1. Chris Rock is hosting.
Let Matt Drudge shield the children’s eyes. We’re actually looking forward to an emcee whose razor-sharp comedic skills go beyond Gump-esque movie montages and shticky plastic surgery jokes. We won’t get ”Uma, Oprah?” from Rock.
2. Kathy Griffin will be back on the red carpet.
She’s smarter than Star Jones, tackier than Joan Rivers, and asks far more interesting questions than ABC’s official pre-show mannequins (”What do you prefer? Purge or laxative?” she asked the svelte ladies of Desperate Housewives at the Golden Globes). But even if you don’t like Dakota-Fanning-in-rehab jabs, you’ve got to admit E!’s caustic comedienne should provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the standard ”you’re fabulous” red-carpet banter.
3. Beyoncé is singing?three times!
Usually, the idea of live musical performances at the Oscars fills us with frightening visions of Rob Lowe and Snow White, but a mini-concert from Beyoncé Knowles — who’ll tackle ”Learn to Be Lonely” from The Phantom of the Opera, ”Look to Your Path” from Les Choristes (accompanied by the American Boychoir), and a duet with Josh Groban on The Polar Express‘ ”Believe” — sounds like music to our ears. Bonus: No Randy Newman number!
4. The set looks cool.
Futuristic stage design that’s more Star Trek than Star Search? Check. A ramp that will put Rock out among the nominees? Check. Twenty-six video screens floating over the audience’s heads? Check. Wait a minute, are these folks handing out Oscars or Moonmen?
5. The speeches will be (hopefully) shorter.
Oscar producer Gil Cates has indicated that certain statuettes might be delivered straight to the winners’ seats, making it easier to cut away from the criminally verbose. Plus, nominees in other categories might be called to the stage together — pageant-style — with the victor stepping forward to give brief thank-yous.
6. The annual death montage will be (sniff) longer.
There will be lots of competition this year in the annual Death Montage Applause-O-Meter, with beloved performers such as five-time Oscar host Johnny Carson and Ray Charles, subject of one of the night’s Best Picture nominees, facing off against, among others, Christopher Reeve, Jerry Orbach, Janet Leigh, and Ronald Reagan.