This is my 18th year in a row covering the Oscar ceremony in one venue or another, and no matter what you think of the fact of the show, or the shows themselves, there's always something to comment on, and this year was no different. Once again, however, I present the following caveat; anyone looking for talk about the fashions should go to ohnotheydidn't or someplace like that, not here. Anyway:
The length of the show: For the first time in recent memory, the show was less than three and a half hours. Were it not for the montages (more on those later) and the commercial breaks, it might have even been shorter. I'm sure it had to do with the writer's strike as well, but it's nice to be done with the show before midnight EST.
Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway: I may be in the minority here, but I actually liked their presenter banter. Aside from Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill (who took one joke and drove it to the ground), they were the only ones who tried to be funny, and they were.
Tilda Swinton: I knew I had lost my brother's Oscar pool when Swinton won, but I was otherwise thrilled. As I said in my earlier column here, she was the only performer who reinvented her part with this performance, never falling back on the stereotypical corporate villain. And her speech was cool too, especially for ribbing George Clooney about Batman.
"Raise it Up": I haven't seen August Rush, nor had I heard this song before tonight, but this was the only nominated song that was allowed to be performed the way it was performed in the movie; no gimmicks, no smothering by the orchestra, just the singers doing what they do. And anyone watching can tell young Jamia Simon Nash has the talent to go far.
"Falling Slowly": Even with the orchestra trying to smother Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, and even with the song being cutoff, the magic still shone through. And along with Tilda Swinton, this was the nominee I was most rooting for, so I was thrilled beyond belief. Even better that Jon Stewart brought out Irglova (reported at the urging of Colin Farrell - yay for him if it's true) so she could give her half of the acceptance speech.
Robert Boyle: While this Honorary Oscar winner has had a checkered career to say the least, anyone who worked on North by Northwest, In Cold Blood and Winter Kills in any capacity deserves to be up here.
Taxi to the Dark Side: While I was disappointed No End in Sight didn't win, I'm glad director Alex Gibney not only brought the funny (his wife wanting him to direct a romantic comedy instead), but also was able to be political without grandstanding.
Jon Stewart: Last time he hosted, I thought he was very funny. This time, not so much. Admittedly, part of that may have had to do with the writer's strike not allowing as much preparation, but while he got off some good zingers in the opening monologue ("Welcome to the make-up sex!", along with his joke about Atonement capturing the passion and raw sexuality of Yom Kippur), but his pregnant gags got old quick, and his presenter intros were lame. And while bringing Irglova back to read her speech was classy, making a gay joke afterwards wasn't.
Montages: It was understandable they'd want to celebrate 80 years of Oscars, but there were too many of them. 80 years of Best Pictures was okay (even though it was a reminder of how few of them actually deserved the honor - The Greatest Show on Earth, anyone?), but we didn't need all those clips commemorating 79 years of acting winners, for example. And yes, she's singing an Oscar-winning song, but WHY HAVE CELINE DION ACCOMPANY A FUCKING MONTAGE?!?
Presenters: Again, maybe because of the writer's strike, they didn't have much to work with, but except for the ones I mentioned above, most of the presenters were bland, or in the case of Jennifer Hudson, not good at all. Admittedly, they were stuck with bland patter (or, in the case of Hilary Swank's intro to the "In Memoriam" segment, bad patter), but it still grated. Oh, and so did Jerry Seinfeld doing his Bee Movie schtick.
Enchanted: Admittedly, I'm told by those who saw the movie "Happy Working Song" works in context of the movie, and Amy Adams had it tough singing it alone without anything to react to, as she apparently did in the movie. But the other songs, and the production for them, were awful. Once again, the Music Branch needs an overhaul. Speaking of which...
Atonement: The only nominee I was actively rooting against was this film's nomination for Best Score (I knew it didn't have a shot at winning Best Picture, nor did Saoirse Ronan, who did a fine job, have a shot at winning Best Supporting Actress), because it was part of the reason I disliked the movie in the first place. Admittedly, this wasn't a great category to begin with, thanks to them disqualifying both Jonny Greenwood and Eddie Vedder, but all the nominees were better here than Atonement.
Documentary short: Having a platoon in Iraq present an award seemed like a good idea in theory. In practice, it felt very disconnected from the rest of the evening.
As for the awards themselves, except for Atonement winning (and Marion Cotillard; I thought she was okay, but Laura Linney and Julie Christie were both better), I didn't mind any of the other wins. I was happy to see The Bourne Ultimatum sweep the categories it was nominated for, and I'm happy for the Coen brothers (though I am a little disappointed "Roderick James," their editor pseudonym, didn't win Best Editing).
See you next year!