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77th Annual Academy Awards

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77th Annual Academy Awards

Chris Rock naysayers, I will concede that his opening monologue stank. The irreverent host veered swiftly into irrelevance: Basically ignoring the Best Picture nominees, he hit easy (and stale) targets like Boat Trip and Pootie Tang, and launched a long, curiously off-subject harangue about George Bush. Come on, Rock, you have lady boxers, anal tycoons, and boozy, sad men ready for the picking?make some Oscar jokes next time!

After that wobbly start, Rock turned out to be a springy, gleeful host for ABC’s glitch-filled, vaguely experimental Oscars. He slipped in three boob jokes, a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner reference, a swat at Sean Penn’s smug defense of Jude Law, and his usual merry tweaks on race. (As we readied ourselves for the introduction of the traditional bland, white, male Oscar accountants, out came two sunglassed African-American linebackers). Rock repeatedly punctured the gasbaggery of the Oscars, like brightly introducing Oscar winner Halle Berry with a Catwoman 2 joke.

The Academy should take that cue. Must you assume our troops want the telecast dedicated to them? And if so, can you just dedicate the good parts? (What provided the most balm for our brave soldiers: Beyoncé’s third eye-shadow application or Charlie Chaplin’s forced posthumous mugging with Shrek?)

Even more uncomfortable: Producer Gil Cates, determined to shorten the ceremony this year, denied winners in ”minor” categories that long walk to the stage. Instead, they had to stand in a row like nervous beauty contestants or climb over each other to reach the microphones that popped up in aisles. In fact, they popped up everywhere: Poor Scarlett Johansson gave her presentation from some distant, isolated balcony in Sacramento like Oscar’s crazy aunt. All that effort saved a few minutes, but left me worried that producers might forget to retrieve Miss Johansson and we’d discover only rags and bones a decade from now. If a streamlined show is the goal, maybe it’s time to cut some categories. Too easy?

While we’re fixing things: Please invest in some new writers. Dustin Hoffman was too bored even to finish reading his intro for Best Picture; Penélope Cruz, introducing the nominees for Sound Editing, was forced to utter the phrase ”Sounds good to me!” My third-grade scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers had better lines. (”Berry good!” — now that’s cute!) Fortunately, our Oscar host injected his own cleverness into these meaningless Oscar blandishments. Introducing Gwyneth Paltrow as the first woman to breast-feed an Apple? Give the guy another shot next year.

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