Well, there’s four hours I’ll never get back.
The 80th Annual Academy Awards were handed out last night, and as Johnny Carson once cracked, they managed to cram two hours of entertainment into four.
After lowering expectations with a lousy performance in 2006, a much more relaxed Jon Stewart was better this time as host, scoring early with a punchy, straight ahead string of zingers.
He pointed out Julie Christie in the audience, joking that her film, Away From Her, was “a remarkable story of a woman who forgets her own husband. Hillary Clinton called it the feel good movie of the year.”
He mentioned that the Eddie Murphy dud Norbert earned a nomination (in makeup). That was a good thing, he said. “Too often the Academy ignores movies that aren’t good.”
There were plenty of shots at the writers strike and the U.S. presidential election. He joked that Barack Hussein Obama had overcome a name that sounds too much like America’s enemies, just like that chap who ran in 1940, “Gaydolf Titler.”
The opening monologue was all very Daily Show but it worked because Stewart was relaxed and the jokes were funny. Unfortunately, he only got off about one funny line an hour after that, all of them prepared bits. One goofed on versatile Cate Blanchett, nominated for playing both a man (Bob Dylan in I’m Not There) and a Queen (Elizabeth: The Golden Age). Stewart joked that she also played a pit bull in No Country For Old Men. Later in the show he was caught coming back from a commercial break playing a Nintendo Wii game on the giant screen. Noting Blanchett, Jessica Alba and Nicole Kidman were all pregnant, he awarded one of their babies to Angelina Jolie. She wasn’t in the audience, noted Stewart. “It’s tough to get 17 baby sitters on Oscar night.”
Stewart had less luck with his ad libs. After Best Supporting Actor Award-winner Javier Bardem made a passionate speech in Spanish to his mother, Stewart translated his “French,” suggesting Bardem was telling his mother where the library was. He had a whole commercial break to come up with that. Toward the end of the night, Stewart stooped to a joke about Harrison Ford being either a movie star or a car dealership. Cue the snare drum.
Even cutting to Jack Nicholson in the front row–usually Oscar gold–got old. Stewart’s gag that Jack may sire new babies by the end of the night was either creepy or left over from a 1984 ad-lib.
The rest of the show suffered from the lack of prep time due to the writers strike, or some sort of Hollywood hangover, something. The set looked empty (Stewart emerged at the start from a giant tube) and the presenters seemed pedestrian. There was no show stealing moment from a Robin Williams or a Chris Rock. One musical number that cried out for production, the Happy Working Song from Enchanted, was just the one chick singing on stage. Way too many clips were shown (including scenes from all 79 previous Oscar winners), extending the show simply and way too obviously to allow more commercials. The clips went on so long 98-year-old honorary Oscar-winner Robert Boyle was only 45 when the night began.
Then there were the many less than impressive hours a the podium. To paraphrase Groucho, I thought my razor was dull until I hear some of the acceptance speeches. “Oh my God, we went blank,” blanked one winner. “I’m blanking out too,” went her equally forgettable partner.
It got so bad Colin Farrell nearly wiping out was an Oscar highlight.
There was actually more excitement before the show. Red dresses were everywhere, including on Anne Hathaway, Helen Mirren, Miley Cyrus and Katherine Heigl, but there were no Bijork or Cher-level clown suits. Crazyman Gary Busey crashed the red carpet, scaring the hell out of Ryan Seacrest and Jennifer Garner. Regis Philbin kept calling Javier Bardem “Xavier,” perhaps confusing him with Cugat. It was that kind of a night.

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