Next to the winners (and their attire), the other big talk of Oscar night was the actual ceremony and its unconventional host.
Hugh Jackman brought a showman’s flair to the occasion with a couple of musical numbers, as opposed to the traditional comedic jabs. But the night was not jab-less. Jackman’s introductory song included an enjoyable number with Anne Hathaway as Nixon, but another about not having seen The Reader and his intention to just catch it on DVD. Ben Stiller took a knowing poke at Joaquin Phoenix’s new, bizarre persona, when he accompanied Natalie Portman to the stage dressed as the actor-turned-rapper.
Steve Martin and Tina Fey joined each other on stage to present the screenplay awards, but stole most of the attention for themselves as they exchanged playful banter. The skit culminated with Fey looking affectionately at Martin, and him demanding, “Don’t fall in love with me.”
A short sketch comedy featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco as their Pineapple Express characters was scripted by Judd Apatow. Unfortunately, the Academy’s reluctance to show the boys getting high restrained some of the funniness.
The best song performances were wonderful, with dozens of Indian dancers and numerous drummers accompanying A.R. Rahman’s renditions of the two nominated songs from Slumdog Millionaire. Unfortunately, Peter Gabriel chose not to perform “Down to Earth” from WALL-E, leaving the task to John Legend.
A third musical featured a duet with Jackman and Beyoncé Knowles; Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical; and Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper of Mamma Mia!. However, Jackman and Knowles’ duet could have been cut a tad shorter.
The technical awards were grouped, so presenters handed out all honours in compatible categories; and in between awards presentations, genre montages of nominated and non-nominated film clips were projected on the big screen. But the most applauded change was the presentation of top acting awards by five exceptional winners from previous years. Not only was it a welcome change from viewing the overplayed film clips, but it made just being nominated a little more special – ask Hathaway, who was brought to tears when she was honoured by Shirley MacLaine.