As any Academy Awards fan knows, the ceremony itself is just as important as the whole gong-giving point of the evening.
As Oscars shows go, this year's gets a pass
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Did the presenters work? Was the chemistry there? Did the jokes raise a giggle? As any Academy Awards fan knows, the ceremony itself is just as important as the whole gong-giving point of the evening. And for the 83rd edition of Hollywood's Big Night Out, the two cheery faces doing the honours were the aesthetically pleasing, if rather youthful, duo of James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Given that the gruesome twosome charged with the honours last year were greying (Alec Baldwin) and never-not-been-grey (Steve Martin), it was clear that 2011 was the year of "let's appeal to the younger demographic".
Unfortunately, while the evening might have been a roaring for success for The King's Speech, it proved somewhat troublesome for its hosts. Academy autocue-read jokes are notoriously wooden in their delivery, but an experienced stand-up can usually get by on their own flair. Not so Franco, who seemed to mutter tiredly through his entire script with a knowing smirk, arms folded and one eyebrow raised. Hathaway was somewhat better, able to project a bit of oomph into her repertoire - which included a multitude of costume changes and a rather bizarre song directed at Hugh Jackman in the front row. But as a double act they were awkward. It seemed as if they'd just come back from a rather disappointing holiday together and urgently needed some time apart, but were forced to smile through their pain for one final evening.
In the end, it was down to guest presenters to provide the necessary spark. Giving another nod to the British contingent, Russell Brand and Helen Mirren provided a near flawless comedic interlude when introducing best foreign language film (Denmark's In a Better World), while Christian Bale gave an unexpectedly heartwarming acceptance speech, in which he offered a shout-out to former boxer Dicky Ekland, whom he portrayed in his Best Supporting Actor performance in The Fighter. In fact, with most trying to avoid doing a Paltrow, it was Bale who came the closest to blubbing.
But with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis offering further woodenness (Timberlake's "I'm Banksy" gag receiving only marginally more laughs than it deserved) and the autocue appearing to run particularly slowly during Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams's presentation, it was the oldies who stole the show back from the young upstarts, and not just in the general overlooking of The Social Network in the major award categories.
"The producers have told me that we're running a little long, so here's the best picture," joked Billy Crystal to an appreciative audience at least an hour before the end. Rumours that the Oscar-hosting favourite had been urgently airlifted in remain unconfirmed. Showing up the nippers even further, Crystal introduced a clever compilation of clips of the late Bob Hope who appeared to deliver a few of his classic Oscar gags before welcoming Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law on stage.
Colin Firth, ever the self-deprecating foppy British charmer, gave perhaps the best acceptance speech for his Best Actor, in which he thanked the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, "who first took me on 20 years ago, when I was a mere child sensation".
The organisers went perhaps a little too far when they decided to wheel out Kirk Douglas to present Best Supporting Actress to Melissa Leo for her role as the boxing mum in The Fighter. The 94-year-old hobbled on stage to string out his delivery well over the allotted time, spending much of this with his eyes fixed on the "gorgeous" Hathaway. Anyway, the audience seemed to find him far more amusing than Franco, so maybe it wasn't such a bad thing.
Leo was so overwhelmed by her win that she inadvertently carved herself a rather unfortunate place in Oscar history with her acceptance speech. Backstage, she apologised profusely for swearing, but truth be told, it is probably the moment that the ceremony will be remembered for in 10 years' time.
As ever, awards shows need music to keep the audience awake in between the special effects and sound-editing gongs. This year we had performances from the four Best Song nominees, including (yet another) cheery performance by Randy Newman for Toy Story 3, a slush-fest by Mandy Moore for Tangled, a rather ghostly affair by AR Rahman and Florence Welch for 127 Hours and Gwyneth Paltrow's off-key country warbler for Country Strong, in which she looked a little like she needed the bathroom. Quite rightly, Newman came away with the prize, but indicated that he was rather surprised, given the statistics. "I've had 20 nominations, but this is only my second win."
A minor musical interlude also came in the form of a bizarre mix of scenes from various films from the past 12 months, with Kanye West's favoured autotune used to provide the melody. Despite the weirdness, it was actually quite good, and far less clunky than some of the presenting.
By the end, the 83rd Academy Awards shuffled to the exit door in predictable fashion. There weren't any upsets by the likes of True Grit or The Social Network, and Franco and Hathaway weren't so awful that they'll never work again.
But next time, perhaps instead of grabbing a couple of attractive young guns with a few good films under their belts, go for a pair with a bit of tried and tested comedic expertise.
When collecting his Best Director award for The King's Speech, Tom Hooper pointed out that it was actually his mother who encouraged him to chase up the story of the stuttering monarch. "The moral of this story: listen to your mother," he said. James Franco's mother, to whom he gave a shout-out at the start, might well have advised her son to go to bed earlier.