OLD AT HEART: While Aiming Young , Oscar Shows His Age

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Sunday’s Oscar telecast commenced with a humorous nod to one of last year ‘s most
daring and innovative movies, but by the end of the night it had turned into a
celebration of the halcyon days of cinema past.

While “Inception ” and ” The King ‘s Speech ” each earned four awards , the latter took
home the most prestigious prizes — including best picture and director — while the
former found itself relegated to technical categories . Like last year , 10 films filled out
the best picture category , a change seen as a way to expand the slate of nominees
beyond the traditional Oscar bait . But in a year that saw such modern stories as ” The
Social Network” and “The Kids Are All Right ” among the nominees , the Academy
sought comfort in one of its most well- worn staples : an old – fashioned costume
drama.

The choice seemed a perfect metaphor for the show itself. The harder the Academy
tries to appeal to a youthful crowd , the more it reveals itself as the codger at the
kegger . Sure, the decision to hire Anne Hathaway and James Franco as the night’s
hosts reeked of demographic desperation by producers trying to staunch the ratings
blood loss — the hosts themselves conceded as much in their opening – monologue
patter as they mockingly congratulated each on being hip , young and sexy — but the
pair were presented as simply two nice , young and eminently non – threatening
individuals . Instead of heckling celebrities in the audience , they pointed out and paid
tribute to Hathaway’s mom and Franco ‘s sweet granny, so happy just to be in the
presence of Marky Mark ( though she sorely missed the Funky Bunch) .

By that standard , it was a marked contrast to last month ‘s controversial Golden Globes
ceremony , in which host Ricky Gervais laid ruin to a wide swath of Hollywood ego in
the audience . While the Globes , Grammys and Emmys have played it smart in recent
years and increased their viewership by lightening the mood and poking holes in the
pomposity of such ceremonies with a healthy dose of self – deprecation , the Oscars
head in the other direction , clinging to their sense of solemnity and purpose. In other
words , deadly dull.

The show started well enough with the aforementioned montage inspired by
” Inception” — even if the producers borrowed the concept from the Billy Crystal years
two decades prior . The somnolent scenario envisaged Franco and Hathaway inserting
themselves into scenes from the nominated films via a dream sequence guest – starring
last year ‘s co- host , Alec Baldwin , and the sonorous voice of Morgan Freeman . The
mission of the dream incursion: to glean hosting tips from Baldwin ‘s subconscious.
Alas , that mission proved unfruitful . While Hathaway and Franco seemed pleasant
enough , there wasn ‘t much there there. After the opening sequence , they treated us
to only a scant selection of jokes , though that ‘s probably for the best as they are not
comedians . There were more laughs to be found in a clip that Crystal ( speak of the
devil ) introduced of Bob Hope hosting the first televised Oscar ceremony — or, as it
was referred to in his house, Passover . (Maybe best actor loser Franco can use that
joke next year if he ‘s invited back . ) The producers also peppered old movie footage
somewhat awkwardly throughout the show , another effort to hark back to glory days ,
whether they be the golden age of Charlie Chaplin or the Oscar ratings zenith of
” Titanic. ” At about an hour in, the telecast appeared so moribund it risked inclusion in
the obituary segment later in the show.

Perhaps the fault should fall on Baldwin for not offering the best tip of all for an Oscar
host : Get Steve Martin as your partner, as he did last year . The references to Crystal
and ( boring ) former host Hugh Jackman obviously highlight the mood producers
aimed for this year , but for my money ( albeit I ‘d never actually pay to watch the
Oscars ) the best host was Martin. He so effortlessly blends high brow and pop culture
that he’s able to cut through the evening ‘s pretensions without being mean – spirited.
Why not pair him with a hot , young actress such as Hathaway? I mean , the Hollywood
lecher jokes write themselves .

On that note, I offer a few other highlights and lowlights of the night:

NAKED TRUTHS : Hathaway lamented how her onscreen nudity last year in ” Love and
Other Drugs” didn ‘t lead to a nomination (though she could be confusing the Motion
Picture Academy with the Adult Video News Awards ) . Franco didn ‘t appear nude in
” 127 Hours,” but the part – time soap star left little to the imagination with his
revealingly snug leotard during the ” Black Swan ” portion of the opening dream
sequence. His later appearance in a fuchsia gown forces one to wonder if Franco ‘s
personal couturier works at a go – go bar in West Hollywood . The Franco – in- drag skit
also included a joke about Charlie Sheen, the first of the evening ( that would certainly
not have been the case had Ricky been in charge .)

WHERE’S BANKSY ? : The mysterious British graffiti artist, who directed ” Exit Through
the Gift Shop” ( an also- ran for best documentary feature ) , didn ‘t show his face, as
some had hoped. But Justin Timberlake tried to take credit for his work while
presenting an award . I guess music , films , television , fashion labels , restaurants and
weightlifting aren’t enough for Justin anymore.

