Oscars treat the world to a snoozer telecast

[25 February 2008]

By Rick Bentley

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

After years of hearing all the endless hype that the Oscars are a global phenomenon, Sunday night’s “80th Annual Academy Awards” finally proved it. The hundreds of million viewers around the globe got to watch as the night included winners from England, France, Spain, Poland, Austria and other points around the globe.

The diverse nature of the winners was a high point in what was overall a dud of an Oscars telecast. There wasn’t anything that wrong, except for the snail’s pacing. It was just that all those global viewers got to see an overall presentation that lacked anything resembling a spark of energy.

You know the night is dull when even a show-stopper like Kristin Chenoweth, who performed the best song nominee “That’s How You Know,” can’t get the house rocking.

The accent mark on this diverse night came when an excited Javier Bardem thanked his mother in Spanish after he won the best supporting actor Oscar for his work in “No Country for Old Men.” A few minutes later, Brit Tilda Swinton, who won the best supporting Oscar for “Michael Clayton,” promised she would give her award to her agent because he was the one that urged her to come to the United States. French actress Marion Cotillard and Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis added to the international flavor of the night by winning best actress and best actor for “La Vie en Rose” and “There Will Be Blood.”

Now that’s real hands across the water. Too bad the telecast was presented with so little joie de vivre.

At the heart of this international love fest was New York native Jon Stewart. With Stewart’s second turn as host (his first was two years ago), Stewart helped solidify the argument that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has found a worthy successor to the likes of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal.

Stewart’s opening monologue also showed why it’s so important that the writers’ strike is over. His crisp opening monologue created laugh-out-loud moments. It took him about 12 seconds to get to a joke about the strike pointing out that the Vanity Fair Oscar party was canceled out of respect for the writers.

Stewart joked that one way to honor the writers would be to “maybe invite some writers to the Vanity Fair Oscar party.”

It didn’t take long for Stewart’s political side to come out. Stewart said Julie Christie’s film “Away From Her” about a woman who forgets her husband was called by Hillary Clinton as “the feel good movie of the year.” The Republicans got equal time. Stewart joked that because the Oscars turned 80, that automatically made it the front-runner for the Republican party nomination.

Too bad Stewart got so little time on stage. About an hour into the show, Stewart introduced two montages that would have been shown had the Oscars proceeded without writers. The fake tributes were a salute to binoculars and periscopes and a salute to bad dreams.

Most of the numerous real montages, including an odd salute to 80 years of Oscars, the work of animated character Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) and a look at past best supporting actor winners, weren’t much better. They contributed only to the plodding pace.

The show really hit the brakes with a lengthy explanation of how the Oscar nominations and voting is done. The not-so-shocking behind-the-scenes feature showed how voters see the movies, submit their lists for nominations and then vote.

Even Stewart sarcastically said, “Wow. That was amazing.”

At least the slow pace allowed time to look at the remarkable set by Roy Christopher. His blue-and-silver structure changed more times than Diana Ross during a concert. And each metamorphosis was both functional and stylish.

The Oscar telecast, with all the excitement of a mime festival, crept slowly along. The good news was that there weren’t many flaws. That was not the case with the pre-Oscar shows.

There will be mistakes: Regis Philbin, the host of ABC’s official pre-telecast show, “Oscars’ Red Carpet 2008,” got the program off to a stumbling start by first incorrectly talking about nominee George Clooney’s trip down the red carpet every year.

“This is only my second time,” Clooney says.

Then the pair got into an awkward discussion of Notre Dame’s basketball team. You would think they might have had a few film topics to discuss.

Put her on suicide watch: It is a wonder actress Amy Adams did not pull a giant Oscar down on herself by the time she got to the end of the red carpet. Richard Roeper of the “Evening at the Academy Awards ... The Arrivals,” and Samantha Harris of “Oscars’ Red Carpet 2008” pointed out to Adams that she would be performing the best song nomination “Happy Working Song” in front of hundreds of millions of people.

“Are you trying to make me nervous?” Adams asked both reporters.

Despite the reporters’ best efforts to throw her off, she got through it without a problem.

Live means live: George Pennacchio, one of the co-hosts of an “Evening at the Academy Awards ... The Arrivals,” the syndicated pre-telecast show, was off his game. The TV reporter stumbled during an introduction of nominee Saoirse Ronan in “Atonement.” Pennacchio, who obviously forgot the show was live, stopped and said he would do it again. And he did.

Enough is enough: E! Entertainment finally offered proof that there can be too much Oscar coverage. One of the segments presented by the cable channel was a salute to animals. That included a visit by penguins for “Surf’s Up” that was little more than a plug for Sea World San Diego. There was also a parrot in honor of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

Maybe next year the global audience will see a show with more life.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/oscars-treat-the-world-to-a-snoozer-telecast/