With fewer people having seen the top five nominees this year (The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray and Sideways) than in any one of the previous 20 years, it's no big surprise that Oscar's numbers were down. All things considered, 41.5 million isn't a bad number. So, if freshman host Chris Rock didn't exactly rock audiences, he at least kept the night from becoming a total loss.
By Monday morning, the reviews were pouring in, and Rock was receiving mixed reviews. It was nice to see old Oscar try and hip himself up a bit, but the Academy's notoriously stodgy crowds weren't the most receptive audience for Rock's brand of standup stylings. He did keep up a pretty steady stream of Hollywood ribbing, advising people in his opening monologue to “wait” before declaring people movie stars. “Clint Eastwood is a star,” he observed. “Toby Maguire is a guy in tights.” Some obviously found his humor a bit too mean-spirited, however. Sean Penn, who normally reserves his Oscar time for bashing politicians, used his podium appearance to defend fellow actor Jude Law, singled out in Rock's monologue for his ubiquitous presence this past box office season.
Personally, I found Rock to be a decent antidote to the middle-of-the-road entertainers who normally front for Oscar. I also thought David Letterman was fun for a year. Like Letterman, you can reasonably expect that Rock will be a “one off” host. Pleasant, but generally bland entertainers like Billy Crystal are the most suited for this mass audience workload.
Hosting duties aside, I thought the show ran smoothly and professionally. The new method of handing out awards in the audience for the “smaller” categories went quite well and did give the show a kind of “interactive” feel. The speeches were tight, funny and emotional. The outfits were classy. Joan and Melissa Rivers couldn't even find a “worst dressed” this year. … Which may have been part of the problem.
Dogged by last year's attacks by “conservative” groups, who branded all of Hollywood as America-hating, escargot-eating snobs, the Academy Awards went out of their way to be as quiet and uncontroversial as possible. As a result, the show had very few high or low points. Jamie Foxx's speech ran the gamut of emotions from funny to touching. Antonio Banderas' musical performance was disjointed, to say the least. And Beyoncé Knowles seemed to be the only singer available in Hollywood. Then again, the musical numbers always suck, so that was just par for the course.
In the final tally, the 77th Annual Academy Awards will probably go down as one of the classiest most well-mannered nights. But I'm pretty sure, by week's end, most people will be hard-pressed to recall any of it.