Poor Oscar. It seems the annual ceremony is always plagued by some sort of controversy, either before or after the event — sometimes both. This year started with the controversial addition of the Most Popular Movie category, which was quickly scrapped. Then came the infamous Kevin Hart hosting fiasco with the surprise decision to have no host at all. That led everyone to reflect on the last time there was no host, which was a disaster 30 years ago (remember Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White?). No invitation for acting winners to return; presenting several categories in commercial breaks — both ideas abandoned. As we careen towards what promises to be an interesting broadcast this Sunday if nothing else, let’s go back in time exactly 10 years ago to one of the best shows ever.
A fun part of looking back through Oscar history is remembering the many hosts. Bob Hope and Billy Crystal may forever be remembered as the best. They were both all-round entertainers with quick wit as well as musical abilities, and comedic deliveries that balanced sarcasm with affection. In 2009, Hugh Jackman was picked to fill these enormous shoes by producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, and I think most agree that he did a superb job.
His opening musical number, celebrating that year’s nominees, was equal to many done by Crystal. Using cheesy props (watch the video above), he serenaded the audience with, “From a Slumdog with nothin’, I Milked my Button / I Ironed all my Men and Frosted my Nixon / ‘Cause I am Hugh Jackman and I’ve waited so long / And no recession can stop my confession or silence my song / These are the Oscars and this is my dream / I am a Slumdog, I am a Wrestler, I’ll rent The Reader, I’M WOLVERINE!”
This bit of fun included “Craig’s List dancers”, Jackman pulling Anne Hathaway on stage for a silly duet, and his confession to not having seen “The Reader” – cracking himself up during that part. Many offered a standing ovation. Later in the evening, he, along with the likes of Beyonce and Zac Efron, paid homage to movie musicals. As the organizers have attempted to cut running time over the years, musical numbers like these are being omitted. Which I understand. But, in my opinion, they are some of the most fun and memorable aspects of the broadcasts. Although Jackman may have lacked the quick with of some of his comedic predecessors, he more than made up for it.
Another great line from his opening number was, “How come comic book movies never get nominated? How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?” Since 1943, the Best Picture category had been limited to five films. In 2009, the controversy really heated up when “The Dark Knight” did not make the cut. Despite eight nominations, including Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and most famously, Best Supporting Actor for the late Heath Ledger, the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy failed to garner a Best Picture nomination. There was an outcry of discrimination towards this genre. It was not surprising when the following year, the Academy broke away from the 65-year movie limit in this category. Starting the following year, 10 movies were nominated for the top category (now a floating number between five and 10). And now, exactly one decade after that controversial slight, “Black Panther” has made it onto the Best Picture ballot.
One of the greatest things at the 2009 ceremony was an interesting twist. In the acting categories, they asked five previous winners in that category to present tributes to each nominee. This was a bit time-consuming, but it was also a great way to blend honoring Oscar’s past with its present.
For the Best Supporting Actor category won by Ledger, past champ Kevin Kline presented his nomination, saying, “In a year of striking film images perhaps the most unforgettable is that of a man. His face smeared in clown makeup, gleefully sticking his head out of a speeding car, relishing the night wind and reveling at the chaos he has unleashed on the streets of Gotham city. Menacing, mercurial, droll, and diabolical. Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight kept us all on edge anxious to see what act of appalling mischief he might commit next. With this bravura performance as well as with a wide range of other roles to which he put his unique signature. Heath Ledger has left us an original and enduring legacy.” Others on stage during this tribute section were Alan Arkin, Cuba Gooding Jr., Joel Grey and Christopher Walken.
Presenters for Best Supporting Actress winner Penelope Cruz were Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Anjelica Huston, Eva Marie Saint and Tilda Swinton. Presenters for Best Actor winner Sean Penn were Adrien Brody, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley. Presenters for Best Actress winner Kate Winslet were Halle Berry, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren and Shirley MacLaine.
Ledger became only the second person to ever win an acting award posthumously. However, he wasn’t the one that night whose nomination was posthumous. In 2008, the film industry also lost Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, both of whom were nominated as part of the team that produced “The Reader”. Although they didn’t win that night, their legacies continue on, with Pollack’s directing and/or producing such films as “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa”, and Minghella’s writing, directing, and/or producing such films as “The Talented Mr Ripley” and “The English Patient”.
The producers of the Oscar broadcast trying to come up with ways to gain more viewers is almost as entertaining as the ceremony itself. However, I think those of us who love movies and love this annual event will always tune in. We’re like a sports enthusiast who stands by his favorite team even in the years that team loses more than it wins. And the viewers they’re trying to pull in are never a sure bet no matter what the Academy plans, because those people don’t share that love. So, give us faithful something to honor the industry we love, and we’ll stick with you — even if you give us Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White instead of the fabulous Wolverine pulling Anne Hathaway onstage for a musical number.
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