The 84th Annual Academy Awards were golden heads and fashionable shoulders above last year's snoozefest. Here are my ruminations on Sunday night's Oscars.
Host Billy Crystal gave the Academy what it wanted -- a safe night of nostalgic entertainment. If audiences wanted to see familiar bits, like Crystal inserting himself in well-produced re-enactments of the Best Picture nominatees, like Billy singing an opening musical medley, like the host performing his "What Are They Thinking" bit, then they got what they wanted. A few things fell flat, such as the Justin Bieber cameo and Crystal's ill-advised Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonation, which may have been great during his Saturday Night Live days, but didn't work for contemporary tastes. For the most part, Crystal did a fine job, showing last year's young hosts how it's done. His running gag about Kodak's bankruptcy and having their name removed from the ceremony's venue cracked me up a few times ("Chapter 11 Theater," "Put-Your-Name-Here Theater").
The sound was annoying for most of the night. There was a strange, tinny feedback from the microphones, as if someone was dialing a digital phone. When Morgan Freeman stepped up to begin the show, his words were almost drowned out by the over-zealous orchestra playing in the background.
Other segments of the evening's production, however, were very nicely done, especially the "In Memoriam" tribute, featuring a lovely live performance of "What a Wonderful World" by Esperanza Spalding, perfectly timed with a nice (if overly washed-out) video montage of people in the film industry who past away this year. Even though they could never include everyone in show business who died in any given year during the allotted time, there were no glaring omissions as there have been in years past (Gene Siskel, Farrah Fawcett, and Corey Haim come to mind).
I really enjoyed the acrobatic wizardry of Cirque Du Soleil, as performers literally seemed to burst from the movie screen on stage and fly above the seated audience. I thought as I was watching, "Now that's 3D!"
The pacing was fine, most of the acceptance speeches were brief, and the entire show seemed to flow nicely. I think it was a mistake, though, not to present a major award until 40 minutes into the broadcast. In the past, they used to start off the evening with one of the Best Supporting categories as the first prize given out, and that should have been the case again, but we had to sit through awards in Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, and Foreign Language Film first.
I felt like they heeded my wish to honor our love of movies instead of just focusing on fashion, pomp, and silliness. The annual montage of classic movie moments was wonderful and the celebrity testimonials, in which stars such as Brad Pitt, Helen Mirren, Barbra Streisand, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Robert DeNiro, and others, reminisced about how and why they fell in love with cinema, was fun to watch.
Some other things grabbed my attention. Angelina Jolie's little leg stance/pose was ridiculous. It was funny to see them mistakenly label the Documentary Short Subject winner as the Documentary Feature winner (although I was probably the only one who noticed that). Nick Nolte looked sloshed (and even Billy Crystal cracked a joke about it).
Some questions -- Was it really that bad of a year for original movie songs that only two crumby ones were nominated? Would it kill Woody Allen to show up at least once to an Oscar ceremony?
I still would have liked to have seen what Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy would have done if they hadn't backed out, but producer Brian Grazer and host Billy Crystal did a commendable job stepping in.