Review: ‘The 81st annual Academy Awards – From the Kodak Theater’

Cast of 'Slumdog Millionaire'

The Oscar show is watched worldwide by an estimated 800 million people, but it's a very different experience inside the Kodak Theater.

The Oscar show is watched worldwide by an estimated 800 million people, but it’s a very different experience inside the Kodak Theater.

Others can decide how Sunday’s event looked on TV, but for the 3,000-plus attendees Sunday night, it was terrific. As Danny Boyle said in his acceptance speech, “I don’t know what (this show) looks like on television, but in the room it’s bloody wonderful.”

It was a high-energy party fueled by frequent surprises, a socko host stint by Hugh Jackman and some memorable acceptance speeches. First-time Oscarcast producer Laurence Mark and exec producer Bill Condon sustained the sense of revelry with twists to the format, while Jackman kept the momentum going by entertaining the aud with jokes, songs and anecdotes during commercial breaks.

Yes, there are some things that cannot be helped, even at the Kodak. A rambling speech is rambling, whether in person or on TV. And even industryites get a little restless with categories where they haven’t seen any of the nominees, like short subjects.

But when Sunday’s show worked, it was gangbusters.

Memorable moments included the emergence of the five thesps to present the acting awards; the Baz Luhrmann-staged production number with Jackman and Beyonce; and the medley of best song contenders (musical numbers sometimes don’t translate on TV, but these two brought the house down at the Kodak).

Film clips played well, such as Albert Maysles’ docu footage and Judd Apatow’s salute to comedy films.

And the awards gods blessed the evening by providing some great unplanned moments, like Dustin Lance Black’s eloquent speech about equality; Heath Ledger’s family accepting his award with heartfelt simplicity; Resul Pookutty’s breathless gratification at the sound-mixing win; “Departures” director Yojiro Takito with his “I’m very very happy!” And the multi-cultural “Slumdog” dozens swarming onstage for the big win.

At such times, there was a sense of community within the theater that was very moving.

Key to the evening’s success was Jackman. He’s a real Movie Star, which underlines the fact that this is an evening about movies. Aside from his onscreen likability, he’s a great stage performer, as his brilliant turn in “The Boy From Oz” proved. He connected to the audience immediately and hopefully that sense of fun came across to TV viewers.

David Rockwell’s design created a nightclubby feel with its light-reflecting beaded “curtain” and chandeliers. But the best decision was to move the orchestra onstage, which made a closer physical connection between audience and performers, helping break down that best-behavior attitude; the looser mood was contagious even to the balconies.

Mark and Condon took two big gambles this year: Plotting changes in the show, and then keeping their innovations under wraps. With 25 trophies to hand out in their self-imposed time limit of three hours, it seemed clear to most Oscar vets that they couldn’t completely reinvent things, but simply rethink aspects of the kudocast (which had begun to resemble a 1960s-style TV variety show).

The alterations weren’t radical, and past producers like Gil Cates have introduced changes with less fanfare. And, in this Internet age, it’s amazing how few secrets were leaked. And with so many pundits agreeing about the eventual winners, the content of the show became this year’s biggest piece of suspense.

But Mark and Condon accomplished what they set out to do: Drum up interest in the show, get audiences revved up by the notion that kudocasts can alter their formats, and remind the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences that they can (and should) continue to rethink things.

And Luhrmann’s production number raises another key question: The show is supposedly the film industry’s big night of the year, so why aren’t other big-name filmmakers contributing to it?

The 81st annual Academy Awards – From the Kodak Theater


Broadcast from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Producers, Bill Condon, Laurence Mark; supervising producer, Michael B. Seligman; coordinating producer, Danette Herman; director, Roger Goodman; writers, Jon Macks, Jenny Bicks, Condon, John Hoffman, Phil Alden Robinson, Bruce Vilanch; special material written by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Ben Schwartz, Joel Stein; production designer, David Rockwell; music director, Michael Giacchino. 3 HOURS, 30 MIN.


Host: Hugh Jackman
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