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August 2, 2014

This Year's Oscar Ceremony Works Despite Mismatched Hosts

by Maureen Ryan, posted Feb 28th 2011 1:16AM
The annual Academy Awards telecast is always going to be something of a slog. No matter what films are nominated, no matter who the hosts are, there are always going to be parts of the ceremony that drag (especially in that middle hour, which feels as though it lasts 90 minutes or more).

Yet Sunday's telecast on ABC was about as painless as these things get, relatively speaking. James Franco and Anne Hathaway didn't necessarily make a brilliant splash as co-hosts -- Hathaway seemed determined to overcome Franco's sodden, wooden presence through sheer perkiness -- but they acquitted themselves respectably.

All in all, the telecast, which saw crowd-pleasing yet thoughtful fare like 'The King's Speech,' 'The Social Network' and 'Inception' winning big, had a classy, low-key vibe. The tributes to film history were gracefully done, there were a few entertaining speeches and it was fun to watch the parade of gowns (including Hathaway's glam costume changes).

This was not an Oscar telecast for the ages -- Melissa Leo's F-bomb during the middle of her delightfully excited speech is probably the only moment we'll all remember a week from now -- but as awardsfests go, this was a mild but entirely watchable celebration.

Sure, the broadcast suffered from a lack of tension, but that was an inevitability given that many of the big acting winners were widely predicted in advance. But that wasn't the fault of Hathaway or the producers, who did their best to keep things moving along with more momentum than many Oscar broadcasts have displayed in the past.

As expected, 'The King's Speech' and 'The Social Network' picked up a lot of hardware through the night, 'The Fighter's' cast came out swinging and Natalie Portman won for 'Black Swan.' If those wins were somewhat predictable, they're also hard to argue with. It's also hard to complain much about an awards show in which, if I'm counting correctly, mothers were thanked even more frequently than agents.

It was that kind of night, in which not much went wrong (unless you count Franco's off timing and his tendency to squint quizzically at the TelePrompters). A mainstream, crowd-pleasing, well-crafted film ('The King's Speech') won four awards (best director, best actor, best original screenplay and best picture), and the winners from that film gave witty, self-deprecating speeches, as did many others. David Seidler, the rather mature 'King's Speech' screenwriter, had one of the best lines of the evening: "My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer," he dryly remarked.

Leo, one of the stars of HBO's 'Treme,' who won for her role in 'The Fighter,' received her award from screen legend Kirk Douglas, who got a standing ovation when he came out to give the best supporting actress award. Despite his advanced years, Douglas charmingly worked the crowd, repeatedly pretending to have a story to tell before he actually read the name of the winning actress.

Once she heard her named called, the stunned Leo literally asked Douglas to pinch her, which he gamely did. Leo's speech might have rambled a bit, but her joy was infectious and she and Douglas were a sweet sight as they exited the stage -- she used his cane as he walked her to the wings, big smiles on both their faces.

For his part, Christian Bale promised not to drop any F-bombs when he took the stage -- "I've done that plenty before," he said, jokingly alluding to his famous on-set outburst a couple years ago.

The other acting winners, Portman and Colin Firth, were restrained and thorough in their classy speeches ("I feel my career has just peaked," Firth quipped), and Aaron Sorkin was also eloquent after his Best Adapted Screenplay award for 'The Social Network.' After doing the usual thank you's to his collaborators and the cast, he sent a message to his daughter: Now that he's won an Academy Award, he's "going to insist on some respect from your guinea pig."

The most painful parts of the Academy Awards broadcast each year often involve those hokey introductions that various presenters are forced to make, but this year, those bits were generally fine. In the case of Helen Mirren and Russell Brand, who introduced the Best Foreign Film nominees, their little skit was actually amusing (the gag was that Brand was mistranslating for Mirren, who spoke French).

[Fashion sidebar: I could not focus during the sound awards that Scarlett Johanssen and Matthew McConaughey handed out, mostly because Johanssen's hair was such a hot mess. I can't imagine the fashion blogs will have anything good to say about her look come Monday.]

Generally speaking, the segments paying tribute to the year's films and to cinema history were well done; in particular, the swell tribute to film scores past, in which the orchestra was swept on to the stage to the strains of John Williams' iconic 'Star Wars' score, was clever and memorable. Not to overuse the words low-key and classy, but I find I must: They also describe the annual "In Memoriam" section, which had Celine Dion serenading stars and filmmakers who passed on in 2010. Halle Berry came out at the end of that segment to pay heartfelt tribute to Lena Horne, the trailblazing star who died last year.

Other things that worked: The segment that had average people (and President Obama) talking about their favorite movie songs, Franco briefly taking the stage in a dress and Billy Crystal's tribute to past Oscar host Bob Hope.

Yet a couple of segments didn't work at all, especially a bizarre interlude that featured Auto-Tuned songs set to scenes from movies like 'Twilight' and 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow: Part 1.' Hey Oscar producers, we know you want to appeal to younger demographic, but don't try bizarre things that look like they were made by a deranged Youtube amateur.

As hosts, Hathaway and Franco didn't seem particularly well-matched: She seemed to be trying too hard, and at times, it was hard to tell whether he was trying at all. Franco's a fine actor but there was a strange stiffness to him on Oscar night, or maybe he just seemed that way next to Hathaway's energy, which was usually cheerful but which veered toward frantic now and then.

Still, one has to appreciate their gameness, which they demonstrated in the opening sequence, which digitally inserted them into the year's nominated films (check out this post for video of that sequence). Hathaway proved she's a good sport by doing an entertainingly silly "brown duck dance" in 'Black Swan,' and a later song-and-dance bit in which she castigated Hugh Jackman for not joining her on stage was amusing as well.

