The first-time producers promised this year's Oscars show would be more fun and stay within 3 hours. The second promise was obviously a lie (it was 3.5 hours), but the first promise was equally hard to spot. The biggest change was bringing in theater man Hugh Jackman to host instead of a comedian, and not telling him he wasn't still hosting the Tonys. His opening musical number had its moments, and he brought a good level of energy to the show. But what was the point of that tribute to musicals, in a year that only saw Mamma Mia and High School Musical 3? Oh, because Jackman still thinks he's on Broadway.
There were also some changes to the way awards were handed out, having presenters give out multiple awards in a group. Less presenters meant time saved and, even more thankfully, less awkward stage banter (like Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston. Painful). The time saved was soon wasted by having former winners describe the nominees. I'm hoping next year they return to the film clips, because when old actors blabber on for awhile, I stop listening. For that matter, why was every nominee list read twice?
Finally, those show-killing video montages. While the genre tributes were still just as pointless, at least they were current. Anything is better than last year, when I think one montage theme was "movies about America." Seriously? Best was the Pineapple Express guys watching movies from the year. As they laughed at the serious dramas, The Reader once again learned what the cost was of taking that slot away from The Dark Knight, and I was entertained.
The awards themselves turned out to be even more free of surprises than the show surrounding it. Obviously not everything was locked up, since I only scored 16/24 on my Oscar predictions, but little happened worth raising an eyebrow for. Slumdog had a near-sweep with 8 wins, losing only to itself in Original Song and to The Dark Knight in a sound category. Sean Penn beat out Mickey Rourke for Best Actor, and Penelope Cruz held her lead in a competitive Best Supporting Actress race. But the only award that seemed like a real surprise was Best Foreign Film, in which some Japanese movie I've never heard of beat off favorites and Waltz with Bashir and The Class.
The speeches as well were the typical unmemorable parade of "thank you"s. Still, there were a few good moments. The Japanese guy who won Best Animated Short made up for beating Presto by ending with "Domo Arigato, Mister Roboto." And in easily the best speech of the night, Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black spoke to gays and lesbians, saying that God does love them and that someday soon they will have equal rights. Certainly a lot more positive than Sean Penn's message, that anyone who voted for Prop 8 will have shame for generations.
Anyway, these awards shows tend to feel boringly predictable at the time, but that's not always a bad thing. I wish Slumdog had lost some of the pre-Oscar awards, maybe giving SAG to Milk, just so those who saw it late could experience what I did many months ago. But with such a weak pool of nominees, it was the best picture and did deserve its wins. I wish The Dark Knight had gotten more than two awards, and I would have liked to see Mickey Rourke take Best Actor. But the Academy does deserve credit for not doing anything too boneheaded, like giving Benjamin Button Best Picture. In the end, predictable is better than wrong.