Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin just might have a future in show biz. Teamed up to co-host this year’s Oscar broadcast, they offered a happy reminder that an often overstuff ed, overwrought TV shindig can be lighthearted fun.
Of course, the looming, whiteknuckle suspense of Oscar night focused on “Avatar” vs. “The Hurt Locker,” and their respective directors (and ex-spouses), James Cameron vs. Kathryn Bigelow.
But that dramatic conclusion was hours away.
In the meantime, the ABC broadcast was remarkably smooth, eye-appealing and efficient as it went about the business of handing out awards most people don’t really care about or awards whose winners most moviegoers had already correctly forecast.
The show managed to make room for generous clips from the 10 — count ‘em, 10 — nominated best films, double the number from previous years.
Nominees for musical scores were ingeniously melded into a performance by a modern dance troupe, and a montage of horror films through cinema history was entertaining but seemed superfl uous.
Martin and Baldwin, as expected, kept the pretension level under humorous control.
“Please welcome my longtime dear friend, and by that, I mean I’ve never met her,” said Martin, in bringing on presenter Sandra Bullock.
Neil Patrick Harris, himself a go-to song-and-dance guy if you’re planning an awards show, started off the show with a Vegasstyle production number. Titled “No One Wants to Do It Alone,” it introduced the dual hosts, whom he saluted as “the biggest pair since Dolly Parton.”
Then, with the razzmatazz taken care of, Martin and Baldwin took to the stage to genially call out, poke fun at and generally be silly with members of the gathered glitterati.
Especially Meryl Streep.
“Everyone wants an Oscar, but they’re very hard to get,” Martin declared.
“Ballots are sent out to 6,000 members of the academy,” Baldwin went on. “And then, no matter what, they nominate Meryl Streep.”
Martin added that Streep holds the record for most nominations as an actress — “or, as I like to think of it: most losses.”
Both purposefully donned 3-D glasses to confirm the identity of “Avatar” director James Cameron seated in the audience.
A bit later, Martin, a unfazed old pro, introduced presenters Amanda Seyfried and Miley Cyrus as “two young actresses who have no idea who we are.”
Then Tina Fey was introduced as “the most beautiful, brilliant and talented woman in all of show business” by her “30 Rock” co-star Baldwin, who carefully specified, “I’m not just saying that because she revived my career.”
Fittingly, the broadcast included a tribute to the late John Hughes, a filmmaker celebrated for his affectionate, knowing portraits of teens. Hughes died unexpectedly last summer.
A bit of movie background set the stage for the oft-shortchanged category of best short films: Nowprominent feature directors like Taylor Hackford and David Frankel looked back on how their Oscar-winning short films served as a Hollywood launching pad.
This year’s winner: “Logorama,” whose producer, Nicolas Schmerkin, isn’t exactly a household name. Yet.
Ben Stiller is, and he arrived on stage in full blue “Avatar” display to present the Oscar for (what else?) best makeup.
“The ironic thing is, ‘Avatar’ isn’t even nominated,” he noted.
For that, anyway.
Hours later, the real story was told. Until then, Martin and Baldwin ably punctuated the Oscar broadcast with chuckles and, playing off each other, a sure guiding hand.
Then the statuettes bestowed on Bigelow and “The Hurt Locker” gave the show a true Hollywood ending.