TV review: At Oscars, the kids were all right and the 'Speech' was well-prepared

Nominees and presenters made waves at the Academy Awards in glittering sheers, bold reds, asymmetrical details and yards of tulle.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2011; 12:20 AM

Anne Hathaway hosted the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on ABC Sunday night, as scheduled. And her co-host, James Franco, did what exactly? (Besides be handsome? Besides a little Marilyn Monroe drag? And besides shouting "NYU, whassup!" to the Best Live Action Short winner? What, that's not enough?)

Don't get me wrong. The kids are all right, and all that. I like pushing the Academy Awards in whatever next-gen direction will get people's attention, and, probably like the rest of your Oscar-watching party, I long ago gave up hoping for fantastic television and decided to revel in the attempt to lift that immovable boulder off of Hollywood's deadened extremity. Oscar had part of our attention. It had the minimum amount.

Good thing. While charming in parts and clocking in at an unusually and blessedly brisk 3 hours and 11 minutes, the Hathaway/Franco show resulted in a fairly predictable array of awards: Best Picture went to "The King's Speech," for which the speech was more than prepared. Best Actor went, of course, to a very elegantly humble Colin Firth for his role as King George VI in that film. Best Director was also a "King's Speech" moment for Tom Hooper.

Best Actress went, as everyone thought it would, to Natalie Portman for "Black Swan."

(RELATED: Complete list of Oscar winners)

As for your hosts, Hathaway worked her derriere off and Franco came off like that lacrosse boy you wish your daughter didn't hang out with so much, sort of heavy-lidded and smirky and ... well, let's give him credit for being James Franco, the 23-hour-a-day workaholic/grad student/filmmaker/soap-opera/not-Best Actor wunderkind of his generation.

Turns out hosting Oscars is when the dude decides to take a rest. The only required trick for Franco and Hathaway was to manage to not look like they were doing one of those flirty commercials for a phone plan. (He's so laid back! She's so hyper! And now they get unlimited 4G downloads and texting! etc.)

Instead, like first-graders at a Thanksgiving pageant, they waved to their relatives. Hathaway's mother stood up in the audience to urge her daughter to stand up straight; Franco's grandmother was given a lame Marky Mark joke to make about "The Fighter's" Mark Wahlberg. Sweet jokes, yes, but not the youth revolution that Oscar's month of hot-new-hosts hype had promised. What's with the moldy "Back to the Future" shtick and the six-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon line? "Inception"-ing Alec Baldwin's dreams in order to figure out how to host the Oscars? Here's a revolution: Host the Oscars and shaddup about it. Skip the self-referencing. Wasn't the idea to lean forward?

It's such a her and him thing. She spent the evening trying hard to really sell it (with iffy results) and then, late in the night, it was her job to tell him what a good job he was doing, and he's all, like, 'lax, bro.

Viewers, it was written this way. Young women of America, take note: It's going to be like this the rest of your lives. (And if you make it to the red carpet, the likes of Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne will refer to you as "girls" instead of women in the still deliciously awful E! pre-show.

Oh, Oscar people - the more you try to make this thing appeal to the young, the more interesting you make the old. The best moment came in the show's first half hour, when 94-year-old Kirk Douglas gave the Best Supporting Actress award to a flabbergasted 50-year-old Melissa Leo for her role in "The Fighter."

Those old showmen like Douglas - you wince when they bring them out, watching them dodder to the microphone, and then the joke's on us: Douglas was delightful. And Leo seemed to be the evening's most humble winner - "Golly, there's people up there, too" she said, looking way up to the rafter seats in Hollywood's Kodak Theatre - and its most foul-mouthed, making use of ABC's panic-button time delay.

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