Everything about the ceremony was designed as a repudiation of last year's recession-tainted show.

The Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night was one enormous Hollywood stimulus package. Not one host but two, 10 best picture nominations instead of five, two tributes to dead film luminaries and even an unexplained homage to the horror film, a genre that is very much alive. (Of course, the costly Avatar, with the biggest worldwide grosses of all time, was the ultimate public works project: WPA in 3D.)

As with Washington, there was some waste and abuse, notably the opening dance number — Neil Patrick Harris and a troupe of Las Vegas-style dancers — that was meant to suggest opulent old-fashioned showbiz-as-usual, and mostly tested the clock and attention spans. As hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did an updated Catskills routine, but were at their best when snubbing George Clooney and mocking the most distinguished nominees. “Oh look, there's that damn Helen Mirren,” Mr. Martin said, pointing at the audience. “That's Dame Helen Mirren,” Mr. Baldwin explained.

Mostly, everything about the night was designed as a repudiation of last year's recession-tainted show, which cut back on film clips and featured Hugh Jackman as a one-man singing, dancing, announcing buddy-can-you-spare-a-dime master of ceremonies. This was a supersized celebration of film — an effort to crown crowd-pleasing blockbusters as well as art-house favourites — anything to speed up the recovery.

Anything less than success would be a particularly stinging failure for ABC. Despite, or more likely because of, the atomisation of entertainment via cable, the Internet and web sites and social media like YouTube and Twitter, so called event television has new allure. Ratings for the Olympics, the Super Bowl and even other awards shows like the Grammys were up this year. The Oscars should receive a similar boost. But the producers did not make it easy for the audience. For all the talk of cutting back on technical awards to show snippets of all 10 nominated films, there was a highlight reel from the governors' awards dinner and even a quick glimpse of the science and technical awards ceremony.

All that put winners under stricter-than-usual limits for acceptance speeches. (Christoph Waltz, who spoke four languages in Inglourious Basterds and won the best supporting actor award, barely had time to thank colleagues in one of them.) The 45-second brevity rule not only cut back on lists of names, but it also pushed out false modesty and weepy humility. Mo'Nique, dry-eyed and feisty as she accepted her supporting actress Oscar for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire, praised the academy for showing “that it can be about the performance and not the politics”, and thanked Hattie McDaniel and her lawyer. Sandy Powell, who won her third costume design Oscar, this time for The Young Victoria, was downright saucy, saying drily, “I already have two of these.”

Young Hollywood was represented by the likes of Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron, as well as a lyrical break-dancers' ballet that was anything but hip. Those gestures to youth were mostly lip-service; everything about the evening, from the monochromatic chiffon ball gowns to the skits and loving evocations of Hollywood classics, was veined with nostalgia.

There was a mournful elegy — James Taylor sang “In My Life” by the Beatles — to stars who died in 2009, from Jean Simmons to Brittany Murphy. The director John Hughes got his own separate tribute that reunited onstage stars of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club with those from other Hughes teen movies: a Denny's Grand Slam version of The Breakfast Club.

And all of that was preceded by Barbara Walters' valedictory pre-Oscar special. The special, ending a tradition that stretches back almost 30 years, was mostly a misty look at an era before Access Hollywood, TMZ and celebrity Twitter pages when movie stars were so distant and elusive that a pre-Oscar interview was considered “special”.

Ms. Walters proved that she had mastered the art of rapid extraction, taking only minutes to coax out of Mo'Nique details about incest, adultery (not a “deal-breaker”) and why she doesn't shave her legs. That left room for a montage of clips of everyone she has interviewed, including an aged Bette Davis (“I am just too much”), Audrey Hepburn, Cher, Robert Mitchum, Tom Cruise, Liz Taylor, John Travolta and many others). Sandra Bullock was clowning around when she turned the tables and asked her interviewer what she would like to have in five years that she doesn't have now. She looked taken aback when Walters replied, “Time”.

The Oscars were fine, but they would have been better if they had taken up a little less of it. - New York Times News Service

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