Page last updated at 06:56 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Jackman on song at his first Oscars

By Ben Sutherland
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman brought his musical theatre experience to the show

It was a fresh presenter and a fresh approach for the 81st Academy Awards. But how much difference did it make?

We had been promised a transformed show this year, not least because it was time for a new host. For 2009 the Academy had turned to Hugh Jackman - best known as Wolverine from the X-Men films, but also a renowned musical theatre actor - to provide the showstopping performance that has eluded the likes of Jon Stewart and Chris Rock in recent years.

How did Jackman do? Well, it is almost unfair to judge - given that he got so little stage time.

He started with a couple of witty lines - "everything is being downsized because of the recession; next year I'll be starring in a movie called New Zealand" being the best.

But after that, aside from a couple of "how great was that?" links, the sum total of Jackman's presentation amounted to two song and dance routines.

Standing ovation

Not that they were bad. The first was exactly the sort of thing Billy Crystal used to open the show with, except that in a nod to these credit crunched times, the expensive CGI Crystal used to use to insert himself into the nominated films was replaced by deliberately junky-looking sets.

And the second number, in which Jackman and Beyonce Knowles performed a medley of hits from Oscar-winning musicals put together by Baz Luhrmann, was spectacular - and fully deserving of its standing ovation.

But ultimately Jackman brought to mind Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love all those years back - taking the limelight for effectively eight minutes' work in a three-hour production.

On the other hand, he had much less to play with than previous hosts. There was no chance to ad-lib, for example. With a deliberate effort made to make the show run shorter, the number of guest presenters was slashed, with many of them handing out multiple gongs.

Indeed, no less than four Oscars were given out by Will Smith. "Yes, they still have me here. Hugh must be napping," the Hancock star deadpanned.

Hugh Jackman and Beyonce
Jackman was joined by Beyonce for a musical number

However, with these big numbers at the front and the big awards at the end, there was a real risk of the show sagging badly in the middle.

Thank goodness, then, for the unseen stars on the night - the writers, including British comic star Ricky Gervais.

They came up with some great gags for the guest presenters, who now found themselves effectively taking on some of the work formally done by the host.

Particularly fine was a long post-modern sequence for the scriptwriting gongs. It was both impressively innovative in terms of presentation, and had, in Steve Martin and Tina Fey, a brilliant double act in control.

"It has been said that to write is to live forever," Fey said. "The man who wrote that is dead," Martin replied.

It was the sort of thing that made you wish Martin would give up nonsense like The Pink Panther 2 and work with people who can actually write comedy.

Commendably, there were some other nice tweaks - like the medley of best scores, or Queen Latifah's live singing of I'll Be Seeing You over the death roll.

Meanwhile, another positive was that there was just a little more irreverence, perhaps as a result of the realisation that in these troubled times, the Oscars are, ultimately, just a fancy awards ceremony.

Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black
Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black added some laughs to the show

Hence there were numerous references from the likes of Jackman, Seth Rogan and Jack Black to the fact that action and comedy films very rarely get acknowledged, despite their huge popularity and box office.

Cheeky gags

Black was in particularly fine form. Asked by co-presenter Jennifer Aniston how he got so rich off his animated work, he replied: "Each year I do one Dreamworks project, then I take the money to the Oscars and bet it on Pixar."

The envelope was then opened, promptly revealing Pixar's Wall-E had won - beating Black's own Kung Fu Panda. His reaction was somewhere between a cheer and a colossal eye-roll.

Even Sean Penn - who a few years back strongly chided Chris Rock on stage for his light-hearted ribbing of fellow actor Jude Law - felt he could laugh at himself: "I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me," he said.

And there were a couple of cheeky gags just for the Hollywood insider - such as when the camera picked out Angelina Jolie during Jennifer Aniston's presentation, or Liam Neeson presenting best foreign film having just starred in Taken, which featured the most stereotypical "foreign types" since Asterix the Gaul started touring Europe.

"I don't know what it looks like on television, but here in the room it's bloody wonderful," Danny Boyle said.

Fun, Danny, that's your answer. Fun.

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