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Oscars 2009: What worked vs. what didn't

by Allison Waldman, posted Feb 23rd 2009 12:02PM
It was the best of Oscar it was the worst of Oscar. It wasn't the best show I've ever seen, but was it the worst Oscars ever as one friend emailed me? I think there were features that worked and features that tanked. There could have been more star power -- where were Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Jim Carrey, Sandra Bullock, Christian Bale, Tyler Perry (he had the biggest box office opening last week!), etc.? Forget about stars from the '70s...

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.
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How about, Didn't work! Queen Latifah singing off pitch during the "In Memoriam," portion. This was a disgrace. Those who have passed away deserve more honor and respect than this mess. Forget the artsy camera angles and divas "singing." This should have been about them and it wasn't. Also, what genius decides who is worthy and who is not? Many wonderful people were left out.

February 25 2009 at 2:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Steve Martin & Tiny Fey along with the Pineapple Express Bit stole the show. Both were very funny.
I can't tell you how sick I am of Sean Penn. No one cares about what he has to say, and Mickey Rourke was robbed.

February 24 2009 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joe's comment

Just like you don't care about what Sean Penn has to say, I don't care what you have to say on your website.

February 24 2009 at 6:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with what Phish said, except where he doesn't agree with legalizing gay marriage. Sean Penn pwned you last night @$$hat, and with your own grandchildren nonetheless!

If Penn hadn't said something about gay rights, after winning for portraying possibly the greatest gay civil rights leader ever, that would've been absurd. It wasn't just Penn's politics, it was the driving force, the purpose, of the movie. Now, his offhand comment about Obama, maybe that soap boxing it.

The idea that you'd rather these award shows JUST have actors and directors and the like jerking each other off for three hours, with nothing to get in the way like "politics"--something that actually matters--well, when that happens, you enjoy watching, because I won't. Not my kind of pornography.

February 24 2009 at 1:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Allison, what on earth do you mean by a 'proper' venue?
The movie was about homosexuals having the same rights as all people, now while i dont necessarily agree that gay marriage should be legalised, i will defend his right to express his views and concerns, even at the oscars.

Why? because that is a podium that is watched my millions, the message is transmitted far and wide, epecially to the people that can do something about it.
He would be a complete hypocrite if he didnt say anything to that effect, because he took on a role of a homosexual fighting for rights, and if he didnt completely believe in it, he shouldnt have done it, but he did and he owed the gays a few minutes to spread their message, which he is also passionate about.

the idiots you should be complaining about are those that rant and rave about politics or 'the war' when it has nothing to do with the movie they were in, thats taking advantage, this was NOT!

February 24 2009 at 1:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Looks like we disagree on a number of points.

I liked the musicians onstage, and felt it added to the Big Band era nightclub feel they were going for.

I liked the musical numbers, particularly the best song montage. (Although, like another poster, I didn't recognize the Wall-E song.) As mentioned, the other two nominees were Indian, which heavily influenced the staging. (Bollywood, anyone?) I'm a fan of Bhangra, so it worked for me. As for the other big number, I could've done without the HSM pair, but they balanced the Mama Mia couple.

Comedy stars didn't work. The Pineapple Express pastiche was mildly amusing, although not having seen it, I had no idea who James Franco was or what movie was the basis of the parody until later. Steve and Tina were okay. *HATED* Ben Stiller, but I'm biased. Every time I see him I wonder how he missed inheriting any of his parents' talent. (Yes, I knew what he was -trying- to parody.)

Gotta keep the tech awards. As I mentioned in the Other Post, not only are they artists, but those categories tend to be the "token nomination" dumping grounds for popular genre films that aren't artistic/serious/whatever enough for the "big" categories.

Liked Sean's speech. As someone else mentioned, it was related to what he won for, not something wholly unconnected to his performance.

We do agree on a couple things, though. Hugh Jackman, thumbs up. Jerry Lewis tribute, not so much. Will Smith, I wonder if he was a last-minute sub for someone who ditched.

February 24 2009 at 12:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I must be the only person who thought Hugh Jackman stunk up there, but I have to give him some credit for trying.

I do have to wonder about who in the Academy decided to turn the Oscars into the Tony Awards, because it was as bad as it could be. Whoever this delusional producer is who thinks that America wants to be entertained by Broadway musicals should be hung up and shot. WHAT THE HELL does a musical have to do with the f@cking movies and nominees up for awards? Pathetic.

And do the world a favor and keep that horsefaced Sarah Jessica Parker out of the Oscars. There is NO REASON why she should ever be seen on the Oscars, much less spend so much time onstage. She'll never do anything good to win an award, so don't invite her.

Beyonce too. Get her away from my television.

The 2009 Oscars failed for one very important reason: movie stars love nothing more than to heap praise on each other and glorify their own selfish lives. Last night's Oscars/Tony's did nothing to blow praise up movie stars' asses, so this musical crap won't be tolerated again next year.

But Dustin Lance Black gave one of the most sincere and heartfelt speeches that some kids in America needed to hear. With all of the hate that gets sent their way, I'm glad that someone who seemingly suffered in their youth managed to get a word of hope out to people who need to hear it.

February 23 2009 at 11:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to mb's comment

I thought Cuba Gooding's comments to Robert Downy was pretty funny. Told him to stop stealing parts from The Brothers! Ben Stiller was a hoot, as was Tina Fey and Steve Martin. I thought Jennifer Anniston and Jack Black looked a bit uncomfortable, especially since she had to stand right in front of Brangelina. I didnt like the In Memoriam montage. Id rather see the clips, and HEAR them. And yeah, where was Harvey Korman?? I HATE it when they leave someone out due to time issues (like Brad Renfro last year). Seriously, if they can put some old camera man from the 1930's, why not a current actor that everyone knew and loved? And speaking of time, what the heck was the musical crap with Beyonce?? Id rather see the nominated songs performed by whoever sang them. I didnt even recognize the song from WALL E. Couldnt understand them. And you cant tell me they couldnt come up with more then 3 songs from the past year?! Otherwise Hugh Jackman was pretty good. I think they should ask Ricky Gervis next year. That guy cracked me up at the Globes!

February 23 2009 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm surprised that nobody has commented on Reese Witherspoon presenting Best Director. They had 5 winners present each of the acting Oscars.

Nothing against her, but having a non-director present that award was odd and inconsistent with the rest of the show.

February 23 2009 at 8:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

But the tech awards are need to level that Oscar pool! I won because I guessed things like sound editing and animated short correctly!

February 23 2009 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Was Heath Ledger on the "In Memoriam" list last year?

I know he died in 2008, and my wife and I were both stunned when he wasn't on the list this year.

I know there was a moment when he won the Best Supporting Actor award, but we still felt he deserved a spot on the wall!

February 23 2009 at 5:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Sancty's comment

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