Jackson, changes did trick

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Producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark weren't kidding when they promised to reinvent the Academy Awards ceremony and thereby mend a broken and repetitive show that very much needed fixing. On Sunday they did just that, pulling off a heartfelt, elegant and stylish affair that played with uncommon flair on ABC.

One can quibble over the effectiveness of the production numbers but not the fact that this wasn't the same old Oscar song and dance — and the franchise is undeniably the better for it.

Overall, the new touches were a success because they put the Oscarcast's focus back where it should be: on the nominees and winners rather than some thematic salute to yesteryear. The gambit of having former winners pay homage to the acting nominees with singularly focused tributes to the performers and their roles was so warm and engaging it should be made part of every Academy Awards going forward. Incorporating classic clips into the best picture intro likewise found impact in its simplicity.

And wonder of wonders, no one got played off the stage by the orchestra.

There was a 1940s nightclub feel in the ambience and the shimmering rounded stage and a Broadway musical vibe that played to the strengths of first-time host Hugh Jackman, who seemed almost shockingly comfortable in the role.

Jackman eschewed a traditional monologue for a lighthearted opening production medley paying playful homage to the year's biggest films, which, from what I understand, played better in the room than on the tube, where it came off awkward and forced. But Jackman found his sea legs to preside with his typical sprightly charm, faring better with a spirited "The Musical Is Back" number beside a vivacious Beyonce around the midway point.

There were few gaffes in the telecast and substantially less of the usual stilted wisecracking among presenters — and in fact, far fewer presenters. It was a novel format that gave the proceedings less a feel of a teleprompter-fueled revolving door.

Sean Penn and Kate Winslet gave stirring acceptance speeches as well, though Penn's began a bit painfully with his blurting, "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns" while holding his golden guy aloft.

Indeed, it was the kind of night when the winners were treated like winners rather than motorists whose parking meters are about to expire. And for a change, the audience didn't feel cheated. (partialdiff)
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