Very few of the awards at last night’s Oscars were a surprise, but the show itself was noteworthy for being slightly different from the norm. I appreciate that the producers, Laurence Mark and Bill Condon, actually made some changes in the way things were presented. Considering the show is usually identical from one year to the next, it’s almost irrelevant whether the changes were successful — I give ’em credit just for trying.
And I really liked the one major alteration, where each of the acting awards was given out by five previous winners in that category. It was cool to see, for example, Sophia Loren (who looked like a witch from an old Italian book of fairy tales) speaking directly to nominee Meryl Streep and talking about her performance in “Doubt.” Or Robert De Niro ribbing Sean Penn while praising his work in “Milk.” And how awesome must that be for the nominees, many of them first-timers, to have a certified Oscar-winner single them out for a few seconds of sincere praise? Except Robert Downey Jr., of course, who had to get his from Cuba Gooding Jr.
The show was almost 3 1/2 hours long, but it flowed more smoothly and with more energy than it usually does. It never got mired in any overlong montages or boring tributes. Hugh Jackman’s song-and-dance numbers might have been cheesy and old-fashioned, but darned if they weren’t pretty well produced, too. Moving the orchestra out of the pit to bring the stage closer to the audience was a great call, and the sets were nifty. Good show, Oscars! Good show!
As for the awards, I correctly predicted 18 out of 24, which is the best I’ve done in a while. I’m kicking myself for missing Best Song and Best Score — they both went to “Slumdog Millionaire,” which in hindsight should have been a no-brainer. I also missed two of the short categories, which are always a crapshoot.
The one everyone got wrong was Foreign-Language Film, which was supposed to have been either France’s “The Class” or Israel’s “Waltz with Bashir.” Instead, it went to Japan’s “Departures.” What’s interesting about this category, though, is that you’re not allowed to vote unless you can verify that you’ve actually seen all five nominees, usually at official Academy screenings. That means there’s less sentimentality, favoritism, and blind guessing than in, say, Best Picture, and it means the winner is usually the film that actually was the best. A few years ago everyone assumed “Pan’s Labyrinth” would win, and then it went to “The Lives of Others,” and everyone was shocked — until they saw “The Lives of Others,” at which point they said, “Oh, wow, they were right.” So now I’m eager to see “Departures,” which Regent Releasing will distribute stateside starting in May.
I don’t really have any strong opinions on “Slumdog” winning Best Picture. If I’d been voting, I’d have covered up “The Reader” and chosen one of the other four randomly. “Slumdog” is fine with me. Yay.
Here’s a list of all the winners, in case you weren’t watching and/or don’t have Internet access and/or haven’t spoken to any other human beings today. The ones with asterisks are the ones I got wrong.
Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire”
Director: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”
Actress: Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”
Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Animated Feature: “WALL-E”
Documentary Feature: “Man on Wire”
*Foreign-Language Film: “Departures”
Cinematography: “Slumdog Millionaire”
Art Direction: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Costume Design: “The Duchess”
Film Editing: “Slumdog Millionaire”
Makeup: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
*Original Score: “Slumdog Millionaire”
*Original Song: “Jai Ho,” from “Slumdog Millionaire”
*Sound Mixing: “Slumdog Millionaire”
Sound Editing: “The Dark Knight”
Visual Effects: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
*Animated Short: “La Maison en Petits Cubes”
Live-Action Short: “Toyland (Spielzeugland)”
*Documentary Short: “Smile Pinki”