Sometimes the sequel is better than the original.
Host Jon Stewart's second at-bat as Oscar host was an improvement on his 2006 debut.
This time, you could feel the celebrity audience in the Kodak Theatre was with him as he joked about the end of the writers' strike; the critically derided, Oscar-nominated-for-makeup "Norbit" ("Too often the Academy ignores movie that aren't good") and the slate of depressing Oscar-nominated films ("Does this town need a hug?").
Of course, Stewart also relied on his specialty, political humor, calling "Away From Her" the story of a woman who forgets her own husband, Hillary Clinton's choice for feel-good movie of the year.
He also combined politics and Hollywood, noting the historic Democratic campaigns of Clinton and Barack Obama: "Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty."
Stewart had a few clunkers (even he knew his create-your-own stripper name joke was a dud), but who wouldn't? He delivered a mostly winning 10-minute opening monologue and kept the humor going in dribs and drabs throughout. What else do you want?
OK, maybe some crowd-pleasing films to cheer for would help, but this wasn't the year for that.
With so many dark films seen by a scant few moviegoers, this year's 80th Oscar ceremony benefitted from its celebration of eight decades of Academy Awards. Many of the brief, historic clips (with commentary from a star) aired seamlessly just after an award presentation. Smart move.
Even some of the longer montages seemed like they were cobbled together with greater care. The Oscar overlords deserve credit for exhibiting a sense of humor, reminding us of the ceremony's best and worst moments in an early montage that included a clip of Rob Lowe with Snow White, one of the ceremony's best-remembered bad ideas.
Also worth noting:
Dictionary addition? Paging Merriam-Webster! "Baby bump" needs to be considered for inclusion in the next edition.
The term, applied to pregnant entertainment figures, particularly if they haven't acknowledged their pregnancy, has been around for a while, but really got a workout last night as commentators on E! chattered about Angelina Jolie's baby bump, which made its debut at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.
Sadly true: "People would love to see me bleed, trust me," said E! red carpet host Ryan Seacrest.
Why? So many reasons. He called all the guys "buddy" and all the women "darling." And he went all tabloidy on George Clooney, accusing him of "bum rushing" the home of the president of the Screen Actors Guild. Clooney set Seacrest straight, saying he and a few other actors were invited over to have a conversation about the upcoming end of the SAG contract and plans to begin negotiations with producers.
I hope our local meteorologists weren't listening: After last week's "freezing fog" in Western Pennsylvania, I hope the local weather folks missed Jillian Barberie on E! describing the "disturbed weather" in Los Angeles. What's next, "rampaging rainstorms"? "Premeditated snowfall"?
Weirdest red carpet moment: In the midst of a conversation with Seacrest, Gary Busey mauled interview subjects Laura Linney and Jennifer Garner, who was visibly uncomfortable in his presence. Can you blame her?
Best red-carpet response: ABC's pre-show got an injection of, if not class, at least grown-up professionalism with the presence of Regis Philbin. In interviewing Clooney, Philbin noted that once upon a time, everyone in Hollywood wanted to be Cary Grant. Now they want to be Clooney.
"That's because he's dead," Clooney shot back, "and nobody wants to be dead."
Sequelitis: Even the Oscarcast imitates itself. The telecast began with another dense, computer-animated introduction packed with movie icons (from "Star Wars," "Aliens," "Saturday Night Fever," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Shrek," "The Terminator," etc.), a follow-up to a similar montage from two years ago. It was totally made for re-watching on TiVo or DVRs.
Great jab: Stewart explained what was happening at the Kodak while viewers at home watch commercials: "Mostly we sit around making catty remarks about the outfits you're wearing at home. That's right, it goes both ways, people." Touche.
What could have been: Kudos to Stewart and producers for the amusing "what could have been" mock montages that Stewart claimed were prepared in the event the writers' strike had still been on. "A Salute to Binoculars and Periscopes" and "Bad Dreams: An Oscar Salute" were quick parodies of some of the terrible Oscar montages viewers have suffered through over the years.
For the love of an agent: Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton") doled out genuine admiration for her agent, a profession that's often the butt of jokes at Hollywood gatherings. She also good-naturedly teased Clooney, suggesting he wore his "Batman & Robin" suit ("the one with the nipples") under his Michael Clayton costume everyday.
Lame musical numbers: What? Were the choreographers on strike, too? Despite the talents of the singers, the production numbers turned out to be surprisingly blah and strangely underpopulated (the performance of the Oscar-winning song from "Once" excepted).
Nice moment: It was gentlemanly of Stewart to bring back "Once" winner Marketa Irglova after the music played her offstage, pre-empting her chance at the microphone.