Neil Patrick Harris brought an obvious bag of tricks to his role as Oscar host, and his opening number took clever advantage of talents he has showcased in stints emceeing the Tonys and Emmys. Owing more to Billy Crystal than most recent predecessors, Harris celebrated the movies in a cheeky but earnest way, incorporating both cinematic history and this year’s nominees. Yet the fast-moving sequence didn’t take itself too seriously, and proved playful enough to even spoof some of the industry’s sequel-oriented foibles. In terms of setting an upbeat tone for the evening, it was certainly a promising start.
An old pro in these settings despite his boyish looks, Harris immediately brought an infectious personality to the proceedings that let a little air out of all the puffery, and the use of film clips in conjunction with his song-and-dance routine — from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “Star Wars” — gave the production a nice touch of nostalgia. Moreover, having Anna Kendrick join him and then Jack Black essentially try to shanghai the performance added an element of unpredictability. On the down side, instead of focusing on Harris, the camera found stars in the audience offering slightly perplexed reaction shots, when it should have stayed trained on the stage.