If you follow me on Twitter, you know most of my thoughts on last night's Academy Awards telecast. For those who don't (or for those who want to relive the same complaints 12 hours later), a review of the Oscar show coming up just as soon as I hijack my fellow winner's speech...
There are certain stumbling blocks an Oscar-cast simply can't eliminate. First, there are so many awards shows leading up to this one that there's virtually no suspense; Best Picture was the only category most viewers care about where there was any question going into the show what would win, and Best Adapted Screenplay was the only thing close to a major category where the winner was a surprise. (Everyone assumed that award would be the consolation prize for one-time front-runner "Up in the Air.") Second, there are too many awards - or, specifically, too many awards either devoted to either to movies the bulk of the audience hasn't seen (notably the three short-film categories) or to disciplines the bulk of the audience doesn't understand and/or care about (the sound awards, to name two). So the show is destined to either run long (though last night's show still wasn't in the ballpark of the 2002 show for length), feel very rushed at the end (when we get to the categories people actually tuned in for), or both.
Given those inevitable drawbacks, you basically have to grade every Oscar-cast on a curve. But even allowing for the things the producers can't do much to change(*), the 2010 show wasn't very good.
(*) And I thought the little clip reel of previous short-film winners who went on to successful feature-film careers did as good a job as possible of explaining to viewers they those categories exist and are still part of the main show and not the technical ceremony (aka the Nerd Oscars) that someone like Elizabeth Banks or Jessica Biel hosts the week before each year.
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin weren't terrible hosts, but nor were they particularly memorable. These are two of the funniest men on the planet, but they seemed uncomfortable swapping generic one-liners in the opening monologue, then vanished for long stretches of the show.
Oscar co-producer Adam Shankman's love of musical numbers, meanwhile, seemed to belong in an Oscar telecast of a different era. I liked the idea behind the opening musical number with Neil Patrick Harris and a bunch of showgirls (and/or "So You Think You Can Dance" alums dressed as showgirls) but can't remember the lyrics or melody to any of it the next morning. And the decision to showcase the five nominated scores with interpretive dance numbers was indulgent, incredibly long (especially since the producers had already axed the Best Original Song performances for eating up too much time), silly if you knew anything about the nominated films, and the sort of nonsense I thought the Oscars had left behind when Debbie Allen was banished from the show in the '90s. If you want to play extended parts of the nominated scores, great, but there's a much easier, more germane visual you can use to accompany them: clips of the films.
Still, no matter how tentative the hosts were, how odd some of the production choices were (a random montage of horror movies that seemed unclear on what the definition of a horror movie is, and in some of its choices of Oscar-winning films that were released after "The Exorcist," disagreed with the introductory remarks by Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart), or how long the show ran, everything might have been okay with an even vaguely competent director.
Instead, we got Hamish Hamilton making the wrong choice at virtually every turn.
He gave us long shots when we needed something more intimate (for instance, when all the John Hughes movie alums first came on stage at the end of the Hughes tribute), random and confused edits, terrible choices on who to cut to in the audience (anytime "Precious" won, we of course had to see every notable African-American person in attendance, and after spending half the show cutting randomly to a surly George Clooney, nobody could bother when Sandra Bullock told a joke at his expense in her acceptance speech), etc., etc. After everyone screamed bloody murder about the framing of last year's In Memoriam segment, which focused more on Queen Latifah than the images of the movie people who died, what excuse was there to make the exact same mistake for the first few entries in this year's montage? (Unless you were squinting, you may not have even realized Patrick Swayze led things off.) And after giving us shot after shot after shot of former spouses/collaborators Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron every time one of "The Hurt Locker" or "Avatar" won, how in the world did Hamilton fail to show us their interaction when Bigelow beat Cameron for Best Director?
(Just remember all the bumbling on display when members of the television Academy, living up to their usual inferiority complex towards the movies, give Hamilton an Emmy next fall.)
Some other highlights and lowlights from the show:
• I'm happy for Bigelow, who deserved the win for directing one of the most exciting, yet unconventional, action movies in years, but everything about the presentation of her directing award left a bad taste in my mouth. The choice of Barbra Streisand to present (including Babs' opening remarks about how excited she was at the possibility of a woman winning) and then the orchestra's choice of "I Am Woman" to accompany Bigelow's walk off-stage all screamed that the only thing that mattered about Bigelow's achievement was her gender. Yes, it's long-overdue that a woman won (not that Hollywood gives female directors a ton of great opportunities), but it's insulting to Bigelow's immense talent to focus so much on that.
• One improvement over last year's show: the tributes to the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees came from former co-stars, rather than former winners who may or may not have had a connection to one of the nominees, and we got both performance clips and the testimonials, rather than just the speeches. That made things run longer, and some of the testimonials were still awkward (Colin Farrell invoking "SWAT" for Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker reminding people that Sandra Bullock was once in "Hope Floats"), but overall the execution of the idea was much better.
• It was a good night to be affiliated with "Lost." That show's composer Michael Giacchino (whom I profiled a couple of years ago) won the Best Original Score trophy for "Up," Fisher Stevens (who played Minkowski, the radio operator on the freighter in season four) won for producing Best Documentary winner "The Cove," and both of the Best Picture frontrunners featured "Lost" actresses in small roles: Evangeline Lilly in "Hurt Locker" and Michelle Rodriguez in "Avatar."
• Speaking of TV alums at the Oscars, Mo'Nique's win for Best Supporting Actress means that UPN and the WB are, I believe, tied for the number of former stars to win acting Oscars. (Mo'Nique was on UPN's "The Parkers," Jamie Foxx on the WB's "The Jamie Foxx Show.") Unless I'm forgetting someone, who will break the tie? A castmember from "Shasta McNasty" or "7th Heaven"? UPDATE: As mentioned in the comments, Forest Whitaker (who won a few years back for "Last King of Scotland") hosted UPN's "Twilight Zone" remake, so the pressure's on the WB alums now. I say Jessica Biel's due next.
• I'm of the right age for Hughes' movies to matter a lot to me, but I'd understand why viewers outside that demo would wonder why the show spent so much time on this one guy who died and not any of the others. I also hope Matthew Broderick's "Hey, Ferris! This your day off?" impression of the fan encounter he has every day was cathartic for him, and that he can now again embrace his inner Ferris Bueller, given how he's spent so much of his adult career playing pinched, Cameron-esque dweebs.
• Best presenter banter: Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. bickering about writers vs. actors. Worst: Probably Ben Stiller coming out in Na'avi makeup was one of those ideas that was funny as a brief sight gag, then kept going and going and going.
• The producers introduced an off-stage "Thank-You Cam" this year that was allegedly supposed to give the winners an opportunity to do their usual deadly lists while doing something more interesting for the viewers at home. It was, unsurprisingly, completely ignored.
What did everybody else think?