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Oscars the Morning After: What Sucked and What Didn't?

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Slumdog Millionaire swept the Oscars with 8 wins. Who predicted that? Practically everyone.

Photo: Merritt/Getty

Kate Winslet won Best Actress for The Reader, just like the cover of Time magazine insisted she would do three days earlier. The arrogant stunt almost made me root for her to lose. Heath Ledger of The Dark Knight became the second actor in history to win an Oscar after his death (following Peter Finch for 1976's Network). No surprise there. There would have been a riot if he didn't.

You get my point. Shock and awe were noticeably absent from last night's Oscarcast, except maybe for the cult of Mickey -- The Wrestler nominee for Best Actor had recently mourned the death of his beloved chihuahua Loki. The cultists wanted to see Comeback Kid Rourke leave fellow nominee (and winner) Sean Penn crying over spilt Milk. My fave comment around the Rolling Stone office went: "The Academy just spit on Loki's grave!"

My, my. So the talk today centers not on who won or lost but the show, produced by the Dreamgirls team of Bill Condon and Larry Mark. How the hell was it? My reaction was like and loathe.

Photo: Winter/Getty

I liked Hugh Jackman as host, especially in the opening number when he did a love duet as David Frost to Anne Hathaway's Richard Nixon.

I loathed the big centerpiece production number, chaotically choreographed by Jackman's Australia director Baz Luhrmann, in which Hugh and Beyonce sang a mishmash medley of movie songs that combined West Side Story with Jesus Christ Superstar. And the addition of High School Musical stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, plus Mamma Mia! lovers Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper, felt like a major beg for the youth audience (watch us, please!). Big mistake. Any smart kid past puberty would bolt for the exits.

I liked the idea of having former Oscar winners come on stage and talk directly to a 2009 acting nominee. I have never seen Robert De Niro more relaxed, funny and genuine than he was referring to his pal Sean Penn ("How did he do it? How, for so many years, did Sean Penn get all those straight roles?") And a laser-eyed Shirley MacLaine was refreshingly blunt giving a cheer to the potential of Rachel Getting Married nominee Anne Hathaway. It didn't all work. Nicole Kidman's tribute to Changeling nominee Angelina Jolie had the feel of a cattle prod. But still, a good idea to keep and nurture.

I loathed the fact that last year's acting winners, Daniel Dy Lewis (There Will Be Blood) and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) couldn't interrupt their schedules to be there and pass the torch the way 2008 winners Marion Cotillard (Le Vie en Rose) and Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) did in their categories.

Photo: Winter/Getty

I liked the elegant wit Steve Martin and Tina Fey brought to their roles as presenters of the writing awards. "It has been said that to write is to live forever," said Fey. Countered Martin: "The man who said that is dead." Even better was the way Martin caught Fey glancing at him as he spoke. "Do NOT fall in love with me," he warned. Someone get these two a movie.

I loathed the presenter pairing that put Jennifer Aniston (with Jack Black) directly in front of nominees Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and then had the camera act all coy about catching the Brangelina reactions, except for a quick glimpse of Jolie faking a smile. It was a peekaboo setup designed to make us all feel guilty for looking.

I liked (make that loved) the Judd Apatow-produced bit showing Pineapple Express stoners James Franco and Seth Rogen watching dead-serious fare (The Reader, Doubt) and laughing like hyenas. Also, the erotic charge they felt looking at Franco and Penn make out in Milk. Best of all was Franco mistaking The Love Guru for Slumdog Millionaire. Who said satire died at the Oscars?

I loathed the other clip jobs -- action, romance, etc -- that slowed down the show to a crawl. And for what purpose? To highlight hit movies that audiences loved and the Academy ignored? And the inserts of classic clips from the likes of Casablanca and 12 Angry Men into the final montage of Best Picture nominees was not only confusing but a major insult to the new movies. What, they weren't good enough, even on their Big Night?

I laughed out loud at Ben Stiller's impersonation of a bearded, zonked-out Joaquin Phoenix.

I laughed not at all at Eddie Murphy's humorless, graceless presentation of a humanitarian award to Jerry Lewis, whose masterwork -- The Nutty Professor -- Murphy ripped off and called an hommage.

I liked the spontaneous moment when Philippe Petit, whose Man On Wire took the documentary prize, balanced the Oscar on his chin.

I loathed the setup of having Cuba Gooding, Jr. introduce Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance in Tropic Thunder, turning Downey's brilliant turn as an Aussie playing a black soldier into a cheap race joke.

I liked, for Best Acceptance Speech, Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black movingly telling us why he took the film personally; Supporting Actress winner Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) asking "has anyone ever fainted up here?"; director winner Danny Boyle unable to contain his joy over the Slumdog sweep; and especially actor winner Sean Penn thanking "the Commie-and-homo-loving sons of guns" who voted him in and berating those who passed Prop 8 in California and banned gay marriage. How do you not give props to an actor who admits, "I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me."

I loathed the Mickey sore losers who have so little faith in Rourke that they think The Wrestler is his last chance to win an Oscar. Have faith, people.

OK, enough of me. I give the show high marks as a whole, and the overnights suggest the ratings are marginally up. What were the moments on last night's Oscarcast that you'll want to remember or will work hard to forget? Let me know at asktravers@rollingstone.com.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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