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Late Oscar Reactions: Changes, Good and Bad

R315256_1395148 Despite the lack of surprises among the actual winners (see mostly accurate predictions herehere, and even here), the general consensus seems to be that Sunday's 81st Academy Awards were one of the most entertaining Oscar ceremonies in years.  Much of the credit goes to producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, whose had cryptically promised big changes to the telecast in the press leading up to the show.

While I do think that, overall, the show was unusually brisk and amusing, I'm not sure all of those big changes were successes.  So I thought it'd be useful to evaluate each of them on their own.  Without further ado...
Change: Getting Hugh Jackman to host.

For Better Or Worse?: Probably worse, maybe better.

Bucking the recent trend of tapping very un-Hollywood comedians to emcee, this year the producers opted for the old-school showbiz charm of Jackman, who traded in the cutting remarks for a couple harmless song-and-dance routines.

I thought that opening number was just embarrassing.  You have to commend Jackman for giving it his unironic all, but I couldn't help but cringe.  The Baz Luhrman-chereographed medley with Beyonce, Zac Efron, and company was even worse.  And aside from that, Jackman was hardly there.

Keep It?: I've always found something off-putting about Hollywood recruiting east-coast satirists to make fun of their excesses, while they, you know, host the Oscars.  So I think taking a more sincere, albeit corny approach with Jackman is a step in the right direction.  But next time, maybe not so cheezy?

Change: Presenting the craft awards in themed bunches tied together by movie genre.

For Better Or Worse?: Definitely better.

This was easily the best idea of the bunch.  Divide the 14 non-major awards into categories according to a genre they're easily associated with (not all of them fit perfectly but close enough), unveil a cool new stage for each segment, and just like that, you can knock out the likes sound mixing, sound editing, visual effects, and editing in the span of ten minutes.

Keep It?: Yeah.  Do it.

Change: Having each acting nominee fawned over by a previous winner in that category.

For Better Or Worse?: The old way was already bad, yet somehow this was much, much worse.

So this was in lieu of the oft-maligned Oscar clips, where the Academy shows us the most histrionic scene from a nominated performance so we can see their brilliant acting firsthand.  This has been a joke from since as long ago as Wayne's World in 1992, when Wayne cries "And the worst part is, I never learned to read!"  So it's about time they revamped that aspect of the show.

But, um, this wasn't the way to do it.  I guess in theory it seems touching to have some acting legend tell one of this year's noms how moving their performance was to them personally, but it kind of ruins the moment when these testimonials are obviously scripted and the presenters are forced to read them off a teleprompter, only making infrequent awkward glances towards the performer they're lauding.  It became even more awkward when Anna Hathaway was somehow moved to tears by Shirley MacLaine during this contrived exercise.  The whole thing just seemed very phony, and again, I was cringing.

Keep It?:  Please don't.  Maybe instead of a huge change like this, you could instead just tweak the Oscar-clip presentation by picking some better, less obvious clips?

Change: Condensing all the Best Song nominees into one medley.

For Better Or Worse?:  Better.

I liked this one, even if Peter Gabriel didn't.  The song performances are usually dull and sometimes train-wreck awful, but this year's was short enough that I actually sort of enjoyed it.  It was especially cool to see newly-minted Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman performing in the the two songs from Slumdog Millionaire.  Jai ho!

Keep It?: Absolutely.  Is anyone (besides Peter Gabriel) actually upset that we didn't get the full version of "Down to Earth"?

So, two days later, those are all of the big changes I can recall, but I'm sure there's scores of little things they altered.  Let's hope they correct their mistakes and keep tweaking, and maybe next year we can keep it under 3 hours!

--Tim Young
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