The Academy has been trying in recent years to move its awards show into the 21st century without dissing its tradition-rich past. The results have been mixed.—-
Last year's decision to expand the Best Picture field to 10 has worked out better than I expected, shining a light on films that likely would never have been nominated under the old, five-film format —smaller and/or less “prestigious” genre-driven movies like District 9, Inception, Inglourious Basterds, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, Up and Winter's Bone come to mind. And the surprising crowning of The Hurt Locker as Best Picture in 2010 was an encouraging sign that things were moving in the right direction (even if last year's co-hosts, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, fell flat).
This year's hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, were just as underwhelming, succumbing to a lack of chemistry —or, better yet, a clashing of chemistry. Hathaway's whirlwind costume changes and perky personality overwhelmed her disjointed, (seemingly) stoned co-host (not that that's a bad thing — dude, I'd be stoned if I was up there, too). The pair had people clamoring for the far more effective Hugh Jackman of a few years ago, if not Ricky Gervais. And the appearance of Billy Crystal, who came out of hibernation for an oddly rendered Bob Hope tribute, was yet another reminder of the younger, more “demographically friendly” duo's limitations as hosts.
Of course, based on the uninspired show around them, I'm not sure how much blame should be placed on Franco and Hathaway. Sunday night's 83rd Academy Awards were an unmitigated bore —so much so that I had more fun live chatting about it than I did actually watching it. The nonstop online commentary helped the nearly four-hour slog go by much more quickly, allowing me to tune out awkward moments like the painful decision to have Kirk Douglas (whose notoriously lecherous behavior reared its head) embarrass himself as the lone presenter of the show-opening Best Supporting Actress category. (Where was Inglourious Basterds' Christoph Waltz?) Douglas was nearly outdone by the eventual winner, The Fighter's Melissa Leo, whose scattered, melodramatic speech was marked by a bleeped F-bomb that somehow seemed completely free of subversion. (How much of a delay is there?)
The show didn't get much better from there, moving from one obvious winner to the next. The only surprise of the night was an unfortunate one — The King's Speech's Tom Hooper won Best Director over the more deserving David Fincher, whose The Social Network thankfully did win four awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin and Best Score for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
The fact that The King's Speech —a fine but thoroughly conventional film that was probably my least favorite of the 10 nominees — won Best Picture says the Academy still has a long way to go before it fully transcends its stuffy, predictable past.