Monday, March 8, 2010

Film commentary: Oscars show still long, but much more entertaining

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker.

By Hap Erstein

Leave it to Steve Martin to sum up Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony with a final ad-lib, calling the broadcast so long that “'Avatar' now takes place in the past.”

At three-and-a-half-hours, it actually ran longer than James Cameron’s bloated, 3-D science fiction epic, which got left in the dust by the documentary-like The Hurt Locker, directed by Cameron’s ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow (at right).

The Oscars show was awfully long, but it was one of the more entertaining awards fests in many years. It began with such an obvious, but previously overlooked, touch of introducing all ten best actor and actress nominees onstage. How could no one have thought of that before?

Neil Patrick Harris kicked the show off with a reasonably clever song, No One Wants to Do It Alone, which sounded like a sanitized version of a Marc Shaiman party song. Then came Martin and his co-host Alec Baldwin to toss off roast one-liners about the nominees (“There’s that damn Helen Mirren.” “No, Steve, that’s Dame Helen Mirren.”) Compared to such dud past emcees as David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock, Martin and Baldwin were just what the show needed.

Nominees were introduced with longer -than-usual clip montages of their performances, which were another plus. Ditto the best song category, which was cut down to size, with the nominees all lumped in one sequence, not unlike best costumes. A real time- (and ear-) saver.

Ben Stiller was back with an elaborate makeup award introduction in which be entered as an Avatar blue creature, spouting verbiage that was part Navi and part Hebrew. At least he self-effacingly admitted that the bit “seemed like a better idea in rehearsals.”

It was 10:06 EST before Avatar won its first Oscar, for art direction, and Hurt Locker was already building momentum. By the time the best director category came up and Barbra Streisand came out to present it, you just knew that she was chosen because she would be announcing the first-ever woman to win it -- Bigelow.

There was an unnecessary and rather redundant montage of horror movies, another attempt by the Academy to seem more populist. Still, it could have easily been cut to save time.

Following on last year’s winning idea of having past actor winners talk about the current nominees, this year it was colleagues or co-stars of those in the running for the performance awards. Precious producer Oprah Winfrey for Gabourey Sidibe, Fabulous Baker Boys co-star Michelle Pfeiffer for Jeff Bridges. Nice and personal and rather touching.

Yes, Sandra Bullock won best actress for The Blind Side, marking a painful victory for likeability over acting achievement. (Didn’t any voters see Mirren in The Last Station?) So, as promised, I will submit my resignation to the Academy in protest, even though I’m not a member of the Academy. I did like Bullock’s speech, which began “Did I really earn this or did I wear you all down?” Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to, Sandy.

I didn’t think there were many surprises in the awards, but then I got 19 out of 24 right. (Curse you, short subjects!) Too bad that Up in the Air left the Kodak Theater empty-handed, but at least The Hurt Locker, another small, independent film won the top Oscar, despite the Academy’s attempt to manipulate the system towards bigger, more mainstream fare.

(A list of Sunday night's winners can be found on the official Oscar site.)

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