Ellen DeGeneres hosts the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday.
Ellen DeGeneres/AP photo
This image released by Ellen DeGeneres shows actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyong'o Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a "selfie" portrait on a cell phone during the Oscars. (AP Photo/Ellen DeGeneres)
By Rob Owen / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If Seth MacFarlane was too crude as Oscars host in 2013, Ellen DeGeneres served as a palate cleanser. Funny but not too mean, willing to joke at the expense of big-name stars but rarely crude, Ms. DeGeneres brought predictable respectability to Sunday's 86th Academy Awards.
Too bad this particular brand of predictable respectability was a bore.
The opening monologue, although only nine minutes, felt longer -- a lot longer.
It began with a weather joke that worked for viewers who know that Southern Californians treat rain like the East Coast treats a foot of snow -- and most of the country probably doesn't know this. (Seriously, local news in L.A. during rain is like Pittsburgh TV stations during snowmageddon.)
Ms. DeGeneres did get in an edgy Liza Minnelli zinger ("That's one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I have seen in my life. Good job, sir!") but most of the monologue was devoted to jokes about the age of nominee June Squibb ("Nebraska") and nominee Jennifer Lawrence tripping when she won an Oscar a year ago.
But Ms. DeGeneres did save her best joke for the end of the monologue: "Possibility No. 1, '12 Years a Slave' wins best picture. Possibility No. 2, you're all racists."
From there on out, Ms. DeGeneres never strayed far, popping up behind celebrities in the audience, offering consolation prizes to actors who lost and appearing on stage holding a guitar for no apparent reason. Later she wandered down the aisle checking in on the comfort of celebrities and announcing her plan to order pizza. (The pizza delivery that followed was also unfunny filler.)
The theme of the night was a tribute to heroes, which meant many montages of scenes from movies featuring heroes -- animated, super, crusaders against injustice -- which was as big a waste of time as Oscar montages almost always are.
On the other hand, the performances of the more upbeat nominated songs gave this super-sluggish telecast a little bit of much-needed propulsion.
Some other notable elements of Oscar night:
Sucking up can go both ways: During the E! preshow, nominee Bruce Dern complimented Ryan Seacrest, saying, "You should know you are very good at what you do and have been for a long time."
Red carpet rialto: TVGN coverage was positively staid (re: boring) compared to E! where Mr. Seacrest mistakenly told Bette Midler it was her first time at the Oscars (it wasn't; just her first time performing) and fashion correspondents Ross Matthews and Kelly Osbourne squealed their way through their commentary, especially at the outfit worn by nominee Lupita Nyong'o. "The headband is everything," Mr. Ross enthused. "I'm slightly obsessed with the headband right now." On ABC, Lara Spencer referred to Jonah Hill's mother as "the accessory of the evening" because so many men brought their mothers to the Oscars.
Respectability ruins the silliness: When ABC's Ms. Spencer asked Sidney Poitier whom he was cheering for to win, he replied, "There are several and it would be inappropriate for me to comment." The reminder that, yes, dignity and keeping one's own counsel are still options in the share-everything social media age, which might have surprised Ms. Spencer as much as viewers.
Worst commercial ever? The Neal McDonough Cadillac ad, which wasn't new but played several times, seemed to be saying if you're a jingoistic jerk, this is the car for you!
Worst presenter: Jim Carrey's mugging as a presenter felt forced. It was unfunny and almost sad in a what-happened-to-your-career? way.
Most experienced presenter: Tyler Perry presents -- at the Oscars this time.
Most incoherent presentation: The less-than-dynamic duo of Matthew McConaughey and an almost unrecognizable Kim Novak resulted in a raft of "What is happening?" posts to Twitter. The pair seemed to say they were giving awards in two different categories.
Best acceptance: Darlene Love, star of best documentary winner "20 Feet From Stardom," belted out a quick tune during the acceptance speech, momentarily livening up the telecast. Runner-up: Lupita Nyong'o with her genuinely emotional response to winning for "12 Years a Slave."
Weirdest wardrobe choice: Ms. DeGeneres spent the first half of the telecast in a dandyish tux that made it look like she was auditioning for a role in season two of "Sleepy Hollow."
Worst trend: Ms. DeGeneres taking "selfie" photos with celebs during the telecast, which was mostly a self-indulgent, cool-kid time-waster that also seemed like product placement for the manufacturer of Ms. Degeneres' smartphone.
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