80th Annual Academy Awards

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Sunday, Feb. 24, 5:30-8:45 p.m.
ABC

NEW YORK -- The short prep time for this year's Oscars was easily discernible during a broadcast that was heavy on clip montages and videotaped recollections from former winners and light on, uh, the awards.

Somehow, the producers failed to notice that the best moments in those endless montages came from memorable acceptance speeches. Instead, they were in such a rush to get winners off the stage that at one point host Jon Stewart was forced to drag one of them back (Marketa Irglova, co-composer of the song "Falling Slowly" from "Once") to deliver her remarks.

In his second hosting gig, Stewart was relaxed and funny, even if his opening monologue was more notable for its brevity than its one-liners. Only gently touching on the political humor that is his stock in trade, he scored later with several amusing ad-libs. "That guy is so arrogant!" he complained about modest "Once" composer Glen Hansard. He did come perilously close to "Uma ... Oprah" territory, however, with such bits as his tally of the pregnant stars in attendance.

As usual, it was the speeches, not the strained best original song production numbers (mostly from Disney's "Enchanted"), that provided the evening with its highlights. There was Javier Bardem's addressing his mother in Spanish and Tilda Swinton's comparing the statue's buttocks to those of her agent. Also noteworthy were Marion Cotillard's cry of "Thank you, life! Thank you, love!" and the always eloquent Daniel Day-Lewis describing the award as the "handsomest bludgeon in town." And it was worth sitting through all three-and-a-quarter hours just to hear Helen Mirren's elegant pronunciation of the word cojones.

With its endless profusion of clips from past shows, the evening came close to resembling what it would have been if the writers strike had not ended. There were times when the writers definitely seemed to be going through the motions, as evidenced by intros like "The versatile and handsome Patrick Dempsey!"

It took 98-year-old production designer Robert Boyle to show the youngsters how it's done. He accepted his lifetime achievement award with a moving grace and dignity even while casually mentioning former collaborators like "Hitch." The audience members who spent much of the evening exposed to the likes of Miley Cyrus clearly were enraptured.

Another nice moment came with a taped presentation of several soldiers stationed in Iraq reading the nominees for the documentary short award.

It was a measure of the evening's low-key impact that the biggest suspense came not from the outcome of the awards but from wondering which star was going to fall on his or her face from a slippery spot near the podium. It nearly undid Colin Farrell and John Travolta.

THE 80TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
ABC
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Credits:
Producer: Gilbert Cates
Associate producer: Michael B. Seligman
Director: Louis J. Horvitz
Writers: Bruce Vilanch, Jon Macks, Hal Kanter, Buz Kohan
Production designer: Roy Christopher
Music director: Bill Conti
Lighting designer: Robert A. Dickinson
Host: Jon Stewart
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