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The 2009 Academy Awards have closed out the 2008 award season once and for all. And in an inspired move, actually ushered in the new year of movies by ending the show with a montage of 2009 releases. It was a departure somewhat from previous years as it appeared the Academy wanted to try some new things out, making the ceremony a bit more intimate while also possibly shortening its length (well the latter didn’t end up happening). I’ll say that production-wise, this was one of my favorite incarnations ever. It’s just a shame that the end result was also one of the most boring ones. For every new enhancement and slight variation came the realization that the end result was still long, still drawn out, and still very, very unsurprising. There were no upsets, no surprises, and ultimately it left the audience with a feeling of, “meh”. At least it did for this guy.

Some of the streamlining made me think that the organizers finally brainstormed from the shoes of someone watching at home. It was really as though they took a step back and asked the questions of how to make it all go smoother with less padding and frivolities. What follows are just some thoughts, upon reflecting the day after, about what worked and what didn’t, as well as those moments that stood out both for their fun factor and also for their holy crap that was horrible reactions.

• Why did I watch the pre-show? It was as horrible as always, showing famous people talk to famous people and gush unnecessarily. And please, next time, when you say “thank you” to the person you just interviewed for a total of two minutes, look at them and not the camera. How awkward for the celeb wondering if they should go, say thanks back, or just keep thinking “why am I here?”

• Kudos on the set design. It wasn’t about craziness and multiple focal points and how many different angles can we get out of this thing with massive structures everywhere. Instead, the audience seats were moved right to the front of the stage and positioned around the circular center so all the “big name” nominees were right in the thick of the action. It wasn’t about being formal and stuffy, but instead lent a bit of what works so well with the Golden Globes—a sense of comradery and friendship in a casual setting. And the minimal stage was a breath of fresh air.

Hugh Jackman does an admirable job. Whether he actually took any pointers from Ricky Gervais as rumored or not, he was most successful when singing and dancing and making a fool out of himself (yes, he even gave Barbara Walters a lapdance in her pre-taped preshow). The stand-up jokes fell flat, but his charisma and willingness to perform shined through better than a comedian just telling jokes. And the low-fi props were very fun.

• How great is it that they sat Mickey Rourke right next to Marisa Tomei? Just in case he won this one, at least he’d be able to look to his right and ask her name before getting onstage and forgetting like he did at the Independent Spirit Awards.

• What was up with Seymour Philip Hoffman’s skull-cap? … poor Alan Arkin.

• Rounding up past winners to wax poetic from a written script about how great the nominees are? Where are my film clips? I don’t care what some over-paid show writer has to say about the actors through another winner’s mouth, I want to see an example of their performance and why they deserve to be there.

Goldie Hawn looked horrible, sorry, she did … but at least she didn’t make me shudder as when Sophia Loren caught sight of the camera. I think she turned some people to stone. Whereas Freida Pinto looked radiant whenever the camera caught glimpse of her … right next to a psyched Dev Patel.

Penelope Cruz wins a deserved award (she was better in Volver) although Kate Winslet should have won for The Reader … more on that later.

Jack Black has a gem of a joke at Dreamworks’ expense … and then makes it better with a “YES!!!” when Wall-E wins.

Kunio Katô is my favorite self-deprecating human in the world when after saying thank you before each person to thank (read “sank you”) he says “domo arigato Mr. Roboto”. Sweetness for sure.

Ben Stiller has won me over completely now. I’ve never been a fan, but after Tropic Thunder, revisiting The Cable Guy, and now this timely impersonation of Joaquin Phoenix … I love him. If you missed the infamous Letterman interview …

Heath wins … I still believe he deserved it whether he was alive or not.

Will Smith drops an obscure, cultish Youtube clip reference when flubbing a line. I feel even more sorry for that unfortunate kid being forced to do a sports segment on live television. “Boom goes the dynamite” indeed.

• The music medley is a welcome reprieve from the overlong performances in years past. However, I do fully respect Peter Gabriel’s declining to perform unless he could do the whole song. There is something to be said about artistic integrity.

• Kate Winslet wins a long overdue Oscar … albeit for the wrong film. She should have won Best Supporting for The Reader, or at least if she was to win Best Actress it should have been Revolutionary Road. Anne Hathaway—you deserved it—maybe next time.

• Was it just me or did Robert Pattinson scare the crap out of you? His piercing stare made me want to turn the channel and his utter ambivalence seriously had me thinking he was hatching a plan to kill some people.

• I love Mickey and he would have been a great winner, but I’m not sad that Sean Penn took the trophy. The guy is good and his Harvey Milk was fantastic.

• And finally, after winning every other major award, Slumdog takes the top prize and ultimately 8 out of 10 awards it was nominated for. AR Rahman owned the soundtrack war with good reason and Danny Boyle should have won years ago for director as he hasn’t made a bad film yet. (I still haven’t seen Shallow Grave or The Beach, but I give him the benefit of the doubt every time.) Boyle’s genuine smile the entire night as all his friends won was the true highlight of the evening. Slumdog truly was movie of the year (at least among the nominees as it was the only one in my top ten of the five … where’s the love for The Fall?)

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photography:
Slumdog Millionaire film stills:
[1] L-R: Dev Patel and Freida Pinto. Photo Credit: Ishika Mohan
[2] L-R: Director Danny Boyle and Freida Pinto. Photo Credit: Ishika Mohan

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