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Last Updated: Monday, 25 February 2008, 07:04 GMT
Stewart sparkles as Oscars host
By Ben Sutherland
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Oscars host Jon Stewart shone on his return to the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles - in the moments that he was able to actually do any presenting.

Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart is known as the host of satirical TV series The Daily Show
Between the montages, interviews and ad breaks, viewers would have been forgiven for missing him.

Two years ago, Stewart had struggled on his debut, with sketches falling flat and a number of lines bombing.

But this time he was sparkling.

The nerves shed, he got into his stride early on by riffing on the writers' strike with lines such as: "I'm happy to say the fight is over - so tonight, welcome to the make-up sex."

And he remained sharp, witty and engaging, striking exactly the right tone between irreverence and the genuine thrill of being at the centre of a broadcast being watched by one in six of the planet's residents.

Crucially - 2008 being an election year - he was on his home turf with a couple of good political jokes.

There was a somewhat predictable gag about Oscar's 80th birthday - "making him a frontrunner for the Republican nomination".

But better was his description of Away From Her. "It was about a woman who forgets her husband. Hillary Clinton called it the feelgood movie of the year."

Norbit

Stewart also showed he was now just as comfortable with Hollywood humour, including probably one of the best lines ever uttered by any host.

"Even Norbit got a nomination, which I think is great. Too often the Academy ignores movies that aren't good."

And he could even segue between the two themes, describing the slate of nominated films as "psychopathic killer movies".

Marketa Irglova
Marketa Irglova was allowed to return to the stage by Jon Stewart
"Does this town need a hug? All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy," he added, in a reference to Juno.

Could we tell the writers had had so much less time to put together these quips? Not at all.

Unfortunately, the impact of the strike soon became visible elsewhere - in the exhausting number of video clips and general pre-recorded backslapping.

Shot in case the strike had not been resolved - Stewart said as much himself - the producers of the show had clearly decided to cram most of them in anyway.

On the Oscars' 80th birthday, a few clips of past ceremonies are fine.

But did we really need to know how Sir Elton John felt on winning in 1994, or what Barbra Streisand thought about having to share her award all of 40 years ago?

Worst was an extraordinarily tedious sequence featuring the Academy's president that was little more than an extended ad for a major accountancy firm.

"Wow. That was amazing," Stewart deadpanned afterwards.

Shocked reaction

All this extra flannel - there seemed to be more ad breaks this year too - put real pressure on the awards presenters and the recipients.

And this was a shame, because events inside the theatre produced some memorable moments, starting with Tilda Swinton's genuinely astounded reaction to her win for her role in Michael Clayton.

Similarly shocked was Marketa Irglova, jointly picking up her Oscar for best song, who stepped up to the microphone but was cut off by the orchestra.

Charmingly, Stewart later allowed her back on stage to give a little speech, which must be some sort of first.

In fact it was the speeches which allowed Stewart to show off his wit and to wander off script.

John Travolta and Jon Stewart
John Travolta (left) joked with Stewart that his plane was outside
Responding to Javier Bardem delivering half his speech in Spanish, he said, "I took Spanish in high school. I believe he told his mother where the library was."

Had more of this quick humour been given time, the 80th Oscars would have ranked as among the best.

Ultimately, the show was summed up by a moment when Stewart sarcastically introduced "Oscar's salute to binoculars and periscopes", his eyes rolling at the absurdity of the idea - only for the eyewear montage to begin anyway.

But perhaps in a year when the awards themselves were so predictable, perhaps it was only apt that the show itself had been so pre-packaged.

JON STEWART'S BEST LINES

"They said that having the Oscars helped end the strike. So before we spend the next four to five hours giving each other golden statues, let's take a moment to congratulations ourselves."

"[Away From Her] was about a woman who forgets her husband. Hillary Clinton called it the feelgood movie of the year."

Anton Chigur - "combining Hannibal Lecter's murderousness with Dorothy Hamill's wedgecut".

"This is the environmentally-conscious green Oscars. So tonight our presenters will be walking all the way to the microphones."

"And the baby goes to... Angelina Jolie."

"In case you're wondering what we do in the commercial breaks, we sit here making catty remarks about the outfits you're wearing at home."

"Our next presenter [Penelope Cruz] speaks four languages, and earlier tonight she told me "I'm calling security" in all four of them."

"Tom Hanks has won two Oscars but is not nominated tonight - so if you ask me, he's got no place being here."

"This year's slate: psychopathic killer movies. Does this town need a hug? All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy."



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