By mattdentler | Matt Dentler's Blog February 23, 2009 at 9:42AM
I thought this year's Oscar ceremony was a good one. Brisk, entertaining, and imaginative. However, the list of winners wasn't all that surprising. At my viewing party in West Hollywood, some of us wondered the last time a series of Oscar winners had been so predictable. When The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King swept its way to 11 awards? Possibly. I'm ecstatic that Slumdog Millionaire won eight trophies, including the Best Picture honor. Not only because I think it's the best film nominated in many of its categories, but it's also just a joy to see the thrilled and passionate cast/crew onstage together. I think it's deserving that Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight, and also nice to see Kate Win-slet finally Win-some (even if she's more deserving for Revolutionary Road instead of The Reader). Of course, an Anne Hathaway upset could have been interesting. Same goes for Penelope Cruz's win from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, saw that coming a mile away. Cruz was stellar, but an Amy Adams or Viola Davis shocker could have spiced things up.
Sean Penn's win for Best Actor, from Milk, reflects what was the year's best leading male performance. Penn was magnificent as Harvey Milk, but even I started to dream of a Mickey Rourke win, just because of the sheer spectacle Rourke has given us throughout awards season. Penn earned the Oscar, but a Rourke win could've been sweet, as it's unlikely the Wrestler star will find a chance back at the Kodak Theater anytime soon. As expected, Man On Wire won Best Documentary Feature, and the rest of the winners were non-surprises, save for Japan's Departures as the Foreign Language Oscar recipient. That film, which still awaits a US release from Regent Releasing, bested frontrunners Waltz With Bashir (Israel) and The Class (France). Over the weekend, some of us remarked that Waltz and Class may either split the vote, or be too avant garde for the conservative Foreign Language voters. It seems the latter may have been the case.
A lack of winner surprises aside, the show itself was a welcome change. The format was flipped in some smart ways, including the consolidation of various categories in an effort to trim fat and time. The show moved in a way it hasn't for years, perhaps best exemplified when host Hugh Jackman remarked that exiting Academy president Sid Ganis would give a departing gift by not slowing down the ceremony with his usual obligatory speech. At first I was a little worried about the new technique in which the acting awards were presented by having past winners describe each nominee. After the first couple of times, I got over it, and welcomed it. There's something undeniably sweet about having a new actor welcomed with open arms by fellow Oscar winners, especially in the case of Winslet.
Also, the show was funny, easily funnier than I was fearing. Hugh Jackman didn't try to become a comedian, he just made smart-ass quips and peppered humor in his song-and-dance numbers. Plus, the Seth Rogen/James Franco video bit was hilarious. And, many presenters didn't hold back from stealing moments of the show. Ben Stiller delivered a wicked Joaquin Phoenix impression, Jack Black threw in some sharp jabs, and Steve Martin redeemed his disappointing gig as former Oscar host with a terrific back-and-forth involving Tina Fey. The ceremony's host may be the first non-comic in a while (and only the 2nd non-comic host in 30 years), but the comedy quotient didn't suffer.