I went and thought I'd just watch the opening, then I ended up staying for nearly the whole thing and was happily surprised this year. One of the keys to the ceremony's success was Hugh Jackman. He brought humor as have others, but more importantly Jackman is clearly someone who loves the movies and loves being a part of them. That's something sarcastic funnymen like Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, and Dave Letterman lacked, and it's what made them awful and unmemorable hosts. It seems like the Oscars are more fun when hosted by someone who loves showbiz, and Jackman clearly does. Whether it was the brilliant opening recession-style medley or the over-the-top musical sequence with Beyonce, you could tell Hugh was loving every minute. And the joy, for me, was infectious.
It also helped that the speeches were very quick and often moving- did the orchestra have to drown anybody out even once tonight? I noticed at Oscars.com that they have a "Thank You Cam" feature, which may be a great tool in the future for keeping on-stage speeches short and then allowing extended personal tributes via webcam. I was especially impressed by Sean Penn's humility, and his bold support for gay marriage. Good show sir. I didn't get the reference to "commie homo-loving sons of guns," but I wonder if it's a reference to the "signs of hatred" that Penn said were outside the theater.
One casualty of the awards tonight was the Oscar clip: the nominee's 10 second bit of intensity from their film. Instead, we had 5 actors each give tributes to the nominees. I had a mixed reaction to this. It was heartwarming to see the interchanges, especially Shirley MacLaine's lovely salute to Anne Hathaway. It came off as quite genuine and you could tell Hathaway was shaking in appreciation. This year this was a fun novelty, but if it's done every year, it could become quite dull, especially in years where winners are dead certain. It worked this year though and made for some emotional moments.
The one constant problem with the Oscars, evident this year as in most others, is something that Will Smith managed to point out in the "action" sequence: no one in America can find about a third of the pictures nominated! It can be a challenge to find The Reader or Slumdog, though most cities have art theaters in some shape. However, the short films, and most foreign and documentary films are hard to find even here in New York! Hollywood needs to find a way to make these films available, or the categories will seem very irrelevant and continue being a lull in the broadcast.
However, the producers cleverly masked that lull by adding on big emotional movie montages: the "action," "romance," and "comedy" bits (brilliant job by Seth Rogen and James Franco) were great for making the obscure awards easier to sit through.
I hope next year Jackman returns and brings with him some way we can watch more of these films, whether through a post-nomination DVD compilation or some theatrical means. If these films deserves the Academy's recognition, then we deserve the chance to see them close to our homes.
Finally, did anybody note that the lighting award was removed this year? I suppose the producers felt it was better to replace it with one of those montages. I wonder what the lighting designers would have to say about that...