Oscars 2009: What worked vs. what didn't
Anyway, I had predicted that the Oscars would stink. Well, I was wrong, or half-wrong. Separate from whether you agreed with the winners -- I did by and large -- or you didn't, what about the broadcast? I think if you had seen all the nominees (or at least the Best Picture noms), you probably had a rooting interest and were amused by most of the show. However, the other half was pretty bad. After the jump, what worked versus what did not.
Worked: Hugh Jackman as host
Energetic, attractive, witty and fun. I would use all those words to sum up Hugh Jackman's debut as an Oscar host. I'd also give him an "A" for effort as he was willing to try anything. The opening musical number, a do-it-yourself, scaled-down-for-the-recession extravaganza couldn't match the hilarity of Billy Crystal's classic song medleys, but Jackman was game. The best moment came when he carried Anne Hathaway onto the stage and had her join him in the Frost/Nixon tribute. Fortunately, it was planned and Anne sang and danced beautifully. The musical number got the night off to a good start. I'd invite Hugh back again and get him Billy Crystal's writers.
Didn't Work: Best songs nominees & the musical is back
Oy vey, do they really think that more people on stage is the answer to how to stage a musical number? It was sad that there were only three best song nominees this year, two from Slumdog Millionaire, which are Indian. The music sounded foreign and unfamiliar because it was! Mixing in the WALL-E song, with John Legend filling in for Peter Gabriel, was jarring. They didn't compliment each other. Later, Hugh Jackman tried to do a Fred Astaire nod crying, "The musical is back." The subsequent big production number -- choreographed by Baz Luhrman of Moulin Rouge fame, so he's to blame -- was like a bad traffic jam. Beyoncé stood out, but when did Zac Efron and the other kids appear? They were suddenly there out of nowhere. Worst of all, the musicals they were celebrating were shown in clips on the screen behind the dancers and the TV director didn't focus on it so there was no correlation between the two. It was a disaster.
Worked: Five Oscar winners presenting major acting Oscars
This was innovative and classy. Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Halle Berry, Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman paid tribute to this year's five nominees with a personal comment for each. The men did the same and in every instance, I was dazzled by the stars returning and the tributes they presented. Their tributes were as special as any film clip from the actor's performance.
Didn't work: Will Smith
Was he on cold medicine? Will Smith is a funny man. I know, I've seen him and he is usually relaxed and cool under any circumstances. Giving out sound editing, film editing, sound mixing and some other effect award, he was a bumbling mess. He looked unhappy and uncomfortable.
Worked: Nightclub set
The producers said they wanted the set to be less theater like and more like a nightclub with the proscenium jutting out and the stars -- and their faces -- prominently in view. For the most part, the set was a hit. Hugh Jackman came down the steps and talked to the stars, but wasn't too cutesy about it. The stars had a shorter walk to accept the Oscars, which was convenient.
Didn't work: Musicians on stage
The orchestra belongs in the pit. During the Best Original Score, the screen showing the films that were nominated for their music was buried in the back while I was shown close ups of violinists and trombone players. The music was lovely, but I needed to know what film was being nominated more than the bowing of a fiddle player. This mistake was repeated when Queen Latifah sang "I'll Be Seeing You" to accompany the memorial tribute. The images of the film industry greats who died this past year needed to be shown full screen for home viewers, not projected on a backstage screen so you had to strain to see them. Queen's singing was lovely and I don't blame her for the lame staging.
Worked: Comedy stars
Thank goodness for crazy Ben Stiller, doing a take-off on Joaquin Phoenix that was timely and goofy and hilarious. The Pineapple Express mini-sequel with James Franco and Seth Rogan (directed by Judd Apatow) was also on target. Even Tina Fey and Steve Martin doing the writing awards was amusing.
Didn't work: Jerry Lewis tribute
Eddie Murphy seemed to be in a great hurry to get through the tribute to Jerry Lewis. Considering that there was only one special Oscar for the night, couldn't there have been a better tribute created for Jerry? Eddie never even worked with Jerry. Robert DeNiro did in The King of Comedy; he could have said something. To Jerry's credit, his acceptance was short and sweet, but he deserved more of a salute for all the years and all the money he's raised for muscular dystrophy.
Worked: International flair
The fact that Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, put an emphasis on how film is a universal art form crossing all cultural and national lines. There were also winning films from Japan and Germany, as well as the United States. Even Penelope Cruz represented the worldwide pool of great stars, and she remembered Spain's Pedro Almandovar when she won her Oscar, her Volver director.
Didn't work: Hollywood history
Where were the clips honoring the great films of Hollywood's past? Chuck Workman does these wonderful montages every year that reminds us of former winners. Not this year. Last night's Oscars was devoid of nostalgia in the form of film clips, at least those that the home viewers could see.
Worked: Shorter commercial pods
Did you notice that the breaks didn't seem as long? I did. I didn't time it, but if you were running into the kitchen to make a sandwich during a commercial break, you didn't make it back in time for the next award. This made the show seem shorter, even though it was actually longer. Another plus: nobody's speeches were cut off.
Didn't work: Technical awards
I've said it before (and so did Joel), but it bears repeating: some specialty awards should be in the scientific award presentation not the TV broadcast. TV viewers are not interested in Documentary Short Subject, Sound Mixing, et. al. The broadcast could save 30 minutes by moving some awards out of the TV show.
Worked: Heath Ledger's family
Anticipating that Heath would win for The Dark Knight, the Oscar's invited his family to accept. Their speeches were touching and the presentation appropriate and dignified.
Didn't work: Sean Penn's politics
Sean Penn deserved to win for Milk. He chose to use the airtime to make a political statement. The Oscars are not the place for politics. It wasn't right in the past and it was off-putting last night. I agreed with what Penn said, but it wasn't the proper venue.