For all the fishtail evening gowns, famous faces and European-accented acceptance speeches, it was an intimate evening at the Kodak. "The fight is over," host Jon Stewart said, referring to the recently settled writers strike that threatened to derail the Oscars, "so tonight, welcome to the make-up sex."
More like make-up back rub. Playing it cool and loose, Stewart mugged with his iPhone, played a little Wii tennis and did everything but pour Jack Nicholson a beer to make everyone feel at home. He razzed the regal (and very pregnant) Cate Blanchett, pointing out that the actress played Queen Elizabeth, Bob Dylan and . . . a pitbull in "No Country for Old Men." "In fact," he continued, "I, Jon Stewart, am being played by Cate Blanchett."
More surprising, when best song winner Marketa Irglova got played off before she could thank anyone, Stewart brought her back on so she could give her speech.
All the film clips and montages of past winners seemed left over from Plan B (what the show would have looked like had the writers strike continued), causing the 80th Academy Awards to look and feel weirdly as much like an Oscar BYOB as an Oscar ceremony. Katherine Heigl's case of stage fright when delivering the award for makeup; Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard's obvious astonishment upon winning, even Cameron Diaz's snappy comeback from her mispronunciation of cinematographer ("Oh, I can do this," she said with a sassy head toss) all lent a we're-all-in-this-together air, which seemed eminently appropriate given the circumstances.
With this intentional blur between the traditional and the proletariat -- Miley Cyrus was a radiant and professional presenter and the Rock wasn't bad either -- producer Gilbert Cates was clearly trying to offset the tiny audience of most of the big nominees, and he succeeded as best he could. It didn't hurt that the musical numbers were bright and fun enough to balance out the grim themes that dominated most of the best pcture nominees. But it must be noted that Amy Adams may be eligible for a Medal of Honor; singing "A Happy Little Working Song" in front of all those movie stars without the support of her cockroach, rat and pigeon kickline was one of the bravest acts I personally have ever witnessed.
All said, there weren't a whole lot of surprises, although it is the rare television event that combines an actual Cormac McCarthy sighting with tumbling utility works and Bavarian dancers. The "Oscar Salute to Binoculars and Periscopes" (a sample of what we would have been treated to had the writers strike not ended) was funny, Jerry Seinfeld's presenting as his animated character Barry Bee was not and Stewart dipped dangerously close to Uma/Oprah territory with his references to several pregnant actresses and, of course, Nicholson. (The actual joke does not bear repeating.) The Coen brothers are just as strange as they are reported to be, although their speeches were oddly comforting in their brevity.
Those who feel that the academy has grown too precious and snobby in its nominations can take comfort in the fact that "The Bourne Ultimatum" came in second for number of awards--"No Country for Old Men" won four (albeit big ones, like best picture), but "Bourne" won three and sound editing and mixing are important, too.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times