Oscar Show 2009: Middling Affair

Despite high hopes and many promises, the Oscar show last night was just a middling affair, a ceremony that demonstrated above all the nearly impossble task of reenergizing the creaky old format of the vet kudocast.

 

When Bill Condon, the director of the Oscar-nominated “Dreamgirls,” was appointed executive producer and Laurence Mark producer, we were led to believe that the Oscar ceremonies, whose ratings have been in severe and steady decline, would be totally reinvented.  There was a veil of secrecy reagrding the structure of the show, the celeb-presenters, the nature of the acceptance speeches, and so on.  Rumors were flying and suspense was building up.

 

To be fair to the show's orcehstrators, there were changes in all of the above elements, but overall, the show was not much more entertaining than those that preceded it.  The new producers made a middling kuofest that was smooth, brisk, efficient and short.  At 3 hours and 29 minutes, the 2009 affiar was brifer than many former ones.  But how many of you had really good time watching it?

 

No matter who are oversseing the show, they have to contend with some basic facts.  There are 24 categories to be announced and presented, and each category (with the exception of few) has five nominees.  Then there are at least 24 acceptance speeches (often more, if it's more than one winner). These areobligatory features that may take about one third of the show.

 

Additionally, the producers had to work with movies that were, in my humble opinion, artistically mediocre (such as “The Reader”) or decent (such as “Frost/Nixon”).  “Milk” is a good but not great picture and neither is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” despite its technical marvels. The most innovative and exuberant picture, “Danny Boyle's “Slumdog Millionaire” deservedly won the Best Picture and many other Oscars.  By defualt, it was the Best Picture of the Year.

 

An even bigger problem is that most of the nominated movies were not seen by the public: “Frots/Nixon” is a dismal commercial flop, and “The Reader” and “Milk” are also underwhleming as far as box-office receipts are concenred.  Which means that the average TV viewers have not seen these films and thus had no vested interests in following the show and finding out the winners (and losers).

 

Aussie actor Hugh Jackma, the handsome, charming host, did an O.K. job, trying to sing and dance (neither very well) and entertain the live and broadcast public.  I thought his opening number, a montrage of songs about the five nominees, which replaced the opening monologue, was mediocre, more in the vein of a Vegas nightclub number, especially when he grabbed Oscar nominee Anne hathway from the first row and performed a “spontaneous” and “improvised” “Frost/Nixon” duet with her.

 

Communicating with the celeb-actors in the front row, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, all major stars and nominees, was also a bit off and not as witty as intended to be; Jackman sitting on Frank Langella's lap?

 

The more serious theme of the show was 2008 in movies, divided into genre sections.  Jackman performed “Musicals Are Back” with a stunning-looking Beyonce Knowles, paying tribute to song-and-dance pictures from the early sound era all the way to the box-office hit “Mamma Mia!” .  At its good moments, the number was diverting if also more of a wishful thinking.  The musicals are back on Broadway, but we all know that they are not back in Hollywood, at least not as a viable genre.

 

I liked the novel idea of having five former winners on stage presenting an award to one of their colleagues, but I didn't think that singing the five actor nominees' praises by describing the essence
of their screen roles was a good or smart idea; it was as tedious as an informative lecture, or reading loud a laudaory film review. 

 

Hence, Eva Marie Saint, Whooppi Goldberg, Tilda Swinton, all winners of the Supporting Actress Oscar, introduced each of the five nominees in person before paying tribute to their work and acting skills. Perhaps in the future, the multi-presenter format could be accompanied with movie clips, rather than speeches, of the roles.  Which is particularly important in the case of modest, largely unseen movies that the mass public has not seen, such as “Doubt.”

 

This was a notion that must have worked better for the live audience there, judging by the standing ovations and reactions to the salutory monologues.


Some of the actors tributes were poignant and touching; others just full of adjectives that didn't mean much.  More problematic was the lack of many genuinely emotional moments and more explicitly political speeches.  I'd like to single out the acceptance speech of “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, which was a highlight, for its blatant plea for equal rights for gays and lesbians. 

In general, the 2009 Oscar ceremony seemed more proper and entertaining for those who were there in the auditorium than for TV viewers watching the show at home in their pajamas on couches.

 

Credits:

 

Host: Hugh Jackman

Broadcast from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

Producers, Bill Condon, Laurence Mark; supervising producer, Michael B. Seligman; coordinating producer, Danette Herman.

Director, Roger Goodman.

Writers, Jon Macks, Jenny Bicks, Condon, John Hoffman, Phil Alden Robinson, Bruce Vilanch.

Special material written by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Ben Schwartz, Joel Stein.

Production designer, David Rockwell.

Music director, Michael Giacchino.

 

Running Time: 3 hours 29 Minutes.