Kevin Winter/Getty
March 08, 2010 10:00 AM

Sunday’s Oscar broadcast was the rare Academy night with some genuine suspense nudging it along and culminating in a genuine surprise, with The Hurt Locker‘s win over Avatar for Best Picture. And the camera happens to love Kathryn Bigelow, Locker‘s director: She looks like a strong-willed Elizabeth Hurley. That means it was a good year.

None of that can be credited to the show’s producers, though. It’s just Oscars luck. The show itself was immaculately designed and cautiously uninspired. On my TV, the HD spectacle looked like a giant, glittering seashell with beautifully dressed sea monkeys swimming along in the foreground.

Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, unfortunately, may have been the most insignificant hosts in memory. Together, they shared a very good sight gag about those enchanting little airborne mops from Avatar – Baldwin, in a plummy, precious voice, referred to them as “floating woodsprites,” then Martin sprayed them down as if they were germs. For the most part, they were more like malfunctioning 3-D glasses: Two near-duplicate images that, combined, somehow flattened out. Baldwin probably would have done better on his own. I get tired of Martin’s dry absurdity: “Please welcome my longtime dear friend, and by that I mean I’ve never met her, Sandra Bullock!”

The show’s producers seem to have realized this wasn’t a dream package by starting the night with Neil Patrick Harris, dressed in spangled black, singing a number about why no one wants to host the show alone – except, of course, Neil Patrick Harris.
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Bring on Bacall

The pacing, on balance, was smooth. Not quick, of course. It never will be. Not as long the Academy lavishes attention on documentary and animated shorts while – what’s up with this? – choosing to shortchange a proud old lioness like Lauren Bacall. They gave her an honorary Oscar, but didn’t bring her up onstage. Oh, the humanity!

I had thought the addition of five more movies to the traditional five nominees would have created significant bottlenecking, but the show doled out the burden of clips with neat regularity. So: let’s keep the nominee count at 10!

An odder innovation for the night was having current and former costars of the top acting nominees come onstage and pay tribute to them. It had a rather stilted nobility that made me think of Superman’s parents bucking him up by reassuring him of his wonderfulness.

The tribute to director John Hughes was sweet and touching, and the appearance of his films’ acting alumni – now fully and not always gorgeously but at least honestly grown-up – was a memorable moment. Maybe the most memorable of the night, until The Hurt Locker‘s win.

Now: Why was there a tribute to horror?

Why did the set design include a descending scrim of lampshades?

Why did anyone think a street dancers’ ballet would convey the sense of someone being exploded by an Iraqi bomb in The Hurt Locker?

Ben Stiller presented a makeup award as a Na’vi – blue skin, blue tail, yellow eyes, black braids and ears jutting out high on the side of his head. He looked like an unwell Smurf. He was funny, but couldn’t compete with a reportedly failed dream gag: Sacha Baron Cohen as a pregnant lady Na’vi.

I look forward to Neil Patrick Harris next year.
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