Was it just me, or were the Oscars like the longest episode of "American Idol" ever? First, Ryan Seacrest interviewed all the contestants—oops, make that nominees—on the red carpet. Then, the stage was suspiciously similar to the circular "Idol" platform, and the live show began with a musical number from host Hugh Jackman. The first winner was announced by a panel, though unfortunately Paula Abdul wasn't on it. And at some point in the evening, Jackman appeared with Beyonce, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens to cover a strange assortment of Broadway tunes.
That latter number was awfully schizophrenic, and it only made sense when we learned that it was directed by the king of excess himself, Baz Luhrmann. The flashy, uneven choreography summed up the entire evening. This year was the Academy's biggest push to make the Oscars young and more relevant. Too bad they failed, even worse than when they tapped Jon Stewart as host. Throughout the telecast, my BlackBerry buzzed with messages from friends, all in their 20s, about how un-hip and un-young and unwatchable the Oscars felt.
It's not the Academy's fault the show was so predictable—nothing could stop "Slumdog Millionaire"'s unstoppable march to victory. At the same time, what the heck was going on onstage? It felt as though MTV executives tried to hatch a new Oscars, with two strange parents: the old Oscars and the Tonys. Needless to say, the result was a weird-looking baby.
Without further ado, let's get rid of the envelopes, please. Here are the eight strangest moments of the strangest Oscars of all time.
1. The Academy promised us this year that the show would finally come in at three hours, and it was only 30 minutes over. The problem is, it felt twice as long. For some crazy reason, the Academy did away with showing clips of all the acting nominees, even though it's a high point, a way of comparing the performances to each other. Instead, what we got was the ghosts of Christmas past.
Each acting category was announced not by one, not by two, not by three, not by four, but by five (five!) presenters. And they weren't just any presenters, but old winners in each category, some of whom seemingly haven't been seen in public for decades. So for Best Supporting Actress, we were treated to appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Tilda Swinton, Goldie Hawn, Eva Marie Saint and Anjelica Huston. Having such different, and differently dressed, actresses all onstage at the same time eulogizing—because that's really what it felt like—the nominees was so distracting, it was hard to focus on the eventual winner, Penelope Cruz (who ended her speech in Spanish, completing the weird dream sequence).
2. The pairings of presenters are always weird, but nothing topped the weirdness of Jennifer Aniston appearing onstage with Jack Black, Angelina Jolie's "Kung Fu Panda" pal. Then, as if Aniston's this-isn't-awkward teleprompter reading wasn't awkward enough, the camera panned to her ex Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, looking up at Aniston, who had come to the Oscars with John Mayer.
3. Hugh Jackman is a pretty charming guy, but the material didn't live up to his talents as a host. His opening song number, where he re-enacted some of the nominated movies, felt like high school musical theater (except for the moment when he brought Anne Hathaway onstage for a "Frost/Nixon" routine). And the big Beyonce number really did seem to be stolen from "American Idol," with Efron, Hudgens and the kids nobody knows from "Mamma Mia" all crooning their hearts out.
4. Anybody who tuned in to the Oscars in the middle of the Best Song numbers might have thought they were watching the Bollywood channel by mistake. The Academy somehow nominated two songs from "Slumdog Millionaire"—instead of, you know, that one great song by Bruce Springsteen from "The Wrestler." Clumping the two together in a performance (along with a song from "Wall-E") didn't help distinguish them.
5. Usually, the montage of the dead is backed by sad instrumental music (and swells of applause). This year, it was backed by Queen Latifah in a full blue gown singing "I'll Be Seeing You." As if that weren't over-the-top enough, the stage had more TV screens than a Best Buy, and each set showed a different image. It was like trying to watch an amateur YouTube clip.
6. Remember criticism No. 1? Things got even stranger in the Best Actress category when Sophia Loren tried (the key word being "tried") to pay tribute to Meryl Streep. Streep's what-the-heck-are-you-saying reaction was priceless.
7. Were the people backstage who were in charge of making things happen onstage asleep? At one point, the curtain didn't open. And when Reese Witherspoon was talking about Best Director, the video clip started early, startling even her.
8. Why were there so many old movie clips spliced into the five clips for Best Picture? Given that so few people actually saw the movies nominated this year, how many viewers caught that "Lost in Translation" wasn't "The Reader"?
Still, I'd like to thank the Academy for at least one classic moment—when James Franco and Seth Rogen belted out "Mamma Mia" while watching their Academy screeners in a clever prerecorded video. Maybe they should host next year.