The 80-year-old Oscar ceremonies showed their age on Sunday night with a painfully slow production that relied heavily on classic clips for any emotional resonance.
Granted, the prolonged writers' strike might have made it difficult for organizers to put together any full-fledged production numbers or elaborate gags, but you can't blame the strike for the overabundance of stiff presenters, forgettable songs and winners who appeared to have written their acceptance speeches on the red carpet.
Supporting-actress winner Tilda Swinton was an exception, saving the first half of the show with a bit that was as colorful and eccentric as her shock of orange hair. She promised her award to her American agent, in part because he looked exactly like the little statue right down to its bald head and shapely behind. She also teased her "Michael Clayton" co-star George Clooney for showing up to work in a rubber bat suit.
Batman jokes might normally seem a bit dated, but in comparison to the rest of Monday's show, it seemed as young as Miley Cyrus.
Fearing that the strike might continue, producers had planned a presentation heavy on film clips. It's clear that they never fully abandoned the idea. There was a tribute to the Oscar ceremonies.
There was a tribute to the 79 previous best-picture winners: Every. Single. One. There were tributes to past winners in acting categories: Almost. Every. Single. One.
It might have been better if we had been spared the history lesson, although the nominees could have benefitted from watching these clips earlier this week, if only to get tips on how to properly say thanks and still entertain the millions at home who were pining for a memorable moment.
Joel and Ethan Coen, the night's heavyweight champs, were so nonchalant on the way to the stage, it looked like they were going to the refrigerator for a carton of skim milk. Their subsequent remarks were so short and ho-hum, they turned out to be among the evening's most hilarious highlights.
Best actress Marion Cotillard appeared genuinely moved by her upset win, but was too overwhelmed to say anything that will play on a clip show 80 years from now. Diablo Cody was adorable in her acceptance for best original screenplay, but, like Cotillard, she seemed too overwhelmed to say much, a condition that must have disappointed producers who clearly delayed spotlighting that category in anticipation of a sidesplitting speech. (They also had to be let down by the fact that Michael Moore wasn't able to stir up some trouble and Cate Blanchett didn't have a chance to pay tribute to the late Heath Ledger, since both were non-winners.)
Matters got so desperate early on that host Jon Stewart tried to behave like best supporting actor Javier Bardem's tribute to his mother was a big deal. It wasn't.
The nominated songs did little to jazz up the affair. Former Chanhassen Dinner Theatres performer Amy Adams did her best to get through a solo version of "Happy Working Song" (from her hit film "Enchanted"), but it ended up looking like an "American Idol" audition with the Olympic rings rotating absurdly in the background.
Fortunately, the song category redeemed itself by giving the award to "Once" stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, whose "Falling Slowly" was the only hummable tune of the night. Shame on conductor Bill Conti for cutting off Irglova before she could speak -- and praise to Stewart for bringing her out after the commercial and telling her to "enjoy your moment." She did, and so did we.
The Stewart show
Stewart did a fine, if unspectacular, job with his opening monologue and improvised quips throughout the evening, skillfully mixing in his specialty -- political humor -- without turning the event into a special edition of "The Daily Show."
Among his best bits: pondering the Democratic presidential race in the spirit of Hollywood blockbusters: "Normally when you see a white woman or a black man, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty."
Unfortunately, there either wasn't enough time or creativity to come up with anything as sidesplitting as past host Billy Crystal's film tributes or musical salutes.
The upside to downsizing: The show moved along at a brisk speed, a break from recent tradition that may deserve an award of its own.
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