Considering the month it had, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences should be happy. While ABC’s Oscar broadcast was not the condensed kudofest that Team Zanuck promised, it was far from the humdrum affair viewers have come to expect. Thanks to many winners’ genuine appreciation, Billy Crystal and a musical medley that couldn’t have been classier, the night certainly had its moments. Only when the vet emcee gave way to stiffer, stuffier presenters did it become business as usual … and really, really long — the longest on record.
The opening couldn’t have been better — or more appropriate. Like a Universal Studios ride chock full of the best clips from the best movies, Crystal was introduced into a variety of classic scenes, including “Taxi Driver,” “The Graduate,” “Deliverance,” “Spartacus” and “The Godfather.” It played directly into his hands: His showmanship was top-notch, the production design was flawless, and it heralded the ceremony as more of a movie night than just an awards night.
But, as always, the comic’s grand slam was too hard to top; Crystal is so good, so many other things looked like standard fare.
Don’t blame Hilary Swank, Michael Caine and Warren Beatty. On a day when the “shiniest” and the “flashiest” were the main event, their words were as beautiful as the gowns and jewels.
The notables were very notable. The collection of past song winners was splendid; Crystal’s mock peek inside guests’ thought processes was hilarious; a CGI, “Toy Story” intro to the animated short honor was clever and artistic; and Robin Williams’ “Blame Canada” romp was an audience fave.
Show’s packaging (angular, paneled backdrops) was also nifty. With the many references to a new millennium, it was appropriate that the look was up to date, “Millionaire” style, as if someone really tried to make the kudocast a visual event and not just a podium affair.
But the memorable flashes made the supposed “special” ones seem very dry. An ode to child actors was sweet enough, just not the snazzi-est of choices to start the broadcast; Andrzej Wajda’s honor was a bit too uninteresting; and Chuck Workman’s history-through-cinema quilt was something we’ve seen before. As for the In Memoriam segment? Well, it’s necessary.
And where was all of the spirited enthusiasm? Only Pedro Almodovar injected any Cuba Gooding Jr./Roberto Benigni-ish juice into the proceedings with his “All About My Mother” win. If it’s going to run long, it would be nice to have some zest to break up the intellectual gratitude. At least Benigni was a presenter; his brief appearance added a bunch of punch.
But the Alphabet web could have used more of it. Exemplary behavior is nice, but there really has to be a jazzier way to do all of this. Thank goodness for some of writer Bruce Vilanch’s zingers and the races, for without the Denzel-vs.-Kevin and Annette-vs.-Hilary tension, everything would have been plainer, and at four-plus hours, that’s the last thing that was needed.
Tech credits were solid across the board, with the overall production highlighted by smooth transitions, sharp camera movements and, hey, nobody gave birth.