The vitriol that followed this year's Oscar telecast really surprised me. I rather enjoyed the show. Last week's show was certainly better than last year's mess of a telecast, hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin (though the problems were not their fault). My friend Scott Copeland, also an ace Oscar watcher, agrees with me. So did EW's Ken Tucker. So we're not alone. And we're not crazy.
Contrary to popular opinion, the hosts were NOT the problem with this year's show. Or at least not half of them. I will grant you that James Franco was out of his element, in more ways than one. Anne Hathaway, however, was a delight, and I'd be happy to see her host the Oscars or another show with a better-matched co-host. Hathaway was bright and charming and would probably have been better off hosting on her own.
However, even Franco himself wasn't the problem. The problem was the writing, which was off point this year. Most of the gags weren't funny. The fake song montage was cringe-worthy. And the writers missed an OBVIOUS gag by NOT having Hathaway pull Hugh Jackman onstage, echoing their duet the year Jackman hosted. Come on, guys. That's the same syndrome that afflicted Muppets from Space, when it missed the Pigs in Space reference. Sometimes the obvious gag is the right one.
(Side note: I hope whoever did the sound mix was fired. The distant, echo-y vocals made a crop of already forgettable songs sound that much worse.)
However, I did like how how most of the awards were presented. The screenplay presentations were clever, and the new tradition of having the presenter laud each individual nominee came off much better than it did last year. Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock handled their duties with great aplomb. And even though I don't much care for Celine Dion, I will give credit where it is due. Her "Smile" during the In Memoriam segment was nicely understated. And bravo to whomever asked the audience to hold their applause until the end, averting the unseemly clap-o-meter.
All that said, the Oscars could stand to make a few changes. Foremost among those is to stop trying so hard to cater to the young crowd. Most of them are not that interested and are never going to be, no matter what you do. This is the same mistake my industry, the newspapers, made. They tried so hard to court teens and 20-somethings, they ended up alienating their most loyal audience. Same with the Academy.
Part of the allure of the Oscars is its sense of history and old Hollywood glamor. So why not capitalize on that more? Many of the great classic stars are gone, yes -- but a number of them are still with us. Olivia de Havilland is still around. So are Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney. Seeing them would be a total gas. Get 'em while they're still here. Look at how much fun Kirk Douglas was this year! You don't even have to go back to the golden age. Try to lure some people out of retirement, like Gene Hackman or Sean Connery. They'd brighten any telecast.
In the meantime, I'm content with mostly good memories of this year's show. I'm only sorry that more people didn't see it. Sucks to be them.