Speaking of that opening video, Crystal himself has similar Oscar intros before, but so what? Do we really want the Oscar telecast to be cutting-edge? Not in this living room, thank you. We just want the Academy Award telecast to show us genetically gifted people in pretty clothes celebrating the dream factory that is Hollywood. It's not as if all three-and-a-half hours were spellbinding on Sunday night, but overall, the ceremony did what it's supposed to do just fine.

Check Out Moviefone's Oscar Coverage:


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Oisin

Have to disagree here. I've been tolerant of some rough Oscar presentations, but this was just one of the worst. Poor Franco and Hathaway were just in way over their heads. They weren't funny. They weren't engaging. They were just terrible choices. Given his brief appearance, I think Kevin Spacey should be next year's host. He's got class, song and dance talent, dry humor and comic timing.

I actually thought the autotuning segment was the funniest part of the show. And the kids choir was pretty neat. I liked having a finale instead of just saying good night after the best pic award.

March 02 2011 at 3:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jen

I think we can all see how boring these "celebrities" really are after watching something like this year's Oscars show. The only thing that makes them exciting are the scripts, costumes, makeup, special effects, and sets of the movies they're in.

March 02 2011 at 7:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alex

Always enjoy reading the comments on Mo's page.
After reading the article, got inspired to do a podcast with ideas of how to improve the format and potential hosts for next year! Feedback welcomed!

http://www.mediafire.com/?eps5o6zz1t2zytt

March 01 2011 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
William T. Garver

Add me to the ranks of the multitude that found last night's show pretty dismal. You know a show is in trouble when no one can match the energy of a 95-year-old Kirk Douglas. They would have been better off having Kirk host (alone or with Mickey Rooney as a two-act).

While the Oscars are bloated and plodding by design, I am usually a fan of the show. It's a shame the ceremony has been nearly unwatchable for the past two years. It is possible to pull off an energetic, entertaining awards show. Look at Neil Patrick Harris' Emmy Awards hosting gig as a good example.

The Oscars need to go back to hiring a smart comic with the ability to ad-lib. Bring back Jon Stewart, or better yet, give Craig Ferguson or Tina Fey a try. May I also suggest Don Rickles and Gilbert Gottfried to host the red carpet coverage?

February 28 2011 at 7:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
karenc2it

Hard to believe they criticized Ricky Gervais after the Golden Globes...he was hysterical. Last night's Oscars were boring. I didn't care for the opening number where the hosts played a part in each movie nominated. It was too drawn out. I think Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman would have complimented each other alot better. They could both sing and would have been more entertaining. Where were all the stars on the red carpet? All I saw were the stars that were nominated. It almost seemed like stars were boycotting the event and was the worst red carpet I've seen in years. Where were Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie, Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta-Jones, Eva Longoria, Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, etc. In the future I'd like to see some live entertainment to break up the night and liven things up. Maybe they could choose 4 or 5 artists that had the top hits of the year. Katy Perry is on tour but she would have livened that place up last night. Justin Bieber and Usher would have been great too.

February 28 2011 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gloadrial

Finally someone with a decent review of the Oscars. Thanks for not jumping on the bashing bandwagon and pointing out the enjoyable things. I do have to disagree about the Auto-tunes songs segment. It cracked me up, but maybe that's me. And you didn't speak about the ending with the choir, which was lovely. Thanks for a good review. Kirk Douglas RULES. Best acceptance speech...Randy Newman ("Couldn't then find a fifth song anywhere?")

February 28 2011 at 2:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy

Were there any Americans there? Foreign film festival? That was the worst presentation ever. Kirk Douglas, I couldn't move my eyes from the screen. He was a world class groping cadaver. He was actually funny and we had a pool up to see if he passed away before the award was given out. God we are pathetic to spend our time watching the worst fiasco ever.

February 28 2011 at 1:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
VN

I understand that opinions are subjective...but I'm having a hard time believing that there is a single person out there that subjectively believed this show wasn't horrible.

Easily, without a doubt, by a mile, (insert any other cliche here), the worst Oscars I have ever seen.

February 28 2011 at 12:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
plague

Wow. Mo here must have a lot of pre-show libations to consider this mess even remotely watchable.

February 28 2011 at 12:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brendan D

Yikes, Mo... I dunno about this one. I love James Franco (have since "Freaks and Geeks"), but he seemed to be channeling Daniel Desario all night. Hathaway is fine, but her perky sweetness threatened to give me diabetes at times. And the lack of any surprises, coupled with the incessantly self-promoting Leo (I thought her F-bomb seemed kind of rehearsed, honestly) made the whole thing kind of boring.

The one thing I will say is that the auto-tune mashup proved that the producers erred greatly in trying to skew younger. The hosts and that segment were indeed about youth, but everything else showed that the Academy really is just a bunch of stuffy old people with the same stuffy old ideas of what makes a good film that've been around since the Oscars first started. I mean, "The King's Speech" was the obvious winner; but it's not a movie that screams "new generation!" or "youth!" Neither was I impressed at the selection of Celine Dion (when was her last hit?) to sing the In Memoriam segment.

The Academy, I think, has to decide what the heck it's doing. If the Oscars want to go young, a la the Grammys, do it gung-ho, the way the latter awards show did this year (which was far and away the most entertaining awards show I've seen in ages, since it pretty much turned into an honors concert a la VH-1). If it wants to remain the respectable adult of the group, bring back Alec Baldwin or (why not?) Billy Crystal to host. But the strange amalgamation of feinting towards the youth but rewarding the elder generations just seemed odd to me.

I suppose next, the producers will try to get Russell Brand to host. That'll be perfect, considering that, by next year, all people will remember about him is that he's the kind-of-funny husband of pop superstar Katy Perry.

February 28 2011 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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