The Oscars: What Worked, What Didn’t

by Brandi Giles
Columnist

Judging from Sunday night’s Academy Awards, Hollywood apparently is not as snuggly tucked away in James Cameron’s pocket as I had initially believed. Despite the fact that “Avatar” was the highest-grossing nominated film, the Academy chose “The Hurt Locker,” the lowest-grossing film, as Best Picture of the Year. And to put a cherry on top of the upset, Kathryn Bigelow, who directed “The Hurt Locker,” became the first woman ever to win an Oscar for directing.

Here’s a delineation of the best and worst of the 2009 Academy Awards.

What worked: Neil Patrick Harris’s opening number. With the gowns, the tearful speeches and Ryan Seacrest, the Oscars are a pretty gay production. Harris, an out and proud gay man, performed a parody-laced opening number while wearing a sequined sports jacket, getting the ceremony off to a fabulous start.

What didn’t work so well: Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as co-hosts. Most people will likely disagree with me on this point, but in my opinion, Martin and Baldwin were not very impressive as hosts. Admittedly their good-natured celebrity jokes were funny without being awkward, but from then on their comedy was of an I-can-take-it-or-leave-it quality.

Perhaps their talent was constrained by the rigid Oscar schedule, but I thought the whole point of hiring two comedy titans was so that they could bring their edgy, inventive humor to the normally stiff ceremony. Instead, Martin and Baldwin, who are individually hilarious, came together and were just OK. I expected far better than Snuggie jokes from the likes of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

What worked: John Hughes’ tribute. It wasn’t very inventive. It inevitably spotlighted the most overused John Hughes movie clips and of course reproduced the cliché of playing “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from “The Breakfast Club” throughout the whole thing. But it worked because the appropriate amount of attention was paid to Hughes, the director, writer and producer of some of the most enduring and endearing films of all time. It was clear that honoring him was made a priority. Plus it was fun to see how messed up the kids from “The Breakfast Club” turned out. Judd T. Nelson? … Yikes.

What did not work: Very little attention paid to Michael Jackson. I know, I know: The Oscars are about movies, not music. Therefore, giving Michael Jackson only a 15-second clip during the “Beloved Actors We’ve Lost” slide show was totally justified. Wrong. Michael Jackson may have been a musician, but he was also a cultural icon whose music has endured for generations. He was an extraordinary entertainer and thus deserved much more attention from the largest entertainment community in the world.

What didn’t work: Various instances of pandering. I understand that the Oscars rely on ratings just like any other show, but instances where it was clear the show was pandering to a broader audience fell flat. The 10 Best Picture nominees were such a problem. The category was expanded so that more popular yet less reputable films could be nominated, thus attracting more viewers as well as cinephiles. Still, the nominees were presented in the same old stale way – a random actor saying a few cheesy lines about the sheer gravity of the picture, followed by an “inspirational” clip.

This would have been fine had they only nominated five films because then we would have endured it five fewer times. Next, bringing in the young hot stars was also a very lame instance of pandering to a younger audience. I like Zac Efron and Taylor Lautner just as much as the next fan of “High School Musical” and “Twilight,” but I grudgingly accept the fact that they belong as far away from the Oscar stage as possible.

Their inexperience made them stiff and disengaging in a live television broadcast. And I don’t care how many times you parade Miley Cyrus across the stage, 13-year-olds are not going to watch the Academy Awards. It simply is not in their range of interest.

What worked best: Kathryn Bigelow picking up the Oscar for Best Director and sticking it to her ex-husband (James Cameron). I know I’ve already mentioned this, but it warrants repetition.

What worked least: The orchestra playing “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” as Bigelow accepted the award. Seriously, how cheesy is that? Plus, Bigelow may be the first woman to win Best Director, but she was also just the Best Director of the year. The song choice magnified the former to practical joke proportions and de-emphasized the fact of the latter. I knew things were going to be bad when Barbra Streisand walked out. …

There is more I could mention, but I found these to be the most glaring mistakes and triumphs of the night. I was in fact very happy with the Awards show this year. The art that deserved to win did and that’s all that really mattered. “The Hurt Locker” was the best film of 2009 and shockingly, surprisingly, unprecedentedly, the voters chose the best pick. Who would have thought?

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