The deterioration of the Academy Awards show was as evident as writer Bruce Vlanch's career on the Hollywood Squares. Vlanch served again as a writer for the show, a credit I'm sure he'd wish to expunge from his resume. Long-time television awards producer Don Mischer was supposed to skew towards a younger demographic -- let's hope our youth are better than this.
The opening sequence, an homage to Billy Crystal's montage wherein he inserted himself into every Best Picture nominee, saw our novice hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway searching for hosting tips in Alec Baldwin's dreams. Suffice it to say, our hosts emerged the worse for wear. While the opening worked because it allowed Hathaway and Franco to call on their strengths, acting for a camera, their ability to transfer this quality to live-action television came across as overly sycophantic, boorish and occasionally just plain uncomfortable.
Never in recent memory while an audience was riding the awards show train have their been so many nail-biting thoughts that it might literally derail. From their opening monologue which the writers thought it wise to include the "new hip hosts" parents and grandparents, to where Anne sang a rewritten version of "On My Own" from Les Miserables which she sang to her former dance partner on the show, Hugh Jackman (even the song turned 'punny' calling him a "JACK-ass" so the audience could get who she was singing to) to James Franco waltzing on stage as a woman, the amount of discomfort apparent in this awards show peaked early and never recovered.
Everyone can applaud the Academy and its producing team for wanting to honor a legendary presence like Kirk Douglas with an award presentation, but am I the only one who felt that segment was stripped of any of its legs the longer it hobbled on. Age and its detractions have made Douglas a shell of the force he once was, and I, for one, sank into a mournful repose at time when I should have been edge of my seat for what has been historically the upset category of the Awards Show. Douglas, showing some of his humor and verve with his repeated delay of the Best Supporting Actress announcement was funny once, or even twice, but by the third and fourth time I became worried I might actually die before he does. This was only made worse by Melissa Leo's acceptance speech, a bizarre mix of expletives, actual shock and overacting. Leo then stepped back after making the audience re-think their votes and nearly backed over the fragile Douglas, stole his cane to make it even clearer to us the shock was so great she needed help off the stage, none of which went over well.
Included in this morass of a presentation show, was some sort of tribute that seemed as lost as its hosts. Occasionally references to the first show, past moments, etc., were brought to the forefront, the most awkward of which was the tribute to Best Original Score. The orchestra took center stage and of all the pieces it decided to honor, they chose Star Wars, ET, and other John Williams fare, before wrapping up with a small moment of West Side Story. I'm all for young and hip, but it should never mean forgetting the tried and true. Considering Star Wars is 44 this year, perhaps there is a historical element to it, but what about scores from Fiddler on the Roof, Dr. Zhivago, and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly? What about any Hitchcock film? As with most of these attempts to recount history, nearly all seemed out of place and clunky.
Then the writers got the brilliant idea to pay tribute to Bob Hope. It's never a smart choice in the face of two struggling hosts clearly out of their element to present the audience with a reminder of what a true master of ceremonies looks like. Hope's appearance made us all nostalgic not only for those older shows, but for older hosts as well. It was one of the few endearing moments of the show, and digital technology allowed the show's production team to have Bob introduce Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law.
Unfortunately, after the presenters, come the speeches. How about those speeches huh? I think the most memorable speech was uttered by Luke Methany who won for his live-action short, and after bounding down the aisle, his untidy afro obscuring the cameras from seeing his face. He smartly began by saying he should have gotten a haircut. Natalie Portman, gorgeous as always, wandered aimlessly after thanking everyone but her limo driver. Colin Firth, his diction and lexicon tapped adroitly as he elaborated about how he might uncontrollably break into dance, would have been better served if he had.
It's like they say, crazy people don't know they're crazy, funny people don't say they're funny, and hip people don't need to remind us that their hip. This show struggled from the one thing movies are supposed be apt at doing, showing, not telling. Instead of showing us the light, Hathaway and Franco simply told us about it, and the recipients seemed determined to follow suit.