On this year’s edition of the Oscars, there were many highs, a few lows and more than one missed opportunity. While the reviews of the 83rd annual Academy Awards have been merciless for the most part, there was much to praise (and a little to pillory).
• Anne Hathaway and James Franco may not have had the sexual chemistry that some reviewers lusted for, but their playful kidding put me in mind of siblings who actually get along. And with her mother but not his featured in the opening moments, could they be?
• The acceptance speeches from winners who acted truly grateful: Natalie Portman tearing up as she thanked her parents, Colin Firth making merry about his ticky tummy and Christian Bale referencing his own profrane tirade as a gallant way of shifting the spotlight from Melissa Leo.
• Other lesser-known winners were stars for one brief moment: Best Live Action Short director Luke Metheny (“God of Love”) admitting he should have gotten a haircut; Art Direction champ Robert Stromberg ruing he had not lose 20 pounds; Best Cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception”) hushing the applause as it was taking up his time; and Best Song winner Randy Newman (“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3”) chiding the music branch for the arcane rules that limited the number of nominees to four.
• The scenic transitions that gave viewers a sense of movie magic. And the inclusion of noteworthy moments in Oscars history, beginning with Tom Hanks telling us that 1939’s “Gone With the Wind” was the first Best Picture champ to also claim both Art Direction and Cinematography.
• The appearance by Billy Crystal to salute the all-time Oscar host Bob Hope. Instead of delivering a monologue, he reminisced about an Oscars moment with the comedian as the stage transformed into the Pantages Theater circa 1953.
• The classy presentation of the “In Memoriam” segment with Celine Dion singing “Smile,” a tune composed by movie icon Charlie Chaplin for “Modern Times” in 1936 to which lyrics were added in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.
• The pairing of presenters who are clearly pals like “Australia” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman and “Sherlock Holmes” leading men Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law.
• Convincing a clearly-nervous Kathryn Bigelow to co-present the Best Director award that she won last year came as a stark reminder that the glass ceiling may only have been cracked.
• Several notable film personalities were missing from the “In Memoriam” photo montage: Betty Garrett from the golden age of MGM, leading man Peter Graves and 1980s child star Corey Haim.
• There was no production number to showcase the talents of Anne Hathaway. Sure she belted out a comic riff of “On My Own” directed at 2008 Oscars host Hugh Jackman, but why did he not jump on stage to join her in a lavish singing, dancing extravaganza.
• The winners who are usually behind the camera were so worried about making the most of their all-too-short of a time at the podium that they lacked spontaneity. Blame that on the show’s producers Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen who ran too tight a ship.
• The ill-advised idea to have Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson sound ridiculous while presenting the two tech awards.
• When Hathaway sang her song, she was clad in a stylized tuxedo. Since she wants to play Judy Garland on stage and film, she should have just worn a tux jacket, as Judy did in “Summer Stock,” and kicked up her gams.
• For Franco to come out dressed as Marilyn Monroe and interrupt Hathaway but then have no song to croak or comedy to play was a wasted moment.
• Annette Bening, in full grande dame mode as an academy governor, introducing the montage of moments from last fall’s Governors Awards.
• Kirk Douglas went on too long and appeared to ramble at more than one point and Melissa Leo made matters worse with her crass words of thanks.
• Setting a recap of the 10 Best Picture nominees to the stirring final moments from frontrunner “The King’s Speech” was in bad taste. Why rob the other contenders of their singular moments in the spotlight?
• Having Steven Spielberg present Best Picture for the third time in eight years. While much was made of last year’s Best Director win by a woman, the fairer sex has been noticeably absent as of late from this final presentation of the evening. In 2006, “Reds” and “Somethings Gotta Give” co-stars Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson reunited to announce the winner. And In 2004, Barbra Streisand joined her “Meet the Focker” mate Dustin Hoffman at the podium. Before that the last woman to grace the stage for the final award was two-time Oscar champ Elizabeth Taylor who was there in 1991 with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” co-star Paul Newman. The year before Streisand did the duty on her own. In the decades preceding, many women were entrusted with this singular honor, but none since. Two-time Best Actress champ and frequent Oscarcast host Jane Fonda would have been a great choice.