Academy Awards: Hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin put on fun Oscars broadcast

By Hank Stuever
Monday, March 8, 2010

Co-host Alec Baldwin maybe put it best, 40 minutes into Sunday's quick-paced, businesslike (and only a teensy bit boring) Oscar broadcast:

"The Academy Awards. The biggest night in Hollywood since last night."

How true. We are lauded and rewarded to death in popular culture and also everyday life, so much so that by the time it's Oscar night, the whole world feels overly lauded, entirely too proud of itself.

The show, which clocked in at a longer-than-usual 3 hours and 32 minutes, unfolded almost exactly as predicted awards-wise, so you're probably still trying to decide how to divvy up the cash pool by a high number of correct guessers for "Hurt Locker," which won Best Picture.

But 10 movie nominees? It was like a kindergarten graduation ceremony. I wished for one of those Miss America-style moments where the nominees are winnowed down, to keep the suspense going: Cue dramatic ka-clung sound effect as three movies are eliminated. Now there are only seven. (Stay tuned as we cut it down to five!)

We slogged through, and that's the fun of watching at home: We all think we know how to do a better Oscar night. When really all we know are recipes for queso dip.

As the show opened with the now-required-by-law vision of Neil Patrick Harris singing (what, no Betty White cameos?), all of the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees strolled out to look at the world and the world looked back at them and the whole thing felt . . . nervous? Worried? Stressed out? What exactly was on the line this Oscar night that's not usually on the line? Fear of bad television? Bad ratings? The underlying dread that mass media are ending, and with it the box office, the two-dimensional, and the very idea of lucrative careers in the creative arts? (Don't bootleg, kids.)

Baldwin and Steve Martin proved to be classy and quippy throughout the night, very piece-of-cake -- not that anyone expected otherwise. Grown-ups are suddenly at a premium these days, as are "A Single Man" style hornrims.

In the beginning segment, the jokes written for them had that strange combination of fawning and roasting ("There's damn Helen Mirren," Martin said, waiting for the audience to applaud her; "Dame Helen Mirren," Baldwin corrected, waiting for the audience to laugh). Other jokes were just plain puzzling (on the infinitely nominated Meryl Streep: "[You think] 'Man, can that woman act' and 'What's with all the Hitler memorabilia?"). Bits were just right, especially their "Paranormal Activity" sketch showing a time-elapse night that Martin and Baldwin spent in bed.

Lotsa Nazi jokes in the monologue and elsewhere this year, including a wickedly edgy and truly funny one: "Christoph Waltz played a Nazi [in 'Inglourious Basterds'] obsessed with finding Jews," Martin said. "Well, Christoph," he then gestured across the whole theater, "[Here is] the mother lode."

All that fizz

As Academy Awards shows go, this one was not packed with the fizziest fizz, but it moved along with precision and smart decisions, making use of recent innovations -- such as text from nominated screenplays floating across film clips as characters spoke lines; or Best Animated Feature cartoon characters feigning modesty when "interviewed" about their nominations; or a twist on "the nominees are" in the acting categories, with co-stars coming out to gush about their dear, dear friends and colleagues.

Ben Stiller came out to present the Best Makeup award, with blue skin, and delivered a speech in Na'vi (the language from "Avatar"): "That means, this seemed like a better idea in rehearsal." Actually, Ben? It worked great, and made one wistful for that year Whoopi Goldberg came out in all those costumes.

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