Television critics say Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were the best Oscars hosts in years, but complain that the show — no surprise here — was too long, neglected several legends, and overloaded on teen stars like [cough] Kristen Stewart.
When the Oscars opened last night with that epic, biblical music followed by the truly terrible song-and-dance number featuring Neil Patrick Harris, I had my doubts. That was like being stuck on a cruise ship. Now I know why so many people jump overboard into shark-infested waters. Those doubts grew substantially when Martin and Baldwin descended from the ceiling in a big ring thing complete with sequins, dancing girls. And feathers. That only works for Pink, OK? But then something wonderful happened. The two seriously funny guys got seriously funny. Having all the Best Actor nominees on stage at once was great because it gave the hosts a way to start riffing on them all as they sat down... Instead of the usual deference to the stars, and/or spoof of the movies' openers, Martin and Baldwin cleverly roasted each of the nominees — and some of it was hilarious.
Despite everyone's best efforts, this year's Oscars seemed to suffer from a crisis of confidence. Although studded with entertaining and emotional moments, it just never seemed to get going. The pacing problem began almost immediately. Although we knew going in there would be two hosts, we weren't prepared for three openers: An introductory tableau of the lead actor and actress nominees was followed by a lamentable song-and-dance number by Neil Patrick Harris. (It wasn't his fault; the song was just terrible, though the feathered Vegas showgirls were fun.) Then hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin descended from the sky to warm up the audience with a little insider teasing. The two were, as expected, the best hosts the show has had in years... Yes, there were too many Meryl Streep references and shots of a stone-faced George Clooney, but Martin and Baldwin were fine and funny throughout. They were unafraid to appear in a double Snuggie backstage and introduced presenters with flair — "He directed A Single Man, she weighs a single pound, Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker" — and did their best to keep things moving. Only things didn't quite. And though it would be easy to blame the decision to honor the original score nominees through interpretive dance, the show's heavy-footedness instead appeared to be simple stage management.
Baldwin and Steve Martin proved to be classy and quippy throughout the night, very piece-of-cake — not that anyone expected otherwise... The producers held fast to their ongoing attempt over the last few years to increase the size of the tent. They are still lowering the ages of its presenters; even dressed up to the nines, Twilight's Kirsten Stewart still looks like your sullen, no-one-else-was-available babysitter. They honored the lesser genres. (And now, a moment to respect horror — to scare us from going to bed in the dark?) It seems to be paying off, without feeling like too much of a compromise for the film snobs. The winners did their part, mostly keeping their speeches short, emphasizing a message of hope (follow your dreams! To Hollywood!) rather than a list of names.
Sorry, but a show that pumps Helen Reddy's 1972 anthem "I Am Woman" when Kathryn Bigelow- the first female to win the Best Directing Oscar-left the stage can be called a lot of things, but relevant is not one of them. If anything, the 82nd Academy Awards made you miss all the people who weren't there-not just the flamboyant Man of the Moment, Weir (who, as it happened, taped a hilarious opening skit for another awards show — The Soup Awards on E!)-but Billy Crystal, king of all Oscar hosts, and Jack Nicholson, the reliably wacky go-to-guy in the audience. This year, that role was given to Meryl Streep, who had to endure so many slights about her chronic Oscar losses that by the time she actually did lose another Best Actress award-as expected, to Sandra Bullock-you wanted to hug her out of pity. (Making it even worse: this year, she actually dressed up!)
Director John Hughes was too great a legend to be simply included in the traditional "In Memoriam" tribute. The special clip package of his work stirred desires to see his films again. They seemed good at the time, and in these dreary days, they seem miraculous. As the stars he made - his "children" -strode forward, it became one of the greatest moments in Academy Award history. The traditional memorial montage was well accompanied by pop-music veteran James Taylor. Every year they forget someone. This year it was a very big someone: Farrah Fawcett.
At the evening's end, there was joy that The Hurt Locker won, but it was sort of a letdown because the ceremony lacked excitement. The choice of hosts Baldwin and Martin, which struck me as inspired, turned out to be a miscalculation. In years past, did co-hosts alternate lines? Comic timing depends on one person's delivery, unless we're talking about a seasoned comedy team. The two never felt like a team, and apparently didn't have their lines memorized, which led to tiny but fatal delays.
The choice of devoting a separate tribute in the first hour of the show to [John] Hughes, whose work also was never honored by Oscar, might seem especially controversial given the way the show buried its Governors Award tribute to such legends as Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman, save a brief recap of a ceremony held in November. It wouldn't have been unthinkable in a previous year for Hughes to have been shoehorned into the "In Memoriam" obituary montage. It's hard not to see the elaborate salute to his career as an effort to appeal to Generation X, which might have had anyone older asking why. It's safe to assume a similar rationale was at work behind the seemingly endless parade of, one hesitates to use the word "actors," who presented awards, including Taylor Lautner, Miley Cyrus, Rachel McAdams and Zac Efron. Their questionable usage was thrown into sharp relief during a presentation in which Twilight starlet Kristen Stewart stopped midsentence to swivel her head over her shoulder to cough. Classy.
Nowhere was the producers' odd, bipolar approach more obvious than in their dismissal of the nominated songs and expansion of the nominated scores. It's doubtful anyone other than the songwriters much minded having their work reduced to a few fast clips, particularly because in some cases, even that was more than we wanted to hear. But it's also doubtful anyone felt the need for a best-score production number, a jumbled salute that served neither the music nor the dancers well
It also could have been fine to allow co-stars to salute the nominees for best actor and actress (a twist on last year's innovation), but they went on too long - and considering it's an acting award, they might have wanted to discuss the work rather than the person. And the downside? Why give an honorary Oscar to Lauren Bacall, one of the last icons of Hollywood's Golden Age, and then relegate it to a pre-show event? On a night short on glamour, Bacall could have doubled it all by herself.
The rest of the ceremony? A real mixed bag, of course, with a goodly share of bloat. That's just how Oscar rolls. There were overlong clip sequences and tiresome acceptance speeches, including one - for short documentary film - in which one producer seemed to be Kanye-ing the other. Still very much alive was the Oscars tradition of creating a glut of less-than-exciting award presentations in the middle of the night. Just when the show ought to have been building to the big awards that we all care about, we were handed filler: last night's mind-bendingly long interpretive dance piece, for example. And Neil Patrick Harris's early big number, a weakly written Broadway-style song? Classic Oscar water retention. Maybe the producers' thinking was that, without boring and cheesy segments, viewers wouldn't think the show was Very Important.
It was a night of historic firsts, notably for Kathryn Bigelow, who became the first woman director to win an Oscar, for her film The Hurt Locker. But mostly it was a repudiation of last year's recession-tainted show, which cut back on film clips and featured Hugh Jackman as a one-man singing, dancing, announcing buddy-can-you-spare-a-dime master of ceremonies. This was a supersized celebration of film - an effort to crown crowd-pleasing blockbusters as well as art-house favorites - anything to speed up the recovery.