That was weird.
The redesign of the Kodak theater architecturally kind of worked. The seating higher (or the stage lower, whichever) made the audience of celebs seem closer and more involved. And the pathways through the seating, breaking the audience into groups which seemed to correspond at least in some cases to those there for specific films made it more clubby and chummy like the Golden Globes.
And the crystal curtain with however many—thousands? millions? trillions?—of different size and shape crystals capturing the light. It must have been incredible in person because even on the small screen it reflected in ways that were spectacular (though I can see how in a few years looking back it may seem overdone and tacky).
But the weird blue tinted and mostly dimmed lighting made it difficult at times to see what was going on completely. Those there said it was the best Oscars to be live at, but on the TV it looked like some of the lights blew and they were making due.
Hugh Jackman certainly gave it his all and I found him charming and highly musically talented. And in fact the dance and music numbers were pretty well done, but the camera work mostly was terrible.
I had heard that the new producers wanted to make the show more like theater and less like film and they succeeded. Only they seemed to have forgotten that the thing about TV is that it usually affords you the best seat in the house, because in this case it often seemed like the worst.
Especially when they were doing filmed bits. The way the camera zoomed around the theater catching the big screens of various shapes and sizes on stage from different angles, it was impossible to tell at times whoever was being commemorated or what film was being honored.
And the lapses stuck out and were sorely missed. Did I miss something in all the swirling camera work or did they leave Heath Ledger off the montage of shots of those who had died in the last year (or did he die the year before and was commemorated last Oscars?)
As it was, there was almost no film from FROZEN RIVER or THE VISITOR, the least known of the movies being honored with nominations and therefore the ones most likely to benefit from some sustained scenes on film in a way the TV audience could watch without squinting or feeling we had to move our heads around or get closer to figure out what we were watching.
I notice they didn’t do that with the most successful bit of the evening, the Judd Apatow short film with Seth Rogan and James Franco. That worked pretty well both as comedy and Oscar nominations montage. But it was done full front and full screen so that it was actually like watching a short film, whereas the other montages of nominated or commemorated film clips and etc. were all shot as though from some hectic audience member running around the theater to see how many crazy angles he could view the screens from (like arriving late to an almost sold out movie and having to watch it from a seat in the front row or at the extreme edges of the theater etc.).
[I forgot to mention how great Tina Fey and Steve Martin were as presenters, as my friend Terence pointed out. And as he said some writer in DC mentioned, Fey would make a great host for the Oscars. That I'd love to see. Maybe next year.]
A for the winners. Mostly deserved given who was nominated.
I'm glad Penn won over Rourke, it was a better, or at least more fully realized performance. And I'm very happy to see Penelope Cruz recognized for her terrific acting in VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA (but did anyone besides me notice they never mentioned the film and when she thanked Woody Allen and paused expecting the usual applause for the director there was only silence, even though she correctly pointed out that he has created more great roles for women than possibly any other director, he obviously loves them, but obviously loved the wrong one for this crowd which to me came across as either a little self-righteous and hypocritical or just lazy).
As for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE I think it deserved every honor it received. I believe it will hold up as one of those few Oscar “best pictures” that is still compellingly watchable in years and decades to come. It’s like the best of the old classic Hollywood films, especially in terms of story and epic scope, but it also contains elements of the best of contemporary indie productions.
All in all though, there were no exceptional speeches (the most movingly personal and political was from the screenwriter of MILK Dustin Lance Black) or totally embarrassing moments (except maybe for Ben Stiller's distracting and unfunny bearded bit when co-presenting with Natalie Portman, it fell flat and completely upstaged the nominations they were supposedly honoring and undermined the winner's acceptance). And the inclusion of old film stars added some glamour and star power. But in the end, it wasn’t that great a show, though I doubt anyone there felt that way.