Let's Talk Oscars

James Franco Might Have Been Reluctantly Emceeing a Distant Cousin's Bat Mitzvah
All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 28 2011 10:37 AM

Let's Talk Oscars

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James Franco. Click image to expand.
Oscar host James Franco

Dear Troy,

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Remember when we agreed to reconvene here after the Oscars were over? That seems so long ago. I was younger then, carefree, and wore flowers in my hair. I don't know how you've held up since the ceremony, but around the time of Randy Newman's piano solo, I let go of the last shreds of my youth, and since the in-memoriam montage, I've been on the waiting list for a hip replacement surgery.

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Even as long, deadly, surprise-free awards ceremonies go, this one was impressive on all three counts. In the end, I didn't have to watch alone as I'd anticipated. A friend and fellow critic, Salon's Matt Zoller Seitz, came over and watched with me when his cable box went out at the last minute. And for once I'm grateful for Time Warner's substandard service. I couldn't have stayed awake without Matt's store of movie knowledge, way with a wisecrack, and judicious use of the Inception button. (OK, fine, by the end of the show he was hitting it every 30 seconds. But it was funny every time!)

James Franco and Anne Hathaway started out strong in that Inception-inspired opening montage that digitally inserted the hosting team into various Oscar-nominated movies. (Franco to Rooster Cogburn: "I loved you in Tron.") Like the rest of the pre-taped clip reels, that one was masterfully produced and edited—the insert shots did a great job at matching the color palette and film stock of each movie.

But as soon as the readymade segments gave way to live banter and, worse, audience interaction, Franco and Hathaway seemed increasingly flustered and remote, with no sense how to gauge a laugh or work a crowd. It was painfully possible to watch in real time as they realized the show was slipping away from them. Hathaway reacted by overcompensating, mugging and shimmying and shaking the gold fringe on her de la Renta gown as if to say: "Well, that exchange bombed. Look! Shiny fringe!" Franco did just the opposite, seeming to withdraw into himself as the show went on, growing flatter and more monotone until, by the end, he might have been reluctantly emceeing a distant cousin's bat mitzvah.

So complete was Franco's desistance from the co-hosting project that there was speculation around the Web as to whether he might have been partaking of a little of the Pineapple Express backstage. (You know, that strain of weed so rare that "smoking it is like killing a unicorn.") All I know is that at some point during what must have been a long, tedious and stressful night, Franco clearly decided, "I'm never doing this again, so it doesn't matter what anyone thinks." Unfortunately instead of loosening him up, this realization, herb-assisted or no, shut him down. He was like a one-term president dedicated to governing on the platform of Who Gives A Crap.

And irked as we might be at the hosting duo's lack of old-fashioned showbiz skills (made all the more evident by the spectral presence of Bob Hope, cracking jokes sharper than any line uttered last night), can you blame Franco for being bored? This was an Oscars that barely even gave lip service to the attempt to keep things short. The telecast ran over by nearly 40 minutes, and only a couple of speeches—by short-subject filmmakers, documentarians, and other non-Hollywood-bigwig schmoes—got played offstage by music.

Some winners, most notably supporting actress winner Melissa Leo, talked so long it started to get uncomfortable. "I'm speechless, I really am," Leo gushed as she took the mic, and, puzzlingly, it was true. With the virtual lock she had on this award, should she not have prepared some remarks in advance? The unintentional F-bomb was sort of cute ("Kate [Winslet] made this look so f**kin' easy two years ago"), but Leo's dizzy, disorganized ramble finally came off as ungracious, not toward her various agents and directors and co-stars—I think the woman may have thanked the Kodak Theater parking valet at some point—but toward the audience. That's great that Leo really wanted an Oscar and got one, but we really wanted an Oscar show. Do our needs count for nothing?

With the exception of best director—which The Kings' Speech's Tom Hooper unexpectedly yoinked from David Fincher's outstretched hands—the big awards were so foreordained, and the people who won them so maddeningly un-hateable, that this Oscars passed by in a fog of unobjectionable pleasantness. Colin Firth and Natalie Portman may not have been my choices to win in the best actor and actress categories—you know I like my Bening and my Eisenberg—but they couldn't have been classier and more charmingly modest at the podium. The lovely David Seidler, accepting for best original screenplay for The King's Speech, may have had the night's best moment when he represented on behalf of both former stutterers and 74-year-old first-time winners: "I believe I'm the oldest person ever to win this particular award. I hope this record is broken quickly and often."

A last, silly question: Did Christian Bale forget his wife's name? Or was that just a manly attempt not to get choked up with emotion when he uttered it? If Bale hadn't been caught on audio going ballistic on that crew member, I'm sure something so heinous would never occur to me, but didn't it seem for a moment as if he was grasping for the name? The pause before he finally (I think) mumbled it was long enough to Google and prompt: Sibi Blazic, Chris! The person who stood behind you in the Seacrest interview—and bore you a child—is Sibi Blazic!

Troy, what about you? What moments stood out enough to be visible through the gauzy haze of respectable good taste?

Too tired to remember my own name,

Sibi Blazic