I finally realized there was no hope for ABC's strikingly ill-formed telecast of the 82nd Academy Awards when Robin Williams took the stage to present the award for Best Supporting Actress - and a mammoth scrim adorned with lamp shades descended behind him. Lamp shades! Is that what passes in these tough economic times for set décor during Hollywood's biggest event of the year?
"What's up with the lamp shades?" I asked my friends at our annual Oscar viewing party - only to learn that none of them had noticed. They were either too focused on the surprisingly unfunny Williams or too glazed from the remarkable blandness of the show up to that point.
The telecast started off on a bad note with a song and dance from Neil Patrick Harris that proved to be one award-show performance too many from the guy. He came off much better last year as the grandly entertaining host of the TV Land, Tony and Emmy Awards. Were there no other performers in the entertainment industry who could have been recruited to open the Oscar extravaganza?
I thought Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were funny and easy to take as co-hosts of the show, even if they seemed like an opening act you might see for someone like Oscar legend Billy Crystal. Frankly, as the supposedly streamlined affair dragged along into a third and fourth hour, continually losing steam as it went, I would have welcomed more Martin and Baldwin, who seemed to be sidelined by the event's midpoint. To their credit, I don't think these guys will be trashed by critics and other Monday morning media quarterbacks the way so many recent hosts have been. (Ripping into Oscar hosts is one of the media's favorite blood-sports.) I could actually imagine them returning next year, perhaps with Tina Fey as a third host. Oscar really needs a woman in the mix, and Fey would seem to be the best choice - unless Sandra Bullock wants the gig. I'm serious. Bullock was so effortlessly funny and entertaining and down to earth during her acceptance speech I am now convinced she can do anything --- as long as she writes her own material.
Martin and Baldwin aside, almost nothing else worked during the telecast. The stage area and various backdrops (including those lamp shades) looked super cheap, especially in glorious high definition. The camerawork was jarring throughout. (Can we lose those horrible from-the-side close-ups of the stars on the stage?) The horror movie tribute was a silly waste of time. The extended dance sequence intended to showcase the nominees for Best Original Score was an annoying time suck. No offense to those spectacularly gifted dancers, by the way. It's just that the entire concept was ill-advised. (Couldn't we have been shown clips from the nominated movies while listening to the music from them? Viewers love clips!)
Indeed, the overall direction of the show was dreadful. The seemingly assured money shot of the night - the looks on the faces of Avatar director James Cameron and his ex-wife, Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow, upon learning which of the two had won - was nowhere to be seen. Bigelow was plainly stunned, but we didn't see that until she was on stage.
And speaking of Bigelow and her historic win, whose decision was it to play the outdated I Am Woman as she left the stage? How tacky!
Continuing with Oscar's riot of poor choices, why were certain stars that passed during the last year excluded from the memoriam segment? I'm thinking specifically of Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur. If there was room for Michael Jackson, there should have been room for those two. Were they overlooked or, worse, forgotten? Also unforgivable: The long shot during the first few remembrances, including the emotionally charged opening images of Patrick Swayze, which were difficult to see at a distance even in high def.
With all the talk about reducing the running time of the show, why did the Oscar producers decide to once again slow the show down to a crawl during its final half-hour by having "stars" of all levels come out and pump sunshine up the behinds of the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees? They all took a bow at the top of the telecast - a nice idea, I might add, and one that doesn't eat up too much time. That should be enough!
And how strange is it that the Academy opted to nominate ten movies for Best Picture for the first time since 1943 in hopes of increasing interest in the show and making room for more mainstream hits in the mix, only to have a movie almost nobody saw in theaters take the top prize? (A hindsight gripe: Ten Best Picture nominees and no room for Star Trek?) I'm thrilled that the very deserving Bigelow won as Best Director, but I'm surprised the Academy didn't honor Avatar as Best Picture. It is arguably the biggest movie-industry game-changer since Star Wars. A big win for Avatar would have done much to raise the profile of the Academy, and all things considered it wouldn't have been such a bad choice, would it?
To end on an up note, and just to prove that I don't watch the Academy Awards simply to pick them apart, the tribute to the late John Hughes was terrific. I thought Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald would come out, say a few words and introduce clips - but we got so much more. It was so great to see so many of the actors from so many of Hughes' movies take the stage as part of the remembrance. It was a sequence of sublime nostalgia that had to resonate for anyone old enough to have seen those movies in theaters during his or her own childhood or teenage years.
That's what the Academy Awards ought to do: Reach out and touch huge segments of the television audience in surprising ways. It would seem that great talents like Hughes should not have to pass in order for Oscar to come to life.
This column was originally published at JackMyers.com.