Last night was what may have been the most disappointing Academy Awards ceremony I have watched in a long time. For much of this was because many of the awards did not go to the nominee who deserved them the most, but most of it was the ceremony itself. There were very few golden moments in this year's Oscar ceremony
One of the few bright spots in this year's ceremony was host Hugh Jackman. He was charming and funny--I can imagine women across the globe were swooning over him. He had some fairly good lines, particularly his jokes about Australia. And his skill was put to good use in an opening number which was essentially a parody of Billy Crystal's old opening numbers and a poke at the bad economy. Sadly, his song and dance skills were put to ill use in a salute to musicals. While I did not have that much problem with the execution of the number, I did have a problem with the choice of songs (with all the great musicals from the past 70 years, why bother using songs from Grease and Flashdance>?). At any rate, the only real complaint I have regarding Jackman is that we saw too little of him.
Another bright spot was the introduction to the screenplay awards with Steve Martin and Tina Fey. They were both extremely funny, to the point that I think they should co-host the Oscars one day. Another high point was a short film by Judd Apatow featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco, which was very funny. The montages were particularly well done this year, including one devoted to action movies and another to romance (although it featured a few films, such as The English Patient, that I do not consider particularly romantic...). There were a few good acceptance speeches as well. Danny Boyle's acceptance speech for Best Director was amusing, as was Kate Winslet's acceptance speech for Best Actress. Also amusing was Simon Beaufoy's acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay. As to the most touching acceptance speech, that had to be the one given by the family of Heath Ledger when they accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor.
As to the low points of the ceremony, there were several. I do not know who thought of the idea of having the Oscars for the various Acting categories presented by five different past winners, but if it was up to me they would never work on another Academy Awards Ceremony again. The presentations for the Acting categories just seemed to drag on and on--in fact, I think the presentations may have been longer than most acceptance speeches! Perhaps the absolute lowest point of the night was the In Memoriam sequence. This year it was accompanied by Queen Latifah singing the song "I'll Be Seeing You." This meant that there was no audio during any of the clips. To make matter worse, the camera would pan between tiny screens, often making it difficult to see the clips. To me this was an exceedingly bad idea. It was tacky, tasteless, and, quite frankly, disrespectful to those who had died in the past year. The In Memoriam sequence should be observed in silence, with no sound except for the audio of the clips themselves.
As might be expected, some of the speeches were also low points for the ceremony. In fact, the two worst speeches were both acceptances for awards for Milk. In accepting the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Dustin Lance Black expressed views that were blatantly political. Sean Penn did the same when he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor. I have always maintained that politics has no part in the Oscars. It detracts from the awards themselves to the point that I find it annoying. It doesn't matter whether I agree with the views the individual is expressing or not, I still don't want to hear one word of politics expressed at the Oscars.
As to the awards themselves, I was very disappointed at times, as they often went to nominees who did not deserve them. Indeed, this was particularly represented by the sweep Slumdog Millionaire made of several awards. Now don't get me wrong. I like Slumdog Millionaire, but it simply did not deserve to win many of the awards which it won. I will not debate whether it deserved to win Best Picture and Best Director (although frankly I think it deserved neither), but I think there were awards which it won which I do not think anyone can really argue it should have. I mean does anyone, even those who voted for it, honestly believe that Slumdog Millionaire has better Sound Mixing than The Dark Knight, Wall-E, or even Wanted? Does anyone, even those who voted for it, honestly believe that Slumdog Millionaire has better Editing than The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, or even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? Quite frankly, there were all too many instances of Slumdog Millionaire winning awards which it simply did not deserve. Indeed, the only Oscar I believe it really deserved was Best Adapted Screenplay.
Lest anyone think I am picking on Slumdog Millionaire, I must point out that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button also took awards which I feel it did not deserve. Given that much of the ageing of Button was actually done with CGI, I do not see how anyone could possibly think that it had better Make Up than Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I would also question how anyone can honestly think that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had better Visual Effects than Iron Man or even The Dark Knight. To me this is as nonsensical as Slumdog Millionaire winning Sound Mixing or Editing, if not more so.
I must also say that I objected to two of the Acting awards as well. While I do think Sean Penn did a good job in Milk, I honestly do not believe that he did a better job than Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. While I do not necessarily agree with this, however, I must say that it does not bother nearly as much as Penelope Cruz winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. While I think that her performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona was good, I do not think it was so remarkable that she deserved to even be nominated for Best Supporting Actress, let alone win it. What makes it all the more worse is that she beat out Marisa Tomei, the actress who truly deserved to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the fantastic performance she gave in The Wrestler.
Now I will confess that there were many instances where the most deserving nominees did win. While I love Kung Fu Panda, I think Wall-E truly deserved the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. And while I would have rather Kate Winslet been nominated for Best Actress for Revolutionary Road, her performance in The Reader was perhaps the only high point in that film--she truly deserved to win. And I do not think anyone is about to complain that Heath Ledger did not deserve the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. His performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was truly astounding. I was also very happy to see The Duchess win the Oscar for Best Costume Design. It really deserved it.
Over all, I must say that it was perhaps the most disappointing Oscar ceremony I have seen in a long time. Indeed, I think I might have tempted to shut the television off if I had not been chatting with the folks at Row Three (thanks again, guys!). Of course, that brings me to another complaint I have about last night's telecast on the American Broadcast Company. Why does Canada get better commercials during the Academy Awards than we do here in the United States?!