HOLLYWOOD – Oscars organizers had touted this year’s show as more youth-friendly, aiming to draw younger funkier movie-goers into the time-worn Academy Award experience — but the initial reaction was skeptical.
Sunday’s co-presenters James Franco and Anne Hathaway made a joke reference to the youth-chasing aim within minutes of the start: Franco called her hip, to which she replied: “You look very appealing to a younger demographic as well.”
But critics were scathing in early online comments after the show awarded top honors to British historical drama “The King’s Speech”, which some noted is a finely-made film but hardly cutting edge.
“Despite the many worthy nominated films, the Oscar (tele)cast was painfully dull, slow, witless, and hosted by the ill-matched James Franco and Anne Hathaway,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.
Tellingly, one of the highlights was when Billy Crystal — who hosted the Oscars in the 1990s and early 2000s — came on stage.
“Incredibly, when former host Billy Crystal came onstage about two hours into the show, he got the first laughs all evening,” said Ebert. “This was the worst Oscar cast I’ve ever endured.”
“It’s time for the (Oscars) Board of Governors to have a long, sad talk with itself.”
A Los Angeles Times online discussion immediately after the show made an equally grim reading.
“Billy Crystal’s appearance was the highlight of the show,” wrote one contributor, to which another added: “It was almost as if the old timer was there to teach the kids a few things.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences likes to contrast itself with the Golden Globes, the other high-profile ceremony in Hollywood’s annual awards season.
While the Golden Globes are voted on by a relatively small number of members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the Oscars are the result of balloting by some 5,700 members of the illustrious Academy.
The Globes last month gave their main prizes to blockbuster Facebook movie “The Social Network”, leaving “The King’s Speech” with only one, best actor for Firth.
According to industry daily The Hollywood Reporter, the average age of Academy voters is 57, and some say that explains why there is an Oscars “type” of movie, of which “The King’s Speech” was a perfect example.
Granted, the Academy has made efforts to broaden its appeal: Sunday was the second Oscars show with a shortlist of 10 films for best picture, rather than five nominees as in most categories.
The idea was to widen the selection of films up for the top Oscars prize — so this year’s shortlist include blockbuster movies like “The Social Network” of hi-tech thriller “Inception.
But critics were not convinced, citing the relatively paltry three minor Oscars won by “The Social Network,” while other blockbusters including classic Western “True Grit” and Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” went home empty-handed.
Ironically, one of the edgiest moments on Sunday was by best supporting actress winner Melissa Leo — not a spring chicken, at 50 — who had to apologize after saying the F word during her acceptance speech.
The offending word was bleeped out of the time-delayed broadcast relayed to television viewers around the world.
“The youth movement in this year’s choice of Oscar hosts didn’t alter the show’s dynamics,” commented a reviewer from the Variety daily.
“While Melissa Leo dropped an “F-bomb” early on, the “F” words best describing the proceedings would be “flat,” “fumbling” and “familiar” — proving it takes more than a new coat of paint to invigorate a ceremony that easily flummoxes innovation.”