Oscars 2019 review: Hostless ceremony gives stars time to shine

By Ben Sutherland
BBC News

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Rami Malek, Olivia Colman, Regina King and Mahershala Ali pose with their Oscars

The first Oscars to go ahead without a host since 1989 was an unqualified success - the best ceremony in years, packed with memorable moments and for (nearly) all the right reasons.

Without the need to fit in all the monologues, skits and handovers that are the mainstay of a host's work, time was available for far better speeches and emotional punches; the announcing of a winner given a precious few extra seconds for its meaning to really take root.

Kevin Hart's decision to take himself out of the hosting duties following the resurfacing of homophobic tweets had initially presented the Academy with a huge problem.

Suddenly the job looked like a poisoned chalice.

Who was a big enough name who had so little troublesome material in their back catalogue that they, too, wouldn't feel a Twitter backlash the moment they were announced?

No-one, it seemed.

So the Oscars went hostless for the first time since the disastrous 1989 show, regarded as the worst in history - though this actually was nothing to do with not having a host; the awfulness was down to some badly misguided song-and-dance routines.

And it went so well, it would almost be a surprise if they bother with a host again.

Faced with only a few weeks to pull a whole new show together, the producers had two brilliant ideas.

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Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler gave the closest the awards got to an opening monologue

The first was to get Tiny Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph to effectively do the traditional opening monologue (after an opening performance from Queen, which got most people mildly waving an arm around, in a we've-not-really-had-enough-to-drink-yet-but-OK kind of way).

Fey and Poehler had hosted the Golden Globes before and had been tipped as potential Oscars hosts; this was near-as-dammit them doing it, except they (with Rudolph) did a show's worth of material in two minutes.

"We're not hosting, but if we were, these are the jokes we would make" was their take. It was very post-modern but it really worked.

They raced through so many references - to Netflix; to Fyre Festival; to Donald Trump's wall; to the show's chaotic recent months and the wrangling over taking out awards - it was hard to keep up.

"We won't be doing awards during the commercials, but we will be presenting commercials during the awards," said Poehler.

"So if all the winners could all say Hellman's Mayonnaise: We're on the side of food instead of their speeches, that would be great."

And then they left. All killer lines. No padding, no filler, no flannel. Brilliant.

The other great idea was to expand the range of people announcing the nominees for best picture.

Now that eight films are in contention, each gets a little spot where a celebrity introduces them.

It's usually actors who do this, of course - but this time around, Serena Williams, Trevor Noah and Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine all got a go.

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Serena Williams made a welcome appearance on stage

It even meant that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey could reprise their roles as Wayne and Garth from Wayne's World.

It was fun, it expanded the diversity of presenters, and it worked.

And it was the first Oscars where there was no groaner, no badly-received dig or in-joke that was just too in.

Awkward moments - such as the make-up crew from Vice struggling desperately to read their speech - came solely from the award winners.

(Well, that and Samuel L Jackson having to hand over a best original screenplay Oscar to Green Book. As good an actor as Jackson is - and there are few better - he could not act happy for that.)

But the good moments - of which there were many - were allowed to breathe and stand out so much because they weren't rushed in order to fit the meaningless skits that exist just to give the host something to do, like when Jimmy Kimmel brought in a busload of tourists to confusedly mill around the Dolby Theatre.

So when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sang Shallow together, the camera could linger on them as the song finished rather than rushing off - thus providing an iconic Oscar image for years to come.

And when Olivia Colman won best actress, she got some proper time to say what she wanted as the tears rolled down her face.

She talked about her children and she talked about young girls watching and practising their own acceptance speeches.

It was touching and wonderful.

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Olivia Colman is the first British best female winner in 10 years

(Colman's life story could one day be an Oscar-winning film in itself - from the low of Confetti, when the film-makers went back on a promise to pixelate her nudity, to winning an Academy Award. Confetti's director, meanwhile, has since made four Nativity films; thus far they have all been untroubled by Oscar nominations.)

And there was also the sheer joy when - a minute after having to hold his nose with the Green Book award, Samuel L Jackson got to give best adapted screenplay to BlacKkKlansman's writer "Spike LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

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Spike Lee won his first Oscar at the ceremony

It was Lee's first win at the fifth time of being nominated. He made the most overtly political speech of the night: "The 2020 presidential election is around the corner.

"Let's all mobilise. Let's all be be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let's do the right thing."

But there were several heartfelt references from the wide variety of winners from different backgrounds to political issues.

Javier Bardem spoke - in Spanish, with subtitles, a first - of how "there are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity or talent".

Chef Jose Andres spoke of "immigrants and women, who move humanity forward".

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Melissa Berton and Rayka Zehtabchi's speech was emotionally charged as they collected the documentary award for Period

The winners of best short documentary for Period. End Of Sentence talked of the enormous issues that still exist around access to sanitary products.

Meanwhile, the one thing that went unmentioned was the name of Bohemian Rhapsody's director, Bryan Singer - currently the subject of claims that he has sexually abused boys and men; claims he has denied.

Every time Bohemian Rhapsody won, it was the members of Queen who were thanked instead.

Then Green Book won best film, and the whole mood dropped a notch. For doing that, the Academy itself deserves a collective Naked Gun Oscars-audience-slap-themselves-on-the-head gif. Never mind.

They need never bother with a host again.

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