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What the Oscars Did Right Last Night
February 23, 2009  | By David Bianculli

OSCARS-stiller-portman-clos.jpgGriping about the Oscars the day after is a national pastime and an annual rite. Last night's ABC telecast, though, jiggered with the usual formula quite substantially -- and established some nice new elements in the process.

Hugh Jackman, as host, threw more energy into it than anyone since Billy Crystal. And while he's not as funny, his razzle-dazzle dance moves made for some nice, big-stage moments. Pulling Anne Hathaway out of the front row to sing as Nixon to his Frost was one winning star turn. Doing a medley of musical tunes with Beyonce (is there NO big event at which she won't appear this year?) was another.

OSCARS-Anne-Hathaway.jpg OSCARS-jackman-beyonce.jpg

Too many pre-planned elements went on far too long, but one which added extra time was worth every precious second. The idea of collecting five Oscar-winning actors or actresses, representing various eras of Hollywood, to present all at once was a good one. Having those performers speak one-on-one to their nominated peers, offering individual glowing reviews, was a great one.


When Shirley MacLaine raved about Anne Hathaway, and we were shown both actresses in split screen, it made for very tender television. And when MacLaine went off script, and heaped additional praise on Hathaway's singing during the musical number with Jackman, how cool was that?

Other highlights: Ben Stiller's lampoon of Joaquin Phoenix (pictured at top above) was the funniest moment of the entire show, especially as he wandered aimlessly while Natalie Portman delivered the lion's share of the prepared podium patter. Hilarious. And Will Smith was so smooth and relaxed, during his multiple-awards presentation, that he might be considered as a future host as well.

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Also, I really enjoyed it when Kate Winslet won as Best Actress for The Reader -- not so much for her win, but for the way she not only gave a shout-out to her parents, but shouted out to her father, asking him to whistle so she could find him in the cavernous Kodak Theater. He did whistle, immediately and piercingly, and she and the camera eventually found him. Again, how cool was that?


And at the end, if you stayed the extra half hour to watch the closing credits, the 81st Annual Academy Awards telecast presented something that definitely should become an annual tradition: showing clips of movies now in production, or yet to be released.

Next year, Robert Downey Jr. in, and as, Sherlock Holmes. Can't wait...




giggles said:

Yes, that bit during the credits? Already campaigning for next years awards.... But it was fun!

Comment posted on February 23, 2009 11:14 AM

Toby O'B said:

I had two complaints regarding the tribute to those people connected to the movies who left us in the last year.

First off, it was presented as a film of a stage show, when it should have been pure television - nothing to get in the way between us and the images of those who died. Instead, the camera roamed all over the stage so that at times the images were too small to see at home - and that's who the telecast is meant for. We don't need to hae the sensation that we're in the audience at the theater for that segment!

Queen Latifah was a nice addtion to that segment, but we didn't need to see her after the tribute began; she was there for her voice. And sometimes the camera pulled away so far that we had no clue why the person was being honored. (One example that comes to mind is Ned Tanen.)

And where was any mention of Patrick McGoohan? I went into that segment with a gut feeling we wouldn't see him up there, because he was probably thought of as only a TV actor (and a giant in that field!) But he had plenty of movie credits to his name and some of them were biggies: 'Ice Station Zebra', 'Silver Streak',and of course, 'Braveheart'. Had he won the Best Supporting award for that as he should have, maybe then they might have remembered him.

Oh well. I'm fairly certain the Emmys will remember him...... (No question. And you're absolutely right that he was snubbed. -- David B.)

Comment posted on February 23, 2009 11:15 AM

Raked said:

Maybe I'm of the minority here, but I hated what Ben Stiller did. I think it was fine when he first came out, but once Natalie Portman "delivered the lion's share of the prepared podium patter," he should have just stood there. It really took away from the nominees' moment to shine, which is disappointing since cinematography is rarely noticed or commended.

I did enjoy Hugh Jackman, though, and I'd be happy to see him host again.

Comment posted on February 23, 2009 11:31 AM

MS said:

I disagree that most of the changes were good ones. The five presenters made things too slow, the sort of self-regarding twaddle we already see too much of. Although I enjoyed Jackman's opening number, they should have ashcanned the whole duet with Beyonce; having already reduced the nominations for best song to three, the time would have been better spent with complete versions of all three. I would also have rather had the traditional stand-alone segments on the best picture nominees and fewer of the "salutes" to comedies, romances, etc. Queen Latifah was great, but she was too loud, too seen, and I missed getting audio clips from the deceased (only Paul Newman got to be heard). I don't know if it was my heavy use of fast forward on my DVR or if the new producers helped but whatever the reason there seemed to be fewer of the horrible scripted exchanges by Vilanch. At least Jackman was a charming host and got in a few digs at the omission of some passed-over films that were not only popular but also very good.

Comment posted on February 23, 2009 11:48 AM

Dommy said:

what is it about the oscars that have people wanting to complain first and praise later? i loved all the new additions... the 5 presenters idea was perfect... queen latifah did an amazing job singing... i had no problem with the fluid movement of the late actors... it made it more interesting to watch for me... and made it ironically... alive... i could see if you had a tiny tv that it might be a problem for some, the linking up the technical awards was brilliant and much faster, and most importantly the show was about 2008 movies... in previous shows it was about the history and only a handful of recent movies, but they celebrated the whole year... comedies, action, etc... that's what it should be about. they should probably start the show sooner and trim 30 minutes but better is better. some people complain so much it seems like they just want someone standing there reading a list of winners... in and out in 10 minutes. but it's an awards show... big, silly, full of itself, but at least this year much more interesting to watch... on a dvr that is.

Comment posted on February 23, 2009 4:03 PM

Eric P said:

Toby- you can see just the video of the In Memoriam over on youtube. It looks as if the oscars organization posted it. It would have been nice if they could have posted a longer version with some of the people that were overlooked/cut from the final (in addition of McGoohan, let's not forget Forrest J Ackerman). Also I think that only Newman got any dialog, as the In Memoriam has been observed in silence in the past. I think Brando got the first dialog ever. There has to be a cool Documentary on the history of the In Memoriam feature.

Comment posted on February 23, 2009 5:47 PM

Sarah said:

Bravo! Bravo! Standing ovation THAT was one of the BEST Oscars since I've been watching. KATE WINSLET ROCKED it was about time she won! I liked the past actor(s) talking about each nominee, but I would have added one for the Director catagory. I liked Hugh Jackman and ALL of the singing and dancing, espcially the opening (Anne Hathaway does have a good voice). GO SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE! and those cute kids. SEAN PENN was GREAT.
KATE WINSLET ROCKED it was about time she won!
And I too cried when Heath's family accepted so it was nice to know I wasn't the only one, as the camera shots showed.
I am already counting down and will start watching movies for next year.

Comment posted on February 23, 2009 9:13 PM
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