Ang Lee won Best Director. No kiddin'! In addition to that, Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor, and Django Unchained won Best Original Screenplay. Those were also unexpected. Otherwise, most of the winners this year were pretty much as could have been predicted. I am proud to announce that I accurately predicted 13 categories correctly, which is nothing to brag about in Vegas, but a point of pride for me, as I notoriously get a lot wrong. But Daniel Day-Lewis did win for Best Actor and gave an appropriately humble speech. Jennifer Lawrence did win for Best Actress as everyone expected (tripping up the stairs as she went to claim her award), and seemed so genuinely flustered and nervous, her rambling acceptance speech seemed kind of sweet. Michael Haneke won for Best Foreign film, but my boostering for other awards for his Amour went unheeded. Life of Pi won the highest number of awards (at four out of 11 nominations), as was its wont.
The best speech of the night came from Ben Affleck himself, accepting the Best Picture award for Argo. Affleck, who has trudged through some pretty awful Hollywood fare (host MacFarlane made sure to refer to his notorious bomb Gigli), recalled openly when he won an Academy Award in 1997 for Good Will Hunting, and, for a while there, thought he “wasn't going to be invited back.” For a moment, we saw Affleck open up and speak honestly to the world. He was perhaps mildly bitter that he was not nominated for Best Director, and it did show a bit, but I think he was finally speaking from the heart. It's rare that someone will win an Oscar, and then get up on stage and say “I'm really, really happy I won.” Usually it's just a list of people to thank, including lawyers, producers, and Harvey Weinstein. Anne Hathaway, for instance, was the shoo-in for Supporting Actress going in, and her speech, while a bit teary and nervous, had the ring of someone who was expecting to win. To be fair, we all were. Affleck bucked all that by expressing genuine gratitude.
I think Seth MacFarlane, as the show's host, was confident enough to remain a notable stage presence (the lame closing number notwithstanding), but also savvy enough to be self-aware about the proceedings. Whether or not he was hip enough to capture the much-coveted youth audience remains to be seen (we'll know if he's invited back next year). Some of the jokes were limp, but when are they not? An odd observation; MacFarlane came across (at least to me) as something of an outsider – which indeed he is; he's only made one film, Ted, released last year. As such, he lacked some of Billy Crystal's warmth, and had to come at every star as a fanboy rather than a colleague. He was capable, although not quite a stand-up comedian.
Speaking of fanboys, why wasn't Scarlett Johansson on stage when the cast of fanboy fave Marvel's The Avengers walked out?
Lots of singing. I don't mind the musical numbers at Oscar shows, I guess, but why trot out Catherine Zeta-Jones to sing the opening number from Chicago? Not that it was bad, but like all Oscar musical numbers, it was pretty extraneous. Better that than something like, oh, "Oscar's Tribute to Film Kisses" or something.
I was disappointed to see Brave win for Best Animated Feature; I was wholly confident that ParaNorman was going to win. I understand that The Academy has the hots for Pixar, but it was a pity to see the famously high-quality company's least impressive film to date still rack up an Oscar. Brave was sloppily written, not very funny, didn't feature any interesting characters (no, our heroine was not a feminist icon for being “fiery” and handy with a bow) and only notable for some rather interesting visuals. Of the five films nominated in the category, it was certainly the least. That it won only shows that The Academy cares more about the studio than their film. But then, we all know that already, didn't we?
Barbra Streisand sang “The Way We Were” after the In Memoriam reel. A sweet gesture, but so saccharine in effect, more than one person at my Oscar party had to suppress a snicker.
The First Lady presented the award for Best Picture. Impressive and classy. The Obama administration has always been savvy about staying hip to new media and popular culture – can you imagine Laura Bush doing that? – although I'm not sure how I feel about all of this. The First Lady doesn't have anything to do with movies. I suppose in a show hosted by a raunchy, pop-culture-reference-heavy comedy guy, the producers wanted some class in the joint, and The First Lady could certainly bring it.
Did you notice how few times the phrase “Academy Award” was said aloud? It was very few.
They just can't win, those poor Oscars. The producers of the Oscar telecast seem to be constantly walking a line: they want the show to be “hip” and “edgy” to claim a youth audience, but they also want the show to be sentimental and cosmopolitan, as is their tradition (Academy voters, it was revealed last year, average far older than coveted Oscar audiences). This is not a balance they have ever been able to strike with 100% success. This year's show tended to vacillate rather than balance. Nonetheless, I commend the effort, and was more entertained this year than in some previous years. I think in future though, it might be wise to skew older deliberately. I think a classier “boring” show would be more interesting than one that teenagers can dig. Maybe I'm saying this, though, because I'm no longer a teenager.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
Seth MacFarlane opened the 85th Annual Academy Awards with a scripted bit, in which Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner, not the new one) came back in time to prevent the evening from being a total disaster. Mission accomplished. These were the best Academy Awards in recent memory, distant memory, and perhaps even my whole memory. This year struck the supposedly difficult balance between entertainment, honoring the nominees and celebrating the history of motion pictures, and striking it made a beautiful sound. Unlike Witney, who seems to be mildly appreciative at best, I think it was a great show.
