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The Oscars Got Old real Quick

[NY Times]-He sang, he danced, he sat on Frank Langella’s lap and he also presented the 81st annual Academy Awards. Hugh Jackman was a shrewd, even thrifty choice for a recession-era Oscar night — the hosting equivalent of a value meal.

But mostly the actor was chosen to be the first noncomedian Oscar host in more than 30 years for what he didn’t do: deride Hollywood. Mr. Jackman was high-spirited, not mean-spirited. He spoke with sass, but unlike more satirical predecessors like Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, there were no smirks; he came to the task with Broadway sizzle, not a stand-up routine.

The movie industry was in no mood for mockery, and perhaps in no condition for it. Every Oscar ceremony tries to reclaim old Hollywood glamour; this one tried to suit the times by reverting straight to old Depression-era glamour.

Mr. Jackman’s coy opening skit, with its crude, supposedly garage-made cardboard sets, was meant to evoke 1930s-era “let’s put on a show” musicals. The blue-hued stage, framed by a glittering 92,000-Swarovski-crystal curtain, was as gaudy and extravagant as a Busby Berkeley number. And movie stars took the cue. They put on a jewel-encrusted display of gold, pearls and ruched chiffon that Hollywood has always viewed more as community service than conspicuous consumption: the kind of glittery escapism that movie stars provided during the Great Depression.

Mercifully, the pace was quicker than in past years, and the stage, designed to suggest nightclub intimacy, was kind of fun. The stage was set so close to the audience that Mr. Jackman could and did address actors directly, and sometimes a little too directly. He was holding Kate Winslet’s hand when he reached the words “human excrement,” part of a lyric to a song based on the plot of “Slumdog Millionaire.”

In an interview with Barbara Walters shown before the ceremony was broadcast on ABC, Mr. Jackman said that the Oscars “could do with a little more show and a little less biz.”

But the ceremony he emceed was at times so intent on putting on a rousing show that it lost sight of the purpose at hand — namely handing out awards. A number that began as a tribute to the musical, with Mr. Jackman in white tie and tails singing and dancing with Beyoncé, turned into a manic medley of everything from nominated films like “Mamma Mia!” to old, but unconnected favorites like “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “All That Jazz.”

There were other experiments that probably worked better in theory than execution. The five former winners of the best-supporting-actress award, lined up on stage and awarding a word of praise to each nominee, looked a little grim, less a movie-star moment than a Star Chamber. (That sobriety worked better for the best supporting actors when Heath Ledger won that award posthumously.)

Steve Martin and Tina Fey were genuinely funny, and when onstage, represented the Oscar hosts that could have been. Most of the night was oddly earnest. Even Jerry Lewis was treated with deference by Eddie Murphy, who didn’t even try to make the audience laugh. Neither did Mr. Lewis. Instead, that now frail comedian accepted his award for humanitarian work with only a few words (he said he accepted it with staggering humility) and little of his customary bathos.

But some old habits die hard. When Jennifer Aniston was on stage presenting an award, the camera mischievously flashed to Angelina Jolie, sitting next to Brad Pitt, staring raptly and innocently at the stage.

It was fun for a while, but then it just started to seem long. Although the three best-original-song nominees were downsized to a medley, not even a recession could cut back certain traditions, like front-loading the evening with technical awards that slowed down the evening and tried the patience of even the most ardent movie buffs. “Less is more” is one lesson that Hollywood never learns.

BEST PICTURE
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“Frost/Nixon”
“Milk”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Winner)

BEST ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
Kate Winslet, “The Reader” (Winner)

BEST ACTOR
Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn, “Milk” (Winner)
Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, “Doubt”
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (Winner)
Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”
Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight” (Winner)
Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”

BEST DIRECTOR
Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire” (Winner)
Stephen Daldry, “The Reader”
David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”
Gus Van Sant, “Milk”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Dustin Lance Black, “Milk” (Winner)
Courtney Hunt, “Frozen River”
Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Martin McDonagh, “In Bruges”
Andrew Stanton, and Jim Reardon; original story by Stanton and Pete Docter”WALL-E”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire” (Winner)
David Hare, “The Reader”
Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”
John Patrick Shanley, “Doubt”
Eric Roth, Robin Swicord, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“The Baader-Meinhof Complex” (Germany)
“The Class” (France)
“Departures” (Japan) (Winner)
“Revanche” (Austria)
“Waltz with Bashir” (Israel)

BEST ANIMATED FILM
“Bolt”
“Kung Fu Panda”
“WALL-E” (Winner)

BEST ART DIRECTION
“Changeling”
“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” (Winner)
“The Dark Knight”
“The Duchess”
“Revolutionary Road”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
“Changeling” Tom Stern
“Slumdog Millionaire,” Anthony Dod Mantle (Winner)
“The Reader,” Chris Menges
“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,” Claudio Miranda
“The Dark Knight,” Wally Pfister

BEST FILM EDITING
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall
“The Dark Knight,” Lee Smith
“Frost/Nixon,” Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
“Milk,” Elliot Graham
“Slumdog Millionaire,” Chris Dickens (Winner)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
“Australia,” Catherine Martin
“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,” Jacqueline West
“The Duchess,” Michael O’Conner (Winner)
“Milk”, Danny Glicker
“Revolutionary Road,” Albert Wolsky

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
“Encounters at the End of the World”
“The Garden”
“Man on Wire” (Winner)
“Trouble the Water”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Jai Ho” (Winner)
“Slumdog Millionaire,” “O Saya”
“WALL-E,” “Down To Earth”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,” Alexandre Desplat
“Defiance,” James Newton Howard
“Milk,” Danny Elfman
“Slumdog Millionaire,” A.R. Rahman (Winner)
“WALL-E,” Thomas Newman

BEST MAKEUP
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,”(Winner)
“The Dark Knight,”
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army,”

BEST SOUND EDITING
“The Dark Knight”(Winner)
“Iron Man”
“Slumdog Millionaire”
“WALL-E”
“Wanted”

BEST SOUND MIXING
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Winner)
“WALL-E”
“Wanted”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Winner)
“The Dark Knight”
“Iron Man”

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
“Auf der Strecke (On the Line)”
“Manon on the Asphalt”
“New Boy”
“The Pig”
“Spielzeugland (Toyland)” (Winner)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“La Maison en Petits Cubes” (Winner)
“Lavatory – Lovestory”
“Oktapodi”
“Presto”
“This Way Up”

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM
“The Conscience of Nhem En”
“The Final Inch”
“Smile Pinki” (Winner)
“The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306”

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