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The Highlights & Worst Aspects Of The 85th Academy Awards

The Highlights & Worst Aspects Of The 85th Academy Awards

For what it’s worth, the ratings for last night’s Oscar show look to be up, suggesting that the Academy’s gamble with Seth MacFarlane paid off (although, the fact that six of the Best Picture nominations made over $100 million is probably the most significant factor; see all the winners here). But creatively, things were a little more mixed, most can agree.

It certainly wasn’t as bad as the James Franco/Anne Hathaway-fronted disaster of two years ago, and we’d argue that it marked an improvement on last year’s Billy Crystal-hosted throwback affair, but certainly didn’t come close to either of Hugh Jackman‘s shindigs, or even one of the Jon Stewart years. There were good points, but plenty of bad as well, so below, we’ve run down what we thought worked, and what we thought didn’t, about the 85th Academy Awards broadcast. Let us know your own thoughts in the comments section and check out our list of the way things can be improved next year.

Highlights

The Speeches
We have to say, despite the eagerness to keep speeches on the short side (see below), we ended up with a pretty good selection. Christoph Waltz was heartfelt and quick to acknowledge his fellow nominees, Anne Hathaway (who got some hate on social media, but mainly from the people who would hate her whatever she said) walked the fine line of not looking surprised, but still being gracious, Michael Haneke proved that he’s a secret romantic, Adele was teary and true to herself, Daniel Day-Lewis continued his charm offensive as he became the first person in history to win three Best Actor trophies, and delivered some of the best jokes of the evening, while Jennifer Lawrence was the Jennifer Lawrence we’ve all come to know and love, tripping up the steps and all. Perhaps the best of them all were left til last, with Best Director and Best Picture. Ang Lee was clearly a popular winner on the night, warmly received by the audience, and managed to top his previous speech, while Affleck was clearly touched, endearingly speeding along, speaking from the heart about his career arc from his mid-’00s drought to his current success. And props to George Clooney too, who’d not only added some much needed-class earlier in the evening when introducing the In Memoriam section, but also was generous enough to know that this wasn’t his moment, letting Affleck and producing partner Grant Heslov speak instead of him. Watch the speeches here.

The Dancing
The musical elements were decidedly hit-and-miss, as we’ll see throughout this piece, but one thing that worked like gangbusters early on were the dance sequences featuring A-list talent. Part of the joke of the endless William Shatner bit was that these scenes would save the night, and it wasn’t far off the case, as Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum danced (impressively, and very sexily) together, before Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe joined MacFarlane for “High Hopes.” They might have been thin excuses for MacFarlane to do his B-list Robert Goulet thing, but the charm and talent of the actors involved shone through. Maybe they should all host together next year? The choreography, by stage veteran Rob Ashford, was pretty swell too.
Sock Puppet “Flight
A lot of MacFarlane’s skitty-bits didn’t work, but we did enjoy the non-sequitur element of his sock-puppet tribute to “Flight.” It was a funny pick because it was quite random (the film was only nominated twice), but also featured the oddity of a sock version of Brian Geraghty, and the excellent gag of cutting to a tumble dryer as the plane crashes. A throwaway bit, but funnier and more charming than most of what we had to sit through.  The Bond Songs & Les Mis
Among the more effective musical moments were the ones that actually tied into this year’s  nominees. While the Bond tribute was a bit of a washout in general, Shirley Bassey‘s “Goldfinger” was an undeniable highlight, the 76-year-old Welsh chanteuse nailing the song as if it was forty years ago. And she was matched by Adele‘s “Skyfall.” It was the first time the singer performed the song live, but it killed, reminding us slightly ahead of the fact that it’s the most deserving winner of Original Song since Eminem‘s “Lose Yourself.” Finally, while it might not be popular with everyone, I personally really enjoyed the “Les Miserables” production number. For all the problems with the film, the cast were not one of them, and letting them do their thing without have cameras ten inches from the faces was a reminder of their talent (even if it looked for a moment that one of the waiters had stormed the stage; that was the relatively-unknown Aaron Tveit). Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks were were all in fine form, and Russell Crowe deserves props too for ignoring the snark and doing a pretty decent job too.Paul Rudd & Melissa McCarthy
Most of the “funny” hosting bits didn’t really work, and while I might be in the minority here, I thought Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy delivered the best of them in 2013. Presenting the animation categories, it kicked off with Rudd headbutting the mic, before the pair delivered an anti-comedy riff on their own vocal skills, and how no one’s hiring them for animation. It’s not one for the ages or anything, but it made us chuckle, and that was something lacking for much of the rest of the show.

