This year the Academy promised to mix up the awards show, and the vibrancy and attempt to nix the yawn-inducing moments was a success. Even their missteps made me laugh and supplied good Oscar party chatter, so in my opinion the Academy delivered. One of the biggest improvements was removing the clips that introduce each nominee in an acting category. The clips never really seemed to capture the performance, and the stars had to act humble and sheepish about their work when the camera would cut to them afterwards, which was incredibly boring. Replacing the clips with words of praise from a winner in that category (with five past award winners assigned to praise the five nominees) added to the sense that the winner would be joining a club, a legacy, and also focused on the compliment and honor of a nomination.
Oscar presentations are known for their cheesy, overlong musical numbers and montages, but, again, the ridiculous lyrics were at least entertaining. One of my favorite moments in the opening number was the bit on The Reader. Bowing to the fact that there is always at least one movie that no one has seen (and the box-office numbers support this fact), host Hugh Jackman merely intoned "The Reader...The Reader..." in a mechanical voice while the dancers did an abstract dance. Also, instead of longish clips from each of the Best Picture nominees, the producers showed montages/shorts surrounding a genre that included non-nominated films (and made you truly appreciate the fact that Hancock and Space Chimps did not receive nominations) The comedy bit (which Judd Apatow helped create) was strong, featuring the expected jokes about Milk and misplaced laughter at dramatic moments, but what stood out to me was the irreverence of laughing at film during an awards presentation that aims to elevate movies, which also happened earlier with the Reader bit. Curious.
This year had few tight races. Sean Penn's win for Best Actor over Mickey Rourke was one of the few surprising moments of the night, as many expected Rourke to win. The other upset, especially among those participating in Oscar pools, was the choice for Foreign Language Film. Japan's Departures won over the widely publicized Waltz with Bashir, which was considered a frontrunner, and The Class, another film that was more widely seen in the United States. For the smaller categories (also more difficult to predict in those Oscar pools) the Academy put effort into explaining the technical challenges of sound mixing, editing, and art direction. Adding award-specific props to the set enhanced the visual appeal of the telecast, which was also helped by the more intimate, rounded shape of the auditorium and the interplay between the audience and the stage (which I predicted). In the end, Slumdog Millionaire received eight awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay. Most-nominated Benjamin Button came away with makeup, art direction, and visual effects, a sign that the film's technical achievements just weren't matched on a narrative level. A predictor of its impending win, Slumdog received a box office boost of 10% this weekend, and will surely cross the $100 million mark next weekend, adding to the film's success.