2009 Oscars: Despite promises of something new, more of the same

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2009 - 6:30 AM
For more than a month, viewers were told that this year's edition of the 81st Annual Academy Awards would offer something completely different. But Sunday night's presentation, while daring and innovative at times, proved there's only so much you can do when you have close to two dozen statuettes to hand out while still trying to squeeze in as many famous faces as possible.

Here are some moments from the early hours that stood out:

Song-and-dance man

It was inevitable that Hugh Jackman would open the Academy Awards with a production number. It was also a pretty good bet that he would put on a dazzling display of fancy footwork and contagious charm. Unfortunately, all that sweat and sincerity was for naught because the music was tuneless and trite. Jackman's attempts at chitchat with famous faces in the audience only had us searching the seats for Billy Crystal.

The evening's second big production number was far superior for two reasons: Instead of relying on corny lyrics, Jackman ran through classic songs from movies like "All That Jazz," "Grease" and "Hairspray." The second reason was Beyoncé, who was simply dazzling. Is there anything she can't do (other than return my phone calls)?

Big Ben

It took one hour, but Ben Stiller finally delivered the first true yuk of the evening as he co-presented the award for best cinematography as ... Joaquin Phoenix.

From the bushy beard to the gum smacking, Stiller didn't break character until he was walking off stage. Natalie Portman sufficed as his straight man. The bit almost makes up for "Night At the Museum."

Jen & Jolie

Presenter Jennifer Aniston, within clawing distance of Angelina Jolie, somehow resisted the temptation to leave Jack Black's side and leap into the front row. If only the show's director had showed the same restraint. He went to a shot of Jolie in the crowd twice during Aniston's bit. Jolie, ever the professional, was wearing a big smile both times.

Five for fighting

How many superstars does it take to hand out an Oscar? Five, apparently. In the production's first big "surprise," five former winners -- Goldie Hawn, Anjelica Huston, Tilda Swinton, Whoopi Goldberg and Eva Marie Saint -- presented the best supporting actress award. Penélope Cruz got the gold, but not before we heard a personal tribute about each nominee.

The five past supporting actors on presenters' row didn't include Javier Bardem, last year's winner. Perhaps producers were afraid he might try to gun down nominee Josh Brolin, his "No Country for Old Men" co-star. (Character actors are a troubled tribe.) Still, you had to love presenter Cuba Gooding Jr. paying tribute to Robert Downey Jr.'s performance in blackface. "Are you out of your mind?" he cried in mock anger then wished him luck on his new version of "Shaft."

But, of course, this award was all about Heath Ledger. It was touching that, instead of having a big star accept in his honor, his family came to the stage and gave a moving speech. Among the wet eyes in the audience: Melissa Leo, Anne Hathaway, Brad Pitt, Adrian Brody and Ben Kingsley.

Dumb and dumber

Judd Apatow delivered his 764th film of the past year during the Oscars with stars Seth Rogen and James Franco in full pothead mode, watching movies from the past two years. The two giggled through scenes from "The Reader" and "Doubt" and rewrote the lyrics to "Take a Chance on Me" from "Mamma Mia!" For true Apatow fans only.

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431

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