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Up The Academy

A few more scattered thoughts on last night's ceremony:

I wasn't quite as down on Hugh Jackman as Isaac was, but I agree that he failed to carry the evening, getting smaller and smaller as the awards went along. Which is a pity, because I think the impulse to shake up the immensely stale format was a good one and the brief Anne-Hathaway-as-a-singing-Nixon bit had a hokey charm. Unlike Isaac, I thought the stage design, which was intended to lend a sense of intimacy, was terrific, particularly early on, when they mostly shot it up close to make the theater seem a much smaller venue: the world's most glamorous nightclub. (Why they subsequently shifted to the "look! there are actually thousands of non-famous people here!" shots is beyond me.) Had they maintained that early, cozier feel and perhaps thrown in a few more audience-participation stunts I suspect things would have worked out better. It wouldn't have hurt either if they'd given Jackman a large glass of Scotch. (Here's a thought: Let William Shatner host next year...)

The big "The musical is back!" number was a bit of a dud as well, especially given the decades' worth of material it had to mine. Even Baz Luhrmann, who directed the number, seemed to recognize it fell flat, giving an offhanded nod when Jackman credited him. How the man responsible for such musical diversions as the "Elephant Love Medley" from Moulin Rouge could've delivered such weak tea on Hollywood's biggest stage is mystifying. Perhaps he's still ticked about Australia.

A few of the evening's winners:

The high-school drama teacher who cast Andrew Stanton as Barnaby in Hello Dolly

Judd Apatow, James Franco, Seth Rogan ("Think I can make this into a pipe?") and Janusz Kaminski ("Suck on that, Anthony Dod Mantle")

Queen Latifah, for a gorgeous rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You" during what is always the evening's most moving sequence (though, yes, it was strange--and foolish--not to do more for Paul Newman, and I'm not sure how I feel about the omission of Heath Ledger, whose death, measured in terms of what it may have denied American film, is surely among the most tragic in cinematic history*)

And the losers:

The designer of Jessica Biel's dress (girl ain't a napkin, fella)

Alan Arkin ("Seymour Philip Hoffman"?)

Philip Seymour Hoffman (that hat distracted us too, Philmour Seyhoff)

Eddie Murphy, for his rushed, audibly insincere tribute to "major influence" Jerry Lewis

The litany of actors--Jackman, Bill Maher, Jack Black--joking, and re-joking, about how their movies weren't nominated

Sex appeal: I didn't like the quorum-of-past-winners-presenting-the-acting-awards format in general, but why on earth would you scrap the traditional format this year, of all years, and preempt what might have been the best kiss in Oscar history when Javier Bardem (last year's Supporting Actor winner) presented girlfriend Penelope Cruz with her award?

But by far the biggest loser of the night was the Oscars themselves, which seem to have made every possible effort to declare themselves culturally sequestered and irrelevant, from stiffing Wall-E and The Dark Knight; to leaving out Bruce Springsteen's terrific song for "The Wrestler"; to, finally, embarrassing the heavily (and justifiably) favored Mickey Rourke, about the closest Hollywood ever comes to a blue-collar screwup, so that Sean Penn could get onstage to joke about what a cozy bunch of commies the industry is and offer the nation a political lecture. That sound you hear is Middle America making other plans for Oscar night next year.

Update: Multiple commenters have pointed out that though Ledger died in 2008, it was before last year's ceremonies, so he was memorialized then, which I ought to have remembered. Thanks for the correction. Meanwhile, pace WoodyBombay (and Isaac), I thought Jack Nicholson's nonattendance was possibly the nicest part of the awards...

--Christopher Orr