Ellen Academy Awards
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Ellen DeGeneres did not sing a song about seeing actresses’ boobs on screen, which, after last year’s Seth MacFarlane skit, represents some sort of progress. Everything else about her opening monologue, however, screamed of a desire to dial the show back to safer terrain — playfully bantering with the nominees and joking about Hollywood foibles, as if Bob Hope or Johnny Carson was in the driver’s seat. Stripped of any pyrotechnics — no song-and-dance number, no film montage — the opening actually worked reasonably well, mostly because it placed the focus on the movies and the stars, which pays off when someone delivers a heartfelt acceptance speech, like best supporting actor winner Jared Leto.

Historically, Oscar hosts get too much credit or blame, given the amount of actual screen time they occupy. Still, choosing an ostensibly risky emcee has been a tried-and-true means of helping promote the show — and, with less success, seeking to attract more elusive demographics.

DeGeneres doesn’t meet those criteria (her audience skews heavily female, as does the Oscars’ profile), but she is good company, and able to deftly deliver a one-liner. And her playful jabs at the expense of June Squibb or Jennifer Lawrence managed to feel fun without being mean-spirited.

Beyond that, the producers made some questionable choices in terms of kick-starting the telecast — beginning with perhaps the night’s least-suspenseful award, best supporting actor, and then shifting to a filmed sequence about animated heroes that, at the very least, should have been saved until the animated-feature category. Fortunately, that was interrupted by Jim Carrey’s impersonation of Bruce Dern.

All told, it sets the tone for a night where whatever happens, DeGeneres won’t be the main reason for the show being perceived as memorable or forgettable, a success or failure. And frankly, that’s the way it should be.

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