did his best, but it wasn't good enough. There are limitations in being a clever, self-deprecating master of irony, when what the job of Oscar host truly demands is being a showman. Which Stewart would probably be the first to admit he's not.
His humor, politically barbed but never obnoxious, was possibly a bit too sophisticated for that cavernous room. But what really defeated him, as it has almost every modern-day Oscar host except for Billy Crystal, is the deadly monotony of the Oscar show itself. What a fossiled relic. The Oscar broadcast is a classy but inert dinosaur, and this year's was more forgettable than most.
Stewart gamely tried to deflate the evening's pomposity whenever he could — after a montage on message movies, he quipped, "and none of these issues were ever a problem again" — but still, we had to sit through it all anyway.
Even with a last-minute shocker, as Crash robbed Brokeback Mountain of the top prize, the Oscar show had dillydallied so long that it couldn't adequately capitalize on the surprise of the moment; instead it had to hurry the final speeches off the air so ABC could wrap things up at the (painful) three-and-a-half-hour mark.
Worst innovation: Having the orchestra underscore all of the acceptance speeches from the get-go, as if to signal that their time was up before they even got started. Truly disrespectful, although the show would improve by at least 75 percent if many of the craft awards were presented prior to the telecast and revealed to us in clip form. (Did we really need to see the various King Kong teams accept their awards for special effects and sound mixing, or Memoirs of a Geisha repeatedly honored in design categories? Answer: No.) And once and for all, the Oscars need to do away with the best-song category. That would save 10 to 15 minutes right there, and we wouldn't miss those pretentious-to-ludicrous moments for an instant.
And whoever put Lauren Bacall on stage without a script, forcing her to attempt to read off a TelePrompTer for that pointless film-noir montage, should never be invited back to produce an Oscars show. Shameful.
Still, there were moments to remember. My selective top 10:
The brilliantly funny satirical montage (yes, I know) of supposedly homoerotic moments from classic Westerns.
Stewart's joke after the umpteenth montage: "I can't wait till later when we see Oscar's salute to montages. Holy crap. We are out of clips!"
Stewart's one outstanding monologue joke: "I have some sad news to report: Björk couldn't be here tonight. She was trying on her Oscar dress, and Dick Cheney shot her."
Ben Stiller's extended sight gag, wearing a bright-green unitard to illustrate green-screen special effects (lacking, of course, a green screen).
Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin's homage to Robert Altman's improvisatory, observational, "life is many things at once" approach to filmmaking in their overlapping, highly amusing and affectionate introduction to the master director. (How fitting that Altman got his honorary Oscar when the best-picture award went to a film that earnestly but clumsily attempts to ape his approach to ensemble moviemaking.)
Robert Altman's dignified speech, the best of the night (though Reese Witherspoon was perfectly charming).
The mock smear-campaign ads for various categories, including best actress.
Jennifer Garner's near-pratfall in her gown. (I guess we're lucky the new mom didn't start lactating on stage.)
The best-score medley, led by Itzhak Perlman.
The opening gags featuring past hosts (and Mr. Moviefone) all turning down the gig — including Billy Crystal and Chris Rock in a Brokeback Mountain gag. An easy joke, but that and the classic-Western spoof montage were Oscar-worthy twists on the year's most resonant breakthrough movie, the one that should have taken home the best-picture prize.
Just one more reason why this year's Oscars are best banished from memory, which should be easy enough to do.