The Oscars almost didn't happen this year, because of the writers' strike—and the strike still managed to cast a shadow over the show. The 80th annual Oscars was one of the most uneven (and uneventful) telecasts in recent memory. Actually, it felt as if it had been slapped together in just a few days, and it probably was. At one point host Jon Stewart suggested, half jokingly and half apologetically, that the night was full of so many montages because they didn't have time to prepare anything else. The old footage almost outweighed the new: there was a clip reel of every single Best Picture winner, recent Best Directors, Actors, Actresses. There was even a taped segment about how Oscar nominees were selected that played like a lesson from "Schoolhouse Rock" without the music.
Though there were several songs at the Oscars—three of them were from the movie "Enchanted," and the Academy unwisely dragged out each performance separately instead of grouping them together—the night was still a rather tuneless affair. "No Country for Old Men" picked up four wins, including Best Picture, Director (for Joel and Ethan Coen), Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor (Spanish actor Javier Bardem). Curiously enough, all the other acting winners were foreign too. Daniel Day-Lewis (British) won Best Actor for "There Will Be Blood." Marion Cotillard (from France) took home Best Actress for "La Vie en Rose." And Tilda Swinton (born in London to Australian-Scottish parents) was the semisurprise Best Supporting Actress winner for "Michael Clayton," beating the sentimental favorite (and American) Ruby Dee, from "American Gangster."
But the Oscars are never just about winners or losers. They are about stars, and this year's ceremony was sorely lacking in that department. The biggest presenters of the night—Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson—seemed to outshine the nominees, many of whom weren't even household names until this year (except George Clooney). The speeches also seemed oddly subdued—and cut short. Is it because foreigners aren't as self-congratulatory as Americans? It didn't help that we saw old clips of Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, Adrien Brody, etc., all accepting their Oscars, reminding us of the shortage of defining O moments in this year's show.
Stewart, who received lukewarm reviews for hosting the Oscars in 2006, didn't seem to up his game. Or even try. He opened the show with a tame sequence of jokes, which gently mocked a few politicians (McCain, Hillary) instead of anyone in the audience. (His best joke of the night: he described the movie "Away From Her" as a drama about a woman with Alzheimer's who forgets her husband. "Hillary Clinton called it the feel-good movie of the year," Stewart said.) But most of his punchlines seemed small—like a countdown of all the pregnant actresses in attendance (the winner: Angelina Jolie, who—ha!—wasn't even there)—and forgettable, more appropriate for "Saturday Night Live" than Hollywood's biggest gala of the year. And he didn't seem to loosen up until the show was three-quarters over, when he invited the winner for Best Song, Marketa Irglova from "Once," back onstage to give her speech after the orchestra prematurely cut her off. When she left, he related a backstage conversation he had overheard about two Oscar statues kissing. Yeah, it was cute. But if the Academy doesn't find new ways to revive the Oscars, it might not feel any love again for a long time.