Why the 81st Annual Academy Awards Was the Finest Oscar Telecast Of My Lifetime


A special group of people came into my life this year. They are a group made up of people who love pop culture the way you love something unconditionally; when you can enjoy it for what it is and what it is not; when you can rationalize bad choices, accept mistakes, and, at the same time, revel in its beauty and wisdom and thought. Nothing is ever “that sucks” just because it’s trendy to say so. When they don’t like something they have clear, logical reasons for feeling that way. While at the same time, nearly without exception, they can point to moments of greatness amidst the movie/show/song they didn’t like. They love and hate things the way I do, with an open heart, an observant eye, and a perceptive mind.

These are the people I watched the Oscars with this year.

It is for that reason I believe, more than anything, why I fell in love with tonight’s show. Because we love things that take the time to love themselves, and Hugh Jackman, Bill Condon and everyone else who made the Oscars happen this year, love the Oscars. It was apparent in the way the set was designed. In the absence of sarcasm. In the way the orchestra refrained from playing people off the stage; giving everyone their full moment to shine. In the way each actor was lauded: individually, by one of their peers, and with genuine sincerity.

They cared about the show the way we care about the show. The way we can be snarky about everything all year, but on this night, and only on this night, do we turn that off and be sincere, for that is what is required, and earned.

Hugh Jackman was a perfect host. He worked because unlike a comedian, with an ulterior motive to be “funny” and receive personal applause, Hugh just wanted to entertain us. He didn’t care if he was funny, or if his shtick was making him look good. He’s a showman, not a salesman. He brought joy to the show. And you could see that joy radiate off of him, when he almost lost it during the Reader bit in his opening number, when he danced with Anne Hathaway, when he tousled his hair over and over again, mimicking Mickey in The Wrestler. When he actually DID lose it putting his head in the Ben Button holes. And you know he was an amazing host, because for the extended period of time that he was backstage, he was missed.

I wouldn’t mind if Hugh Jackman hosted the Oscars for from now until eternity.

True thought was put into the show. How do you tell the story of a year in film, in three and a half hours? How do you celebrate it, love it, and observe it from a distance? How do you give these masters of craft, these artists, this mass of people and their art, the respect they deserve? They found a way.

Bringing out five past winners to celebrate five current nominees. Masterstroke. Showing the writing on the screen for the screenplay awards. Brilliant. Putting John Legend onstage with A.R. Rachman. Gorgeous. Ending the show with a look to the future. Sublime.

I loved that the montages were only about this year in movies. Just 2008. Every year there are inevitably four or five montages about the history of movies. Which is all fine and fun to watch, but it loses a sense of perspective about the year in film, which is the reason for the awards show. The whole point is to understand how his year affected the history of cinema. Tonight, for the first time, we got to see a story of the year in movies, and what a story it was.

I judge a good awards show, amongst many things, by the quotes that come out of it. How can this year be topped? “I thank my pencil.” “I was given a choice between hate and love, and I chose love.” “Dad, if you’re out there, whistle.” “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns.” And everything Penelope said about how art is unifying. How art is the true universal language. I would transcribe it, but I only understood every third word. And this is all before Dustin Lance Black’s elegant speech, Sean Penn’s poignant words on equality, Tina Fey and Steve Martin, Ben Stiller as Joaquin Phoenix and The Ledger Family.

People are griping about the lack of surprises. Fine, gripe. But didn’t everyone who won, deserve it? Mickey Rourke got his life back. Did he really need an Oscar to validate his work? Wasn’t Slumdog Millionaire the best picture of the year? Did Heath not deserve his Oscar, in the end? Suspenseful races and shocking upsets make for good television, but on this night, I was glad there weren’t any. It made the night a celebration, not a contest.

That’s what the Oscars are supposed to be, you know, a celebration. Not a contest or campaign, but a celebration of movies, of magic. And that’s what we were given. A night of passion and grandiose beauty, of balance and focus, of efficiency and pause, of acclaim and gratitude, and of good cheer and true worth.

For all of you who did not enjoy the show, who want to be snarky about it and tear it down, don’t speak to me. Keep it to yourself. I don’t want your hate and insecurity to take away or taint the grandeur of the show and the night. I don’t want to hear how the dance numbers were lame or how each acting award took forever or how the show wasn’t “funny”. You’re wrong. And I won’t respond to your comments, because they are so blatantly misguided and ignorant. If you truly cannot see the wonder and beauty and intelligence of the 81st Academy Awards, I don’t even want to know you.

I was honored to see the show with people who understood what they were seeing. People who had the capacity to appreciate the brilliance of the work, and who weren’t elitist or arrogant or spiteful or self-conscious about it. People who didn’t need me to explain why the show was genius, because they knew and agreed with me. People I happily call “friend”.

I usually watch the Oscar with my Mom, but tonight, for the first time, I couldn’t. I am thankful that in her absence, I got to be with this special group of people. Thank you Nick, Audie, Mike, Will, Becca, Greg, sleepy Elissa and Paul. You made it infinitely easier to cope with my loss of tradition, and easier to love a show I love so dearly.

Mom, I wish you could have been with me, and us, as we would have had a great time loving this amazing show together.


About Jason Matthews

Jason Matthews is the head writer for TheJay.com. The site has been nominated for two Weblog Awards (Best Culture Blog, 2006 & 2007), and has been featured on more than 100 websites, including the IMDB, Defamer, College Humor, USA Today’s Pop Candy (Written by Whitney Matheson), Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch, BestWeekEver.tv, Gorilla Mask and eBaum’s World. Jason is also an accomplished playwright. He is currently the Writer-in-Residence at the Ruskin Group Theatre, where through their showcase “Café Plays”, he has written and produced forty-five one-act plays, and premiered his full-length debut comedy ‘Four Night Stand’ to a sold out six-week run in Spring 2010. In addition to his work online and in theatre, Jason was the host of PopLoad on NowLive.com from January – May 2007, and was the Editor-in-Chief of the popular Santa Barbara-based arts magazine CampusPOINT from June 2000 – June 2002. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Film Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and an intense love for Ben Affleck and Keanu Reeves. Find Jason Matthews on Twitter @ www.Twitter.com/jasonamatthews
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