PASSINGS : The In Memoriam tribute included Tony Curtis, Gloria Stuart, Leslie Nielson,
Pete Postlethwaite, Patricia Neal , Lynn Redgrave , Arthur Penn, Jill Clayburgh , Dennis
Hopper and Sally Menke ( Quentin Tarantino ‘ s stellar film editor ) as Celine Dion sang
( but didn ‘t oversing !) the bittersweet standard “Smile. ” Halle Berry paid special tribute
to Lena Horne .

PERFECT DAY : After being honored for his song ” Wish “, Trent Reznor joked his epitaph
should read : ” Died. Said ‘fist fuck,’ won a Grammy .” Well , now they ‘ll need to chisel an
Oscar victory on that headstone , as the Nine Inch Nails frontman won an Academy
Award Sunday to go along with his two Grammys. As I noted when Reznor picked up a
Golden Globe for his “Social Network” score ( along with Atticus Ross) , it ‘s odd seeing
the hardcore rocker who screamed ” Head like a hole, black as your soul ” standing at a
podium , well – scrubbed , well – dressed and well- spoken. But it ‘s certainly well- deserved ,
too , as the haunting score is one of the more memorable I have heard in recent years
and a testament to seeking unconventional collaborators for movie music . Director
David Fincher worked with Reznor on Nine Inch Nails videos back in the ’90 s .

AUTO – TUNE THE MOVIES : Perhaps inspired by the YouTube success of Antoine
” they’re raping everyone” Dodson ‘s “Bed Intruder Song ,” a mildly amusing segment
offered auto – tuned clips of films of key scenes in a handful of films — from the money
hunger of “The Social Network ” to Taylor Lautner’s rampant shirtlessness in the
” Twilight ” movies . Franco jokes that those were what passed for musicals of 2010 ; he
must have missed the Cher- Christina Aguilera epic ” Burlesque. ” Hathaway also tried
her hand at a “Glee ” moment with a sassy song directed at Jackman .

BULLOCK ‘S BACK: A year after reaching the pinnacle of professional triumph followed
by her nadir of personal heartbreak ( just like a Hollywood movie !) , Sandra Bullock
returned to the scene of her crime — stealing best actress from Meryl Streep ( so good
in ” Julie & Julia”) . And she apparently is now regarded in Hollywood like Streep , if
Hathaway ‘s strangely awed introduction is any evidence . But Bullock ‘s fun
introduction of the best actor trophy was top – notch .

SURPRiSES: Not many could be found . The awards were all but handed out in the long
awards – season march . Perhaps the closest thing to a shocker came in the best director
category , where Tom Hooper of ” The King’ s Speech ” edged Fincher for “The Social
Network . ” Prognosticators suggested the Academy would split the wealth in these top
two categories, crowning ” King” as best picture while honoring Fincher’s directorial
achievement. But ” Network ” had to settle for victories in the adapted screenplay ,
editing and score categories.

MAYBE LOSING ISN ‘T SO BAD , AFTER ALL : Steven Spielberg , handing out the award for
best picture , notes that only one film will join the ranks of “On the Waterfront,” “The
Godfather ” and “The Deer Hunter ,” but the nine losers can earn a place alongside
” Raging Bull,” “The Graduate” and “Citizen Kane . ” It ‘ s a good thing Steven didn ‘t also
point out that the winner would be considered an equal to ” Dances with Wolves,”
” Forrest Gump ” and ” Crash ” or the gang from “King ‘s Speech ” might have stayed snug
in their seats . But I ‘m sure the makers of “The Social Network ” already are citing the
names of the landmark films that fell short those years: “Goodfellas ,” “Pulp Fiction”
and “Brokeback Mountain . ”

F THIS : Presenter Kirk Douglas would give Italy ‘s Prosciutto di Parma a run for its
money as aged ham — poking fun at his cane, offering a rambling introduction to the
best supporting actress category and flirting with every nearby female with a pulse,
including winner Melissa Leo , who might have been so thrown off by her nonagenarian
suitor that she dropped a quickly bleeped F- bomb ( or she wanted to be as rock – star as
Bono on the Grammys) . Her “Fighter ” co- star , Christian Bale , did his part to keep
things dignified . While he shouted ” bloody hell !” as he ascended the stage to accept
his best supporting actor trophy , he promised not to inflict additional vulgarity upon
innocent ears, despite past transgressions. I guess it was a good thing they had Tom
Hanks present best cinematography instead.

“It ‘s the young and hip Oscars ,” Hathaway explained following Leo ‘s verbal slip-up .
Oh , Anne . I guess if you keep telling yourself that, you might convince yourself it ‘s
true . But one stray expletive won’ t fool the audience . You need enough to keep a
censor on his or her toes. That ‘s why my advice to win back the water – cooler buzz is
to top Ricky Gervais with next year ‘s host . Why not bring in sharp- tongued fame
whore Kathy Griffin and let her loose on an audience of A- listers? She’ s not afraid to
offend. Better yet , pair her with the irrepressibly blunt Margaret Cho . They may have a
few more years on Hathaway and Franco , but they can demonstrate what it takes to
be young at heart.

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