The often-stodgy Oscars got a much-needed shake-up this year, said Ray Richmond in The Hollywood Reporter. Eight awards, including Best Picture, were won by Slumdog Millionaire—a foreign film filled with subtitles. Yet the biggest surprises were not the award winners—the only upset was Sean Penn’s beating Mickey Rourke for Best Actor—but changes in the awards ceremony itself. First-time producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark “weren’t kidding when they promised to reinvent” the tradition-bound telecast. The 81st annual Academy Awards were hardly the same old “Oscar song and dance”—though host Hugh Jackman supplied plenty of both. A “heartfelt, elegant, and stylish affair” decked out like a 1940s supper club, the show was a celebration of the year’s films rather than a “thematic salute to yesteryear.”

“There is a different way to put on this show,” but this isn’t it, said Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times. Condon and Mark were smart to cut out those annoying bits—the lame opening monologue, that painful presenter banter, and those endless movie clips and canned segments. Even lowering the stage, putting viewers in the Kodak Theatre’s front row, was a nice touch. But their “bizarre,” Hollywood-meets-Broadway approach involved Jackman—top hat and cane in hand—parading through one ill-conceived number after another. Often this seemed less like the Oscars than a “gaudy Vegas revue.”

Give the producers points for trying, said Brian Lowry in Variety. They came up with at least one real innovation. Employing an “it-takes-a-village-to-present-an-Oscar” approach, they asked a previous winner to introduce each nominee. Though occasionally cloying, these presentations “fostered a communal feeling” while giving each nominee more time in the limelight. While Condon and Mark’s makeover seems unlikely to “expunge the Oscars’ age lines or chart a new direction for the telecast,” it did keep the show interesting in a year when the winners were fairly predictable.

Major award winners
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Night
Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona