For all the talk about 2011 being the year of the “hip, young” Oscars, the 83rd Annual Academy Awards telecast seemed as traditional as ever. James Franco and Anne Hathaway were brought in as the youngest hosts ever, but any hope of edgy, timely fare like The Social Network winning awards was swept away as stodgy Academy voters gave their biggest kudos to The King’s Speech—an impeccable but doggedly old-fashioned Brits-in-costumes Oscar-baiter if there ever was one.
Overall, ratings for the telecast dropped around 7 percent compared to last year. The 18-to-49 viewer demographic only dropped 2 percent, though, so maybe Franco and Hathaway did have some youth appeal. But it wasn’t enough to transform the night into a particularly memorable affair. There were good moments, there were bad moments, but neither end of the spectrum provided much to get worked up over.
The show started out on a high note. Franco and Hathaway romped through a montage that digitally inserted them into assorted Best Picture nominees. It was a self-conscious throwback to Billy Crystal’s trademark Oscar night bit, but it felt fun and nostalgic and kicked the evening off nicely. By the same token, the night ended well. Just about every Oscar show concludes with the host running out on stage and yelling, “We’re over time! Goodbye!” Thankfully, this year’s trim telecast (the shortest since 2005) closed out with a parade of newly minted statue-clutchers and a performance by the children’s choir from Staten Island’s PS 22. Cute, but effective.
Most of the night’s winners seemed prone to hyperventilation on stage. As a result, most speeches were quick, teary and to the point. Melissa Leo lent a bit of excitement to the evening by making Oscar history and dropping the F-bomb. (Hey, this ain’t the Independent Spirit Awards, lady!) The floppy-haired kid who won Best Live-Action Short delivered a funny, sincere speech and showed exactly how to slip in a thank you to your mom. (Mom did the catering on his film.) David Seidler, who won Best Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech, had the best backstory of the evening (an ex-stutterer himself, he started working on the story back in the ’70s). His perfectly emotional speech reflected that. Surprising no one, Colin Firth won Best Actor and delivered a witty, eloquent, thoroughly entertaining monologue.
Franco and Hathaway have been absorbing a lot of criticism since the broadcast. Since neither is a comedian, they can’t really be blamed for their lack of comic timing. Hathaway was enthusiastic and cheerful and pretty to look at—which is most of what you want in a host. Franco is a fine actor, but is just awkward and stiff when asked to be himself. (Plus, that weird rigor mortis expression he gets when he’s not speaking makes him look stoned.) Hosting the Oscars is a tough gig, and Franco and Hathaway can now be added to the growing list of people who aren’t qualified to do it. (Hey, they’re in good company.)
Finally, it was great to see live performances of the Best Original Song nominees return to the broadcast. ... Until the performers actually started singing and we all remembered, “Oh yeah, the Oscar-nominated songs always suck.” If you wanted hip, Oscar, why didn’t you ask Trent Reznor to perform?