People who watched the Oscars got a special treat Sunday evening as Hugh Jackman delivered an impressive performance as host of the 81st Annual Academy Awards ceremony. The handsome Aussie commanded your attention and one barely noticed that the show was nearly four hours long. As the Oscars always provide many memorable moments (and how can the show not, being so saturated with talent and ego?), both good and bad, it would be remiss of those of us who watched the gala affair not to share the highlights. Since this is a year for championing the upbeat, this review will only delve into the favorable highlights.
By far the best thing about the 81st Annual Academy Awards show was its host. All 6 feet and 2 inches of Hugh Jackman danced, sang, joked and emceed its way to an assured Emmy Award nod, if not a win. Most people know Jackman as the high-strung Wolverine from the “X-Men” movies, but Hugh Jackman is a most talented stage actor as well, having won a Tony Award for his performance as the gifted songwriter and showman, Peter Allen, in “The Boy From Oz” in 2004. The proof was in the performance, because Hugh Jackman’s two musical numbers, the “economically challenged” spoof of the five Best Picture nominees – and himself as People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive — and the tribute to musicals (along with the beautiful Beyonce Knowles), were very well done.
The most impressive part of Hugh Jackman’s performance? At the end of the opening number, having donned huge white arm bands and climbed atop a prop built to look like a wrestling ring (he was spoofing Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”), Jackman proclaimed, in song no less, “I’m Wolverine!” What is most impressive about that is that he made the entire intro into a self-deprecating promo for his upcoming movie, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Shamelessly amusing – and it worked.
One of the best moments in the spoof occurred when Jackman descended from the stage, got down on one knee in front of Kate Winslet (nominated and winner of Best Actress for the Best Picture-nominated “The Reader”) and sang, “I would swim a sea of human excrement.” If only Leonardo Di Caprio had sang those lines in “Titanic.”
The one thing you take away from Hugh Jackman’s performance, other than you have been just totally entertained, is that as precise and impeccable as his performance might have been, there rings a bit of self-effacement about the man. At times during both his numbers, Jackman simply laughed at himself or the lines he delivered. You just got to love a guy who can laugh at himself.
The best presenters of the night were the dynamic duo of Tina Fey and Steve Martin, who walked out on stage and stood aside while their own voices did voice-overs, reading from a script that typed itself on a huge backdrop. They presented the awards for best screenplays which went to Dustin Lance Black for “Milk” for Best Original Screenplay and to Simon Beaufoy for “Slumdog Millionaire” for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The best scene-stealer (Stiller?) moment of the Academy Awards show went hands down (chewing gum down?) to comedian Ben Stiller’s imitation of Joaquin Phoenix’s outrageous appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Stiller, face ensconced in beard and sunglasses, did an hilarious impression of Phoenix and his aloof, depressed monotone. Portman asked him what was going on and Stiller said he was thinking of giving up the comedian thing. Following the Letterman, script Natalie Portman asked him what he would do and he sighed, “I don’t know… cinematography.” And while the gorgeous Natalie Portman read from the teleprompter for the presentation of the award for Best Cinematography, cameramen at the ceremony wisely pulled back to include Ben Stiller when audience laughter erupted (for there was absolutely nothing amusing about Portman’s lines or what was being shown on the backdrop). Ben Stiller, hands clasped before him and shoulders slumped, had walked off toward the huge backdrop and was craning his neck up at the big picture…
The Best Cinematography Academy Award went to Anthony Dod Mantle for “Slumdog Millionaire.”
There were two great acceptance speeches at the 2009 Academy Awards. Penelope Cruz, after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” gave a heartfelt statement: “I grew up in a place called Alcobendas, where this was not a very realistic dream. And always on the night of the Academy Awards, I stayed up to watch the show and I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world because art in any form is and has been and will always be our universal language and we should do everything we can to protect its survival.”
Sean Penn, when he accepted his award for Best Actor for “Milk,” chose a placating politically incorrect route that had the audience laughing. “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns. I did not expect this, and I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often.” But Sean Penn made it to the stage and back to his seat without hitting a cameraman, so it all worked out. Got to give the guy some credit.
The Oscars are an annual parade of what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deem as the preceding year’s best films. “Slumdog Millionaire,” a feelgood story set in one of the world’s most impoverished areas (Mumbai, India) won the night, taking home eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Given the general predictability of many of the awards and the decline in viewership over the last few years, the ceremony’s producers attempted to add to the anticipation by not announcing presenters, letting “leak” that Beyonce Knowles “might” do a duet with Hugh Jackman, and that Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron of “High School Musical” “might” appear on the show as well. Whether it raised the ratings or not remains to be seen. But if one missed last night’s show, which was far superior to the last several, one missed an excellent production. And the Academy should seriously consider inviting Wolverine back to promote himself next year.
It was mentioned that Hugh Jackman delivered an impressive performance?
“81st Annual Academy Awards,” ABC TelevisionIMDb.com