Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Oscar magic lifts shock-lite show

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Hollywood

Director Danny Boyle and actress Rubiana Ali holding two of Slumdog Millionaire's Academy Awards
Slumdog director Danny Boyle and child star Rubina Ali celebrated

Thank goodness for those little touches of Oscar magic that no-one can predict.

The smiles of the Slumdog children as they bounded on stage, for instance, or Danny Boyle's Tigger impression when he won best director.

Then there was Kate Winslet's father whistling at her from beneath what looked like one of Johnny Cash's hats, or Philippe Pettit's magic trick and Oscar balancing act.

Anne Hathaway may not be going home with an Oscar, but her knock-out appearance in the opening number could easily land her a recording contract.

But now the dust has settled, will we look back at the 2009 Oscars with affection, or at all?

It was a great night to be British. Or Indian. Or, somewhat bizarrely, Japanese.

It was also a good night to be Australian. One particular Australian as it happens - Hugh Jackman, taking to the role of Oscar host like a crocodile to water.

Philippe Petit poses with the Best Documentary award for "Man on Wire" during the 81st Annual Academy Awards
Philippe Petit balanced the Oscar for best documentary on his chin

Looking back at the 81st Academy Awards, however, it's hard to single it out as a vintage year.

It was a good show, to be sure. Even the most generous viewer, though, would balk at calling it - as Boyle did in his acceptance speech - "bloody wonderful".

Boyle's movie, the crowd-pleasing Slumdog Millionaire, won in every category in which it was nominated bar one - a happy ending wholly suited to its fairy-tale progress through this year's awards season.

And given the way they have dominated almost every gong-giver since early January, it seemed somehow fated that Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz and the late Heath Ledger would be recognised at the main event.

Yes, Sean Penn's victory was a turn-up given Mickey Rourke's late surge. But it was not the kind of massive upset people remember.

Indeed, the only true shock of the night - for people who actually care about these things - was that Japanese drama Departures took the best foreign film statuette away from both Palme d'Or winner The Class and critics' darling Waltz with Bashir.

Hugh Jackman (left) performs with Beyonce at the Oscars
Oscars host Hugh Jackman put on a song and dance with Beyonce

Away from the prizes, the show itself struggled to deliver the kind of big coups de theatre some might have expected from its much talked-about overhaul.

Apart from Jackman's show-stopping number with Beyonce, this felt like a trimmed-down Oscars for a cash-conscious age.

This may also be one of the first years in history when the award presentations were longer than the actual acceptance speeches.

Bringing five previous winners out to sing the praises of this year's nominees was fun at the beginning.

By the end, though, it felt like an ordeal. Especially when Kate decided to give each of them a hug.

The result was an oddly stodgy, overly stage-managed affair that felt as if it had had all its spontaneity removed.

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