Oscars. All they got was a smile and a wave. Oh, and a standing ovation.

There was also a horror movie montage, apropos of nothing, except to chastize the Academy for not choosing more horror films. (Um, ok...) Inexplicably, it wasn't at all tied in to Roger Corman's award.

Although there were no Best Song performances, they did grace us with an interpretive dance segment to the Best Score nominees. Draw your own conclusions, but I think this is the moment most people chose to go to the bathroom or refill on snacks.

Those were the travesties, now let's talk about what they did right.

Camerawork was stellar (other than one too many closeup on George Clooney). The stagecraft was state-of-the-art. Lights and stage worked well, and proved interesting. And best of all, when the winners wanted to talk for a bit, they let them. They were only pushed off with music if their speech had gotten boring. So Jeff Bridges was able to thank those he wanted and needed to thank, and Lloyd Bridges is smiling down in gratitude.

The best Oscar moment for me this year came when Barbra Streisand came out to announce Best Director. She herself had memorably been nominated once. Up to that moment, no woman had ever won before. No African-American had ever won before. It was a proud, tearful moment when, as she opened the envelope, she paused and said, "It's finally time. Kathryn Bigelow. Hurt Locker." It was the most powerful moment of the evening.

Oh yeah, The Hurt Locker won Best Picture, and six of its nine nominations. Avatar won three. Precious, Up and Crazy Heart all took two. Inglorious Basterds, The Young Victoria, Star Trek and the Blind Side all took one.

That was another powerful moment. All awards season long, statues had alternated between Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock. On this night, it was Ms. Bullock's name that was finally called. She offered her Oscar up to her mother, and cried in the process. It was beautiful.

Another really moving choice from previous years that thankfully they kept was the tradition of actors commenting on the nominees. They did this for both Best Actor and Best Actress. It was joyous to see each nominee tear up as the person onstage spoke directly to them. And that felt like a win for everyone.

This year's Oscarcast? Nearly three and a half hours. Maybe next year, they'll do it better.

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