Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin just might have a future in show biz. Teamed up to co-host this year's Oscarcast, they're offering a pleasant reminder that an often overstuffed, cumbersome TV shindig can be lighthearted fun.
That was the early verdict at the ABC-aired Oscar broadcast's midway point, at least, with these seasoned funnymen demonstrating that Hollywood's so-called biggest night doesn't have to be just a big giveaway.
Neil Patrick Harris (himself a go-to song-and-dance guy for hosting awards shows) started things off with a Vegas-style musical number — "No One Wants to Do It Alone" — to introduce the dual hosts, whom he saluted as "the biggest pair since Dolly Parton."
Then, with the glitz taken care of, Martin and Baldwin took to the stage to genially call out, poke fun at and generally play with members of the assorted 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 explained. "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."
"And, oh, look," he went on, "there's that damn Helen Mirren," which inspired a terse correction from Baldwin: "Steve, that's DAME Helen Mirren."
Both purposefully donned 3-D glasses to confirm the identity of "Avatar" director James Cameron seated in the audience.
A bit later, Martin, an 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: Now-prominent 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" makeup to present the Oscar for (what else?) best makeup.
"The ironic thing is, 'Avatar' isn't even nominated," he noted.
Didn't matter. "Avatar" was on everybody's mind. But that was yet to come.