Oscars 2011: Wait ’til next year

Once again this year we were told that the Academy Awards were going to be new and different and better. And we will probably hear that again next year.

Anne Hathaway shows off her fringe dress onstage at the Oscars with co-host James Franco. (c) AP Photo by Mark J. Terrill.

Anne Hathaway shows off her fringe dress onstage at the Oscars with co-host James Franco. (c) AP Photo by Mark J. Terrill.

We can say this for the 2011 Academy Awards: They clocked in at 3 hours and 10 minutes, if you don’t count the 30 minute preshow, and finished well before midnight. That’s something we’d been saying we wanted from the granddaddy of award shows for decades.

This year producers brought in a couple young actors, Anne Hathaway (28) and James Franco (32), as opposed to older comedians, to help make this feel less like your granddaddy’s award show. This did produce some diminution of expectations. While we expect Jon Stewart or Ellen DeGeneres to crack us up, we really didn’t know what to expect from two people we are much more used to seeing on film.

That’s how they started, with a filmed bit based on best picture nominee Inception with Franco and Hathaway popping into best picture nominees guided by Alec Baldwin – the first of several reminders of more successful hosting outings past.

Then they moved into a fairly typical hosting routine, Franco mostly looking smug and Hathaway seeming really, really excited to be there. They had some moments. After The Fighter‘s Melissa Leo dropped the F-bomb during he acceptance speech for best supporting actress, Hathaway quipped, “I thought F was for ‘Fighter.'” And at the end of Hathaway’s production number about how she didn’t have a production number with Hugh Jackman, Franco came out dressed like Marilyn Monroe and quipped that Charlie Sheen had already texted him, the best of many Sheen jokes I’ve heard this year.

Funny thing was, for a production that was supposedly trying to appeal to younger viewers, there seemed to be a strange preoccupation with the wayback machine, including a segment about longtime Oscars host Bob Hope, who set the standard for Oscar hosts.

Hathaway and Franco weren’t great, but they avoided awful and really can’t be blamed for what was a plodding three hours and small change. Oscar is simply a ceremony with a lot to do, and there’s little suspense.

In a way you have to admire an award show that is committed to giving out most of its prizes on the national broadcast, even technical and smaller film categories that are mysteries to most viewers. But they sure do stretch the night, and numerous shows like the Grammys only hand out a few awards on their broadcasts.

The bigger thing is suspense. No awards show is preceded by the long string of preliminary awards that make the outcome of the Oscars pretty much a foregone conclusion. The only surprise last night was relatively minor: The King’s Speech‘s Tom Hooper getting best director when many thought The Social Network‘s David Fincher would get it, creating a rare best picture-best director split. But things went off as normal.

Oscar already made one time change, moving up to February from March, when it seemed to come awfully late. Maybe the Academy might want to make another move, up ahead some of the guilds and other awards so that it can be more of leader and less of a follower.

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