Oscar's Opprobrium

Opprobrium 1: Something that brings disgrace. 2a: Public disgrace or ill fame that follows from conduct considered grossly wrong.

This year's Academy Awards ceremony was not Oscar's finest three hours. That stupid opening production number set the tone—making light of the economic crisis was just wrong, especially on an otherwise bejeweled stage with shots of bejeweled celebs. The emerald earrings on Angelina Jolie and diamond necklace on Penelope Cruz must be worth millions.

Compare that with the $5000 reported to have been paid to the children who played young Jamal and Latika in Slumdog Millionaire. That undoubtedly seems like a lot of money to them—after all, they still live in the filth and squalor of the Mumbai slums. But how far will it really go toward elevating them to a standard of living approaching even that of the working poor in this country, much less the over-the-top affluence of the Hollywood elite?

I'm glad that Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture and several other nods; it's a fabulous movie. (However, I thought "Down to Earth" from WALL-E should have won Best Original Song; it's a better song than the winner, "Jai Ho" from Slumdog, even though the latter is very catchy.) But the stark contrast between the life depicted in Slumdog—a life that is all too real for millions of people—and the opulence of the Oscars was downright painful. I can't imagine what those child actors, who were brought to the ceremony from Mumbai, must feel, particularly when it's time to go home.

The one bright spot for me was seeing the orchestra on stage instead of in the pit, reflecting the rising recognition of music in movies. As Hugh Jackman exclaimed, "The musical is back!" I also liked the big production number that elicited Jackman's outburst, especially the skillful melding of music from so many movies. But Beyonce certainly wasn't at the top of her vocal game, and neither was Queen Latifah as she sang "I'll Be Seeing You" behind the tributes to those who past away last year. Even John Legend sounded a bit unsure as he sang "Down to Earth."

All in all, it was a very disappointing show this year. Here's hoping that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can make the ceremony more relevant in the future without resorting to unfunny jokes and under-rehearsed stars.