OPINION: Crucifying the hosts of televised awards ceremonies has become such a popular sport in recent times, you almost have to ask yourself twice - was the opening really that flat?
Was the staging really that unimaginative? If it hasn't already, the answer will come to you like a well-aimed house brick as the 82nd annual Academy Awards clocks the 200-minute mark and goes beyond.
Better known as the Oscars - to those who are licensed to use the fiercely protected trademark - it opened with a feathers-and-showgirls musical number in the tradition of Old Hollywood titled No One Wants To Do It Alone, led by actor Neil Patrick Harris; a curious choice, as he works primarily in TV and his most recent film credit was the memorable but hardly Oscar-worthy Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
It was intended as a Broadway-style nod to the collaborative process of film-making, but the double meaning was hard to ignore: if you're going to be crucified for doing a lousy job of hosting the Oscars, make sure you're not alone.
This year's hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, weren't just lame, as a double act they were lame squared, kicking off proceedings with routine that fell extraordinarily and unexpectedly flat, wallowing in the obvious (compliments for the too-brilliant Meryl Streep, stern glances for the too-perfect George Clooney) before drowning in the predictable ("He's high", aimed at much-loved stoner Woody Harrelson).
Their joint high point: a parody of Paranormal Activity. Their joint low point: a Snuggie joke which was, as they say, so 2009.
Abandoned with a mediocre script and the kind of chemistry you would expect from a couple of barflies doing a half-tanked version of Who's On First? they were mercilessly set adrift on a cavernous stage, styled to look like a gilded cage, which managed to be both architecturally impressive and artless at the same time; a metaphor, in some respects, for the entire telecast.
Their material was hollow, trying to score laughs by mocking Hollywood's arcane traditions, but delivered from the rostrum of the oldest and most arcane of all Hollywood traditions.
If it did achieve anything, it was to make the red carpet coverage, with inane questions about borrowed designer frocks asked by a less-gracefully ageing press corps, look far more sophisticated than it actually was.
Overall, the telecast was mediocre, with some standout low points including a horror movie montage (which inexplicably included the action films Jaws and Alien and comedy Young Frankenstein) and the two most frightening words in the lexicon of live television: interpretive dance. Why watch the visually splendid Avatar when you can see it expressed through jazz hands and spirit fingers?
The winning films - Inglourious Basterds and Precious along them - were creditworthy, but even they were let down by speeches that fell short of the mark.
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) thanked his publicist and Mo'Nique (Precious) thanked her lawyer, instantly sapping the delirious magic from both moments.
There were some genuine highlights - a touching tribute to John Hughes (peppered with so many A-list stars in early career roles it could have been re-titled Before They Had Botox), Ben Stiller presenting best make-up dressed as a Na'vi warrior from Avatar (which was, ironically, not nominated in the category) and a sweet, unaffected acceptance speech from short-film winner Nicolas Schmerkin.
The cinema cognoscenti have spent decades fighting the urge of TV networks to snip and trim the Oscar telecast from a slow, stumbling behemoth to a leaner, meaner piece of tight, taut TV.
The 82nd annual Academy Awards, with patchy presentation, too many long lingering shots of the star-studded audience and enough flab to make Gabourey Sidibe look like Calista Flockhart, will not be remembered as the most persuasive closing argument for that case.
- Sydney Morning Herald