Published February 26, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- To the movie industry, the Oscars are an awards ceremony. For the rest of us, they're a show.
So while we couldn't recall last year's best picture on a bet (Cameron's blue-aliens movie? No, wait, it was "Hurt Locker" from his ex!), we savor the memory of Billy Crystal's great opening bits and Jack Palance's one-armed push-ups and brave Christopher Reeve onstage, alone, in a wheelchair.
So, Academy Awards, what are you going to do for us in the three-hour-and-then-some ABC broadcast starting at 8 p.m. EST Sunday?
Nobody's complaining about seeing the likes of nominees Natalie Portman, Amy Adams or Colin Firth in their designer duds and with a potential winner's aura (and, in Portman's case, the unbeatable glow of pregnancy).
But in a year with so many apparent dead-certs -- including Portman as best actress for "Black Swan," Firth as best actor for "The King's Speech" and Melissa Leo and Christian Bale of "The Fighter" for the supporting-actor prizes -- we need more bells and whistles.
First, there's the all-important theme for the Kodak Theatre event. This year: "You're invited."
OK. We accept.
Moving on, it's going to be cold, at least by L.A. standards, with temperatures dipping into the 40s at showtime. So during the red-carpet parade, look for loyal publicists earnestly guiding starlets out of the chill because why cover a designer gown with a coat?
The show's hosts are a key element and, this year, relatively daring: Anne Hathaway and James Franco, two fine, handsome actors but lacking the standard credentials of their predecessors, whether a seasoned emcee (Johnny Carson), comedian (Chris Rock) or song-and-dance man (Hugh Jackman).
ABC's promotional spots, including one in which Franco puts Hathaway's bathroom-break quickness to the stopwatch test, are a good sign that clever comedy is afoot. So is the approval of Alec Baldwin, who was a hit last year with co-host Steve Martin.
"She's a very smart and talented and gorgeous and funny woman, and he's a very charming and polished leading man," Baldwin said Friday. "They are great symbols of young Hollywood. The show is very well served by having them."
Any hosting advice for Hathaway, who was a best-actress nominee for 2008's "Rachel Getting Married," and Franco, who's up for best-actor honors for "127 Hours"?
"Just go with your instincts, because your instincts are what got you there in the first place," Baldwin counseled.
Hathaway, at 28 the youngest host ever, and Franco, 32, are expected to make a little music together. Hathaway sparkled in a 2008 Oscar duet with Jackman, while Franco practically demanded the chance to sing Sunday, said producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer.
More tunes are on tap with the return of the best-song showcases. The four nominated numbers will be performed by Gwyneth Paltrow ("Coming Home" from the film "Country Strong"); Randy Newman (his "Toy Story 3" song, "We Belong Together"); Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and composer Alan Menken ("I See the Light" from "Tangled") and Florence Welch and composer A.R. Rahman ("If I Rise" from "127 Hours").
The producers have secrets in store, including something they've termed "scenic transitions," with music and images that will take viewers to different points in film history for presentation of the more technical awards.
The best surprises, of course, are the unplanned emotional peaks. One could come courtesy of Annette Bening, 52, nominated three times before without winning, finally earning her trophy for "The Kids Are All Right." Or it could be provided by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld emerging as the underdog winner for her film debut in "True Grit."
Then there's presenter Sandra Bullock, returning to the stage where she triumphantly claimed her best-actress trophy last year for "The Blind Side" and then, within days, saw cheating allegations surface against her now-ex-husband, Jesse James.
Suspense over winners and losers is obviously a staple of the night. But there's a twist this year thanks to Banksy, the elusive British bad-boy street artist and nominee for best documentary feature for his directing debut, "Exit Through the Gift Shop."
Will the artist who prefers to hide his face from public view suddenly turn ham and appear in front of a half-billion viewers? As the movie academy would put it, you're invited to find out.