Revamped Oscar broadcast a pleasant surprise

Mon Feb 23, 2009 8:49pm EST
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By Ray Richmond

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It turns out producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark weren't kidding when they promised to reinvent the broken Academy Awards ceremony.

On Sunday night, the "Dreamgirls" duo pulled off a heartfelt, elegant and stylish affair that played with uncommon flair over ABC.

One can quibble about the effectiveness of the production numbers but not the fact that this wasn't the same old Oscar song and dance.

The newfangled touches put the Oscarcast's focus back where it should be: on the nominees and winners rather than some thematic salute to yesteryear. The gambit of having a group of former winners pay homage to the acting nominees with singularly focused tributes should be made part of every Academy Awards going forward. The incorporation of classic clips into the best picture intro likewise proved impactful for its sheer simplicity.

And wonder of wonders, no one got played off of the stage by the orchestra.

There was a 1940s nightclub feel in the ambience and the shimmering rounded stage and a Broadway musical vibe that played to the strengths of first-time host Hugh Jackman, who seemed almost shockingly comfortable in the role.

Jackman eschewed a traditional monologue for a lighthearted opening production medley paying playful homage to the year's biggest films, which from what apparently played better in the room than on the tube -- where it came off awkward and forced. But Jackman found his sea legs to preside with his typical sprightly charm, faring better around the midway point with a spirited "The Musical Is Back" number beside a vivacious Beyonce.

A viewer also couldn't help but get caught up in the Bollywood-conquers-Hollywood electricity that enveloped the Kodak Theater with "Slumdog Millionaire's" wildly popular eight-victory explosion. It was also perhaps fitting that at a time when the Screen Actors Guild finds its contract talks imperiled, a film that featured no nominated actors from its cast would pull off such a haul.   Continued...

<p>Host Hugh Jackman performs his opening monologue during the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 22, 2009. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES)</p>