Well, you know who won all the awards by now, but how was the big Oscar show this year? Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.
Billy Crystal returned for his ninth appearance as the host of the Academy Awards, and did his usual intro, where he's worked into clips from the Best Picture nominees, and a few of the year's other big films. Then he came out and sang his usual medley, and told some very old jokes, and no small number of them fell flat. And I don't know if it was the nostalgia on my part or the pretty bad ceremonies that we've had these past few years, but I was very glad to have Crystal back. Even if his material wasn't great, he was such an old hand at being emcee, rolling with every awkward moment and owning every good one. It made all the difference to have a comic there who knew how to work the crowd. I started smiling the moment he started singing "It's a Wonderful Night For Oscar."
The rest of the show was mostly following the format of last year's. There were more presenters handing out multiple awards each, the Governor's Awards and technical awards had separate ceremonies that we saw brief highlights for, and instead of clips from all the Best Picture nominees being presented during the course of the show, there was one big montage at the end before the winner was announced. There was still the odd segment here and there, like the inclusion of a "why we love the movies" clip package early in the first hour, that had clips of "Twilight" alongside "Titanic," but didn't see fit to include anything older than "Midnight Cowboy." Even if Crystal made fun of the notion in the intro with Justin Bieber, the Oscar telecast is still after younger eyeballs.
However, I liked that most of the subsequent clip packages were of actors and directors talking about why they loved movies, and talking up their personal favorites. Who would have thought that Reese Witherspoon was such a fan of the Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn comedy "Overboard"? And Robert Downey Jr.'s unwitting intro to Werner Herzog was great. All in all, the talent was much better used this year. The comedy bits, like Melissa McCarthy cornering Billy Crystal in a dressing room was obvious, but it worked. And then there was the totally unexpected "rare footage" of an old test screening of "The Wizard of Oz," where the audience was populated by Christopher Guest and some of his regular cohorts, who proceeded to nitpick the Munchkins and sing the praises of the flying monkeys.
The presenters were also livelier. Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez set the tone, posing and giggling for the Best Makeup category. Robert Downey Jr. spent most of his appearance annoying co-presenter Gwyneth Paltrow before handing out the Best Documentary honors. Emma Stone nearly stole the show during Best Visual Effects. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis brought a pair of cymbals apiece for the Best Music categories. And then the cast of "Bridesmaids" took the stage, booze in hand. I was disappointed that the Muppets were only there to introduce the Cirque du Soleil act, but to their credit the Cirque folks put on quite a show, providing a good boost of energy as the ceremony moved into its second half. I sure didn't miss the song numbers. The show moved quick, there was very little drag, and it was consistently entertaining.
There were still the weak spots, as there always are. The In Memoriam segment seems to get more perfunctory every year (Where was Michael Gough?!) The presenters for the Best Actor and Best Actress gave personalized intros for each nominee's clip again, which doesn't work so well when the intros are longer than the clips. I'd have much rather seen more of the actual performances, especially in the case of Glenn Close, Michelle Williams, and Demian Birchir, who appeared in movies most viewers probably haven't seen yet. The winners themselves were pretty good about their speeches, even with so many of "The Artist" winners struggling with English. One nice thing about the extended awards season gauntlet is that by this point, all the winners have their speeches down pat. The only one who seemed genuinely surprised was Octavia Spencer, though she's been collecting statuettes for months.
One thing I also learned was that it's much more fun to watch an Oscar ceremony if you haven't been subjected to all the hype and blather leading up to the ceremony. After the nominees were announced, I pretty much went cold turkey on all related media. I didn't see any of the usual Oscar specials or the other award shows like the SAG or AFI awards, so I wasn't watching the same clips and the same speeches being delivered over and over again. From some of the commentary I was following during the show, apparently many of the same anecdotes and turns of phrase kept coming up during the season – which is perfectly understandable, but I get why it could diminish the experience. Instead, I had a pretty good time watching one of the better Oscars of recent years. I think there could still be some tweaks, but the format and the talent were both just about right this time.
And that gives me hope for future Oscar ceremonies to come.