Great Oscars, shame about the host
No matter what you think about Billy Crystal's numerous stints as Oscar host, at least he never made a joke about waiting for a NINE YEAR OLD girl to be legal.
Yes, from the moment Seth MacFarlane was announced as the host of the 85th Academy Awards, a sense of dread began to build in the pit of my stomach. It reached Tums-worthy levels this week as Los Angeles was overrun by billboards proclaiming "READY, SETH, GO" and his beady-eyed grin confronted me at every turn.
When he launched into an excruciatingly drawn out and self-indulgent opening monologue, I knew we were in for a long night. And by the time that monologue turned into a "hilarious" 'what could have been' musical number about boobs, I was considering laptop-based hara kiri:
Not long after that, he cracked wise about how Quvenzhane Wallis - who is NINE - will be too old for George Clooney in 16 years. Then, his winning gag that “Django [Unchained] is a movie where a woman is subjected to violence, or as we call it, a Chris Brown and Rihanna date movie.”
Nice one, Seth! Double misogyny and racism bingo!
In fact, that was more or less the theme of his hosting effort: jokes at the expense of women (their diets, their "innate inability to ever let anything go", even a sly gag about an orgy at Jack Nicholson's house, which you may remember is where Roman Polanski allegedly raped a woman), and people who aren't white (Don Cheadle is black so let's make a slavery joke! The Kardashians have facial hair! You can't understand what Spanish and Mexican actors and actresses are saying!).
Combine that with his insufferable self-styled renaissance man routine - he sings! He dances! - and by the end of his nineteen-minute odyssey (which clocks in at four minutes longer than Oscar's most infamous train wreck, the 1989 Snow White disaster) I was longing for the good old bad old days of Billy Crystal delivering a pun-heavy Bruce Vilanch monologue.
The theme of the 85th Oscars was, evidently, the magic of movies and music, and MacFarlane made a major error of judgment when he closed his neverending opening with a spoof on Be Our Guest.
You see, unfortunately for MacFarlane, it brought to mind one of the greatest Oscar musical numbers of all time, performed by Broadway legend Jerry Orbach, at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992:
MacFarlane's contribution to the night was, for the most part, self-satisfied, mean spirited, and more often than not, not just teetering on the brink of bad taste, but plunging over the precipice into a pit of sexism and racism.
Worse, he was regularly unfunny.
I spent most of the evening making the same face Best Editor presenter Sandra Bullock made when she tried to open the envelope:
So, on to the show itself: producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron did keep things zipping along at a decent pace, and their background in musical comedy shone through in the genuinely entertaining musical numbers.
On that tip, a major boon for the night was getting previous - and, as they proved once more, deserving - Best Supporting Actress winners Catherine Zeta Jones and Jennifer Hudson to reprise their big numbers from Chicago and Dream Girls respectively. I don't have much time for Les Mis, but its cast did a bang up job of not sounding too much like the Balwyn High School 1998 speech night medley when they followed Zeta Jones and Hudson in a tribute to movie musicals (introduced by John Travolta, who finally has his toupee under control).
The "old guard" outshone their younger peers, whether it was Christopher Plummer killing it as Best Supporting Actress presenter, or - in the night's greatest moment - Dame Shirley Bassey KILLING IT with Goldfinger (which followed a totally half-arsed "tribute" to 50 years of James Bond).
And then, the 'In Memoriam' segment, which can always be relied upon to up the evening's class factor by roughly 1000%, proved the true ace up Oscar's sleeve for 2013, when it closed on composer Marvin Hamlisch... and then Barbra Streisand knocked it out of the park with a stunning rendition of Hamlisch's masterpiece, The Way We Were:
It was probably a little galling for Adele, whose performance of Skyfall was oddly muted (foldback issues?), though I'm sure that Best Original Song gong took the sting out of it.
Of the winners, the usual routine played out: the tech and craft winners gave the night's most sincere and touching speeches, while the big shots in the major categories thanked their lawyers and agents. (And you could just about hear the ice spreading across the auditorium when Ang Lee declared he didn't have time to thank all the actors in the film that won him Best Director, The Life Of Pi.)
Quentin Tarantino's Best Original Screenplay speech was typically shambolic and inspiring, and - unlike Lee later in the evening - he gave most of the credit to the actors who bring his work to life.
I was particularly pleased to see Brave win Best Animated Feature, given co-director (and creator) Brenda Chapman was "removed" from the project when Pixar, presumably, felt uncomfortable about its feminist overtones and intimate exploration of mother-daughter relationships (evidently it needed more bum jokes, and that's where co-winner Mark Andrews came in).
Daniel Day Lewis' speech was both blisteringly hilarious and almost unbearably sincere, while poor Jennifer Lawrence lived out every aspiring Oscar-winner's anxiety dream when she fell on her way to the stage:
Fortunately for Jen, The Nicest Men In The Universe, Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper, dashed to her aid:
Argo taking Best Picture - and being introduced by Michelle Obama! (Whose short but stirring speech about the power of the arts brought a tear to my eye) - was, for my money, probably the night's biggest upset (after Lee for Best Director, that is).
As egregiously fast and loose as it played with the facts of the hostage crisis ("Give 'em some more car chases!" *cigar chomp*), it was an enjoyable thriller, but surely not the year's finest? Lincoln was at least "only" guilty of omissions of truths (i.e. where are all the Black people?) rather than just making stuff up for the hell of it.
But then Ben Affleck had to go and ruin it all - i.e. dissolve all my cynicism - with a touching speech that reminded everyone that success takes hard work and that so does marriage.
It would have been a nice note to end on, which is usually the case (Crystal rushes out, says thanks to the Academy, and the credits roll along with Hooray For Hollywood), but this year being The Seth MacFarlane show, it was time for just one more song, and boy, wasn't it a doozy.
Going out on probably the sourest and most mean-spirited note since Crash won Best Picture, MacFarlane and Kristen Chenoweth (a true trooper who is far better than stooping to this level) sang a song "For the losers", which book-ended his sneering hosting gig by opening with another gag at Wallis' expense, this time about how sad she must be not to have won. A nine-year-old girl.
Way to go, Seth, you're a real big guy.
Please, Oscar, for all that is holy in this world (i.e. Dame Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand and the various terrible hairstyles of the editors and sound engineers of Hollywood): next year forget about "edgy" when you're looking for a host, and just go with "decent human being".