by pat howard

The 81st Academy Awards

In Oscars on February 23, 2009 at 3:25 am

I didn’t intend to watch the entire Oscarcast. My plan was to turn it on and watch until I got bored. Amazingly, by the time I did get bored, I was too far into the show (and a backlog of laundry) to bail on it. Hugh Jackman was a capable host, though he was nearly lost in the shuffle of all the presenters, performers, and past honorees.

The first-time Oscar producers promised a different telecast this year, and they delivered in some nifty ways. Grouping the categories as stages of the filmmaking process was an inspired choice, and made for a brisk pace, with presenters handling multiple categories and imparting a rudimentary film education at once.

Whatever time they saved here, they unfortunately squandered on hall-of-famers and their babbling, pandering tributes to the nominees. It might have seemed more genuine if this tack had been reserved for two or three categories. Alas, this bloviating seems likely to be repeated in the future.

I loved Queen Latifah’s understated “I’ll Be Seeing You” during the tribute montage, though the directing sometimes made it hard to tell who was being eulogized at any given moment. I enjoyed the nods to Meryl Streep, the “Mr. Roboto” reference, and even the Ben Stiller-as-Joaquin Phoenix gag.

As for the winners, Slumdog Millionaire took home a predictable pile of statues. I’m a little ashamed at this point that I haven’t yet seen it. Heath Ledger was the shoo-in for best supporting actor, deservedly so. As for The Dark Knight being left out of the best picture category, that thing was a hot mess and Ledger’s performance was by far the best thing it had going for it. If we’re passing out awards based on merit, the Academy handled Knight surprisingly well.

Dustin Lance Black’s best original screenplay speech for Milk hit me where I live. And in that vein, I was pleased with Sean Penn’s upset over Mickey Rourke in the best actor category. All in all, a surprisingly watchable Oscars given all the press backlash in recent weeks. And it only went thirty minutes long!

The list of nominees and winners is here.

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