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YEP, SHE'S FUNNY GENTLE HUMOR WINS FOR DEGENERES.

Byline: David Kronke

Television Critic

What is an Oscar ceremony without eye-rolling tacky moments? A ceremony that looked very much like Sunday's broadcast from the Kodak Theatre.

In the absence of much drama 7/8 Alan Arkin's win over Eddie Murphy for the best supporting actor trophy was actually a predictable surprise 7/8 host Ellen DeGeneres and producer Laura Ziskind opted for a tasteful, almost subdued affair, one that treated its audience as adults, not the over-caffeinated boobs at which most awards shows seem aimed.

DeGeneres opened the 79th annual Academy Awards ceremony aiming to establish the tone of a kinder, gentler, more inclusive show.

Her material was amusing but scarcely a laugh riot, yet it was amiable and delineated that the evening was a celebration of all the nominees, not just the winners. Her friendly, slightly goofy persona kept the evening lighthearted even when so many of the nominees were dark films.

DeGeneres noted the circuitous route some of the nominees took to arrive at the Kodak Theatre Sunday night. She contrasted "Dreamgirls" best supporting actress winner Jennifer Hudson's appearance on "American Idol" 7/8 "America didn't vote for her and here she is nominated for an Academy Award" with Al Gore 7/8 "America did vote for him -- and then --"

Gore even participated in a comedy bit. After discussing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Green Initiative, Leonardo DiCaprio asked him if he had a major announcement to make. Pulling a speech from his lapel pocket, Gore began, "My fellow Americans, I would like to announce 7/8 " and managed a nice double take when he was interrupted and played off by the orchestra.

(He wasn't the only one whose words were squelched by the orchestra: Ziskind's efforts to eliminate laundry lists of thank-you's in acceptance speeches unfortunately didn't succeed, with the result being yet another crop of fairly tepid speeches.)

The evening's comic highlight, however, was a song performed by Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly lamenting the plight of the comic actor come Oscar night. "A comedian at the Oscars / the saddest man of all," Ferrell crooned, before Reilly encouraged him and Black to take serious projects, as well.

Ferrell then declared that his next film would be about a "guy with no arms and legs who teaches inner-city kids 'Hamlet.' " The three ended the number triumphantly belting out, "Helen Mirren and an Oscar will be coming home with me!"

Presenter banter wasn't as wince-inducing as usual. The musical numbers were simple and elegant. The Pilobolus Dance Theatre's acrobats morphing into icons of each best picture nominee was a nice touch. A Sound Effects Choir was a nice idea blandly executed; it could've easily been excised to help pace the show.

DeGeneres managed to reign the production in to just under four hours, but it could've been shorter still. When will they learn that there's really no need for all those montages of film clips?

And Errol Morris' opening montage featuring all the Oscar nominees discussing 7/8 or, mainly, not discussing 7/8 their work and their nomination represented a lot of work to very little effect. A shot of Eddie Murphy staring vacantly into the camera was both the high point and underscored the general tone of the endeavor. It was a giggling, self-aggrandizing, overlong and -- since none of the nominees was identified -- bewildering bit.

Still, everything that followed surpassed it. Given that many Oscar ceremonies begin with a killer opening only for everything to go downhill from there, Sunday's telecast was a refreshing change of pace.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke@dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Song, dance and even a tambourine played a part at the Oscars Sunday night. Host Ellen DeGeneres, left, danced a jig in honor of the nominees while, above from left, Jack Black, John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell, from left, sang of their Oscar aspirations.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Box:

The best moments of the show (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 26, 2007
Words:674
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