Oh, I’m still mad, mind you. And not just because I lost the damned bet with “Professor” Witney Seibold to eat three whole lemons while reciting the Gettysburg Address on camera. God, that’s a stupid bet. That’ll be up on the site in the next couple of days. No, no, I’m mad because so-and-so won the blah-de-blah, and it really shouldn’t have, and woe is me, nobody appreciates my critical insight and so forth.
Yeah, there are a couple of those. I liked Brave more than most, but it was at most the fourth best movie nominated this year for Best Animated Feature. I’m a little upset that Anna Karenina’s incredibly inventive ever-shifting production design lost the Oscar to Lincoln, but not terribly much, since the period accuracy in Steven Spielberg’s film was ratcheted to obsessive-compulsive and laudatory levels. Christoph Waltz was far from my pick for the Best Supporting Actor performance of the year. Sure, he was great, but he was also engaging in very similar schtick that earned him his last Oscar, for Inglourious Basterds, whereas Philip Seymour Hoffman and, to a lesser extent, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert De Niro were actually stretching their muscles creatively. And don’t get me started on Argo’s win for Best Adapted Screenplay. My problems with that particular script are on record, although again, I don’t think it’s a bad film by any particular means.
But more importantly, I think 2013 was the year when The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences proved unpredictable. (For the most part: Daniel Day-Lewis, Anne Hathaway and Adele were always shoe-ins). For a few hours on Sunday, February 24, 2013, anything could happen. Best Director could go to Ang Lee despite months of buzz for Steven Spielberg. An honest-to-goodness tie was actually possible, even if it was in the Best Sound Editing category (did you notice how they didn’t announce both winners at the same time? the other nominees must have been biting their fingers off all through Zero Dark Thirty’s acceptance speech). And the Oscars themselves could be fun, and that sense of fun could be the direct result of more musical numbers, and not less of them.
Look, we all knew the musical numbers were coming. This was Seth "Family Guy" MacFarlane after all, a man who never met a Broadway homage he didn’t salivate over, but I didn’t expect them to be so neatly integrated into the production, evolving naturally from the expected montages into live, thematically appropriate performances. Shirley Bassey concluded the James Bond tribute by singing “Goldfinger,” and she absolutely totaled the joint. Jennifer Hudson renewed her Oscar win with a performance that, rather surprisingly, made Adele seem small-voiced while singing “Skyfall” later in the telecast. And the producers, or Seth MacFarlane, or whoever was the particular genius behind this bit, kept them feeling random thanks to a brief, unexpected and utterly hilarious Sound of Music sketch, in which MacFarlane introduced the Von Trapps, followed by a Nazi bursting through the doors and announcing that they’d escaped. Funny, unobtrusive, and relevant to the vaunted history of the Academy. Kudos. Kudos.
That spirit of comedy was fanboyish, as Professor Seibold pointed out, but I think that’s exactly the right tone the Academy Awards should have. Seth MacFarlane may be an outsider, but it felt like he wanted in. His ode to “The Flying Nun” gave the impression of absolute joy, taken in even the most embarrassing chapters of the nominees’ careers. And his ode to nude scenes was presented in exactly the right way – as a very bad idea – to forgive its tawdry tone. He likes movie stars, and unlike many of us, he acknowledges publicly the natural compulsion to want to see them nude. This wasn’t a smug insider show. This was hero worship, detached just enough to make a few comedic criticisms. You know: the exact same sentiment most people have towards the film industry already. For a change, the Academy Awards felt like it was made for the rest of us, not just the millionaires accepting awards for how awesome they are.
After years of foregone conclusions and limitations set by previous Oscar ceremonies, the 85th Annual Academy Awards felt fresh, funny (well, Witney’s right… not so much that last bit over the credits) and dynamic. The winners were mostly surprising, often deserved, and in many respects indicative of an Academy that seems decreasingly likely to make the same old decisions over and over again. No sweeps, few cave-ins to peer voting pressure, and an Oscar for Michael Haneke. It’s hard to complain about that. So I don’t think I will.
Top Photo Credit: ABC/Bob D'Amico