Funny, poised, relaxed, and smart, Anne Hathaway and James Franco made for marvelous Oscar hosts. Their combination of respect and informality struck the right tone for the night, a happily surprising production that had its share of fine moments both planned and ad-libbed.
Certainly the comic opening, in which Hathaway and Franco were inserted into movies such as Inception through a purported porthole in Alec Baldwin’s brain was exceedingly funny. From Kirk Douglas’ cleverly goatish leers to Randy Newman’s gleefully grumpy acceptance speech, it was a solid night for old pros who know how to ham it up entertainingly. (Newman’s rearrangement of his winning song “We Belong Together” as a jumping rock tune was really well executed.)
The best acceptance remarks came from unexpected sources. I’d have thought Aaron Sorkin might have said something inflammatory, but instead he was eloquently concise. By contrast, director Tom Hooper told the best story of the night, about how his mother was the one who discovered the source material that would become the movie The King’s Speech. And Speech screenwriter David Seidler was disarming with his proclamation as a “late bloomer” and his solidarity with other viewers who stutter.
The other stand-out speech came from Luke Matheny, the brunet Carrot Top, whose NYU thesis project, God of Love, won the best live-action short Oscar. Shaggy in both appearance and in his way with a story, Matheny was a charmer. (His mom provided crafts services for the film? Between his mother and Hooper’s, it was a great night for motherhood.)
I loved the way presenter Steven Spielberg made a point of naming some of the great movies that have lost best-picture Oscars (including Citizen Kane and Raging Bull) among his list of those that succeeded.
There was some debate in my house as to whether Melissa Leo was feigning surprise and a slipped obscenity; I chose to think she was spontaneous. If grabbing Kirk Douglas’ cane as they left the stage was a bit much — well, hey, who wouldn’t be a little goofy-giddy after winning an Oscar?
Among the odder moments:
• Why was the montage of best picture nominees “scored” to Colin Firth’s King’s Speech speech? It made the film’s win seem weirdly pre-ordained.
• A standing ovation for Billy Crystal? I agree he’s been a terrific host in the past, but was the audience missing him in that role that much this evening?
• Why was director Lamont Johnson left off the In Memoriam list, the director who helped make Jeff Bridges a star in 1973’s The Last American Hero?
• Gwyneth Paltrow being introduced by Jennifer Hudson as “country music’s newest star”? I like Paltrow, but neither the box office nor the record sales for Country Strong merited that hype.
• Jude Law got away with a Robert-Downey-on-drugs joke no less racy than the ones Ricky Gervais told at the Golden Globes, but I’ll bet Law doesn’t receive any heat for it. (As is only right — my point is that Gervais was needlessly criticized.)
Toward the end, as Franco became more mellow, Hathaway’s remonstrations grew rather over-the-top. Introducing Sandra Bullock by saying it was “a big moment for me” seemed a tad short-sighted, and I feared her high-fives to those sweet kids from P.S. 22 in Staten Island, N.Y., were going to propel a few of the tykes right off the stage.
But all in all, it was a fun, briskly paced night. Agree? Disagree?