As if recognizing the math on their side — 10 nominees, plus the blockbuster to beat all blockbusters — the producers of this year’s Oscarcast played like a team protecting a big lead. Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin made like an old-style vaudeville act, presiding over a show that plowed through the awards with workmanlike efficiency and didn’t seem to mind being a little boring. Yes, David ultimately slew Goliath, but the telecast’s only real innovation appeared to be a higher-than-usual quotient of younger presenters — hardly destined to make a mostly stodgy night feel hip to the “Twilight” demographic.
Even with no best song performances and the honorary lifetime-achievement awards exiled (though Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall were treated to in-telecast ovations), the show felt rushed in places, perhaps burdened by the task of servicing twice as many best-picture contenders. Clips were dutifully shown at breaks until all were acknowledged.
Baldwin and Martin’s opening (after a moderately clever song-and-dance number by the wonderfully talented Neil Patrick Harris) felt suited to a Vegas nightclub — and not necessarily in a bad way. The duo simply singled out and riffed upon stars in the audience, from “That damn Helen Mirren” (“Dame,” Baldwin corrected) to Zac Efron and Taylor Lautner, who were warned, “Take a look at us, guys: This is you in five years.”
The music reinforced this tone, with Martin and Baldwin keeping the festivities moving by assuming the role of pompous Hollywood fops.
Clearly, no one intended to reinvent the wheel, or even freshen the grease. The major wrinkle recycled from last year — having colleagues fete best actor and actress nominees — does personalize that moment while affording every star time in the spotlight, and should probably become a staple.
The taped segments included a classy tribute to the late John Hughes, which worked; and a horror package that labored to find titles worthy of inclusion released in the last decade. Presenting best-score nominees as an interpretive dance, meanwhile, almost felt like satire — and surely played better in the Kodak than the living room, where it made the prospect of Cablevision blacking out the show less onerous.
As for the award-show gods — those unplanned moments, for better or ill, which get people buzzing — there was little to crash YouTube or set the Twitterverse ablaze.
Many of the winners were clearly popular choices in the room. Mo’Nique was more composed than at the Golden Globes but still emotionally powerful; Sandra Bullock’s speech proved gracious and heartfelt; Jeff Bridges thanked his folks for his “groovy profession” but then descended into a litany of dude-like thank-yous; and “Precious” writer Geoffrey Fletcher was nearly struck speechless, bringing a hush to the room.
To his credit, broadcast director Hamish Hamilton proved adept at locating teary-eyed relatives as lesser-known loved ones accepted awards — and at cutting away rapidly when part of documentary “The Cove’s” contingent tried to unfurl a banner.
Despite “The Hurt Locker’s” strong showing, notably, politics seldom reared its head. Both director Kathryn Bigelow in celebrating her milestone win and scribe Mark Boal paid tribute to troops in Iraq — hardly sentiments to yield a backlash against “liberal Hollywood.”
That said, it was great in a meta way for the writers to have presenter Robert Downey Jr. refer to writers as “sickly little mole people.” And Ben Stiller gamely presented best makeup in full Na’vi regalia, albeit while speaking what sounded a lot like Hebrew.
Unlike the Globes, Oscar organizers were well prepared for inclement weather with a red-carpet tent that resembled a massive greenhouse. For all that, Sherri Shepherd and Kathy Ireland — hosting ABC’s pre-show — seemed positively overjoyed anyone would deign to speak with them.
“The world is hanging on your every thought right now!” Ireland gushed to “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe, who seemed understandably flummoxed by that intro.
Over on E!’s arrivals program, Ryan Seacrest was his usual ebullient self, asking Stanley Tucci from where he derived the emotional resources to play a child killer in “The Lovely Bones,” helpfully adding “obviously not your own life.” Obviously.
Then again, if the goal is no more ambitious than boosting Oscar viewership, merely stating the obvious — as the show repeatedly did — might well be enough.