The writers’ strike is over, right? That’s what I’m reading in the papers, and Jon Stewart made his first joke of the night about it. But if you expected the Bruce-Vilanchists of Hollywood to storm back and prove their importance by whipping up a barnburner of an Academy Awards in the couple weeks since the end of the strike, you waited in vain.
What we got instead was a show that half the time seemed like the show the Academy would have put on if there had been a strike, chockful of montages. (I was never so thankful to own a TiVo as when they presented a reel of every single Best Picture in Oscar history.) The other half of the time, it was an typical-to-dull Oscars, and so we can run down the standard criticisms montage-style: boring musical numbers–too long–slow in the middle–too many past-acceptance-speech clips, etc. The fact is, the Oscars is a TV show made for movie fans, so criticizing it as TV is almost beside the point.
That said: the big disappointment, and I hate to say it, was Stewart. When he last hosted in 2006, he made a great anti-host for the Oscars, slipping in bits and remarks that sent up the conventions of the awards show itself, making him an ally of the TV audience rather than a sycophant to the stars. This time, he was just an Oscar host–sometimes a funny one, but a pretty conventional one, whose routine was loaded up with kiss-up softballs about how hot Colin Farrell is, what range Cate Blanchett has and what a tomcat Jack Nicholson is. (Not to be morbid, but how will they even have an Oscars when hosts can no longer make Jack Nicholson jokes?)
Jon, in other words, played nice. And who wants Jon to play nice? Right down to his closing line—”Get home safe, everybody”—he seemed to be hosting the show more for the celebrities in the room (in the manner of a conventional Oscar host) than for the millions watching at home. Stewart was most funny, actually, doing jokes that would have fit better on The Daily Show, or that at least related the movies to the political topics he usually jokes about: “Normally, when you see a black man or woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.” Also, “Gaydolf Titler.” I just needed to say that.
Ironically, what saved the Oscars, from time to time, was the awards themselves. There’s been a lot of grousing about this year’s boutique nominees, and it’s true that the theme of the night was “mildly amusing presentations about movies you will never see.” (The lame opening reel, with an Oscar-delivery truck driving past scenes from movies like Cars, Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean, seemed like a passive-aggressive protest against a year when the closest thing to a blockbuster nominee was Juno.)
But the small-ish films that dominated this year’s nominations provided the evening’s sweetest moments, biggest surprises and best entertainment. Tilda Swinton, upsetting Blanchett for Michael Clayton, promised her Oscar to her agent, who she said had the same head and buttocks as the statuette. (Nice, but he still wants his 10%.) Marion Cotillard was adorable picking up her Best Actress stunner for La Vie En Rose. Diablo Cody, screenwriter of Juno, gave a sweet, classy speech that ended in tears. Even the closest thing to a forgone conclusion of the night, the Coen brothers, gave their acceptances a charming, indie feel, tugging their ears in nebbishy stereo.
The loveliest moment of the night, however, was Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s duet on “Falling Slowly,” from the Irish Before Sunrise-esque musical Once. “Make art,” Hansard said, after the song beat out not-one-not-two-but-three songs from Enchanted for the Oscar. Maybe next year the show itself will take his advice and make art–or better yet, just make entertainment.