Jennifer Lawrence
If it wasn’t already the case, Jennifer Lawrence cemented her position as America’s Sweetheart last night. From her fangirlish introduction of Adele, to her trip on stage (gallantly offered help by both Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman, she picked herself up, made a joke and got on with the speech), she was consistently ace throughout the ceremony. And she was even more endearing backstage, meeting and flirting with/knocking back Jack Nicholson, and giving cutting, smart put-downs during her backstage press conference, while admitting that she’d just done a shot. Lawrence has long promised to be the most interesting and wildly popular new movie star in a long time, and seemed to fulfill her promise last night.



Lowlights

Seth MacFarlane
The “Family Guy” and “Ted” creator was always going to be divisive — his mix of old-school entertainer vibe and button-pushing humor made demograhpic sense, and he impressed hosting “Saturday Night Live” recently, but there was always the risk that it would come out as mean-spirited as much of his output so far. And unfortunately, that’s what we got. MacFarlane was reasonably competent at hosting (he didn’t fall off the stage or dry up or anything), and he had a few decent laugh lines — it wasn’t a James Franco-style disaster. But it was almost more insidious than that, with a thick vein of sexism running throughout the show, from opening number “We Saw Your Boobs” (it’s worth remembering that several of the scenes MacFarlane mentioned in the number were rape scenes) to an icky joke about Quvenzhane Wallis to gags directed at Jennifer Aniston and Adele, to the line about “Zero Dark Thirty” being about how women can’t let anything go — barely a commercial break would go by without MacFarlane targeting women. He might take pride in being an equal opportunity offender, but he was certainly aiming at some targets more than others. There was no “We Saw Your Penis,” for instance, a contrast particularly drawn by the way Andy Samberg at the Spirit Awards joked not about Helen Hunt‘s nudity, but about John Hawkes‘ lack of it. Not that the others got off scott free either, with very MacFarlaneish jokes about Jews (the very word treated, as it so often is, as a sort of punchline), Nazis and more. A balance can be struck when it comes to offensive material, but it has to feel less lazy and mean-spirited than this (as with “Ted,” the gags were shocking, but never even transgressive), leaving MacFarlane looking like a flailing frat-boy. That much of the show also revolved around his narcissist swing singer side gig (including the trainwreck of a closing number, which had the feeling of being performed to an empty auditorium) didn’t help his cause much either.The Avengers
It felt a little odd when the cast of “The Avengers” were introduced, only for them to walk on without Scarlett Johansson (who is presumably unavailable due to Broadway commitments, but still). And the bit (which saw the cast presenting Cinematography and Visual Effects) only got more ill-conceived from there. Robert Downey Jr‘s opening crack about box office came across as bitter, the banter failed to ever take off and we’re still not sure whether they actually botched it, or if it was just deliberately terrible. But it perhaps demonstrated that you if you can’t get Joss Whedon to write for those guys, it may not be worth bothering.
Tarantino’s Speech
While Quentin Tarantino probably had good intentions when he started his “Django Unchained” acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay last night, the man’s healthy ego certainly got in the way fast.  Ostensibly trying to pay his actors a compliment, he ultimately did it in a way — much like he did all season long with talk about his own “poetry” — that was painfully self-congratulatory, patting himself on the back for the casting, and in his skill in writing characters. “It’s not just an easy thing to say,” Tarantino said of the lines of dialogue in his “Django Unchained” script. “It really is why I’m standing here. Knowing people who watch my films 20-30 years from now it’s going to be because of the characters I created.” Cut to shot of Jamie Foxx going, “Jesus, Quentin, where are you going with this?” Yes, a lot of people get awkward during acceptance speeches generally full of emotion and fear, but this has been Tarantino’s signature form all year long. “I’ve only got one chance to get it right. I’ve got to cast the right people to make those character come alive and hopefully live for a long time,” Tarantino said. “And boy this time did I do it!” Yes, Tarantino, perhaps realizing how this may sound tried to rally and thank his actors, peers and competition, but lord that was a very awkward and strange acceptance speech.Most Of The Musical Numbers
While we dug the dance numbers, the “Les Miserables” medley and the Bond themes, there were just as many musical numbers that didn’t work, mostly revolving around MacFarlane. We’ve already talked about the borderline-infantile “We Saw Your Boobs,” but the rewrite of “Be Our Guest” was pretty lacking in laughs, and the final number, a tribute to the losers, with him and Kristen Chenoweth was wildly misjudged. But even those he wasn’t involved with were hit and miss. We know that the show’s producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron were behind “Chicago,” but it was a truly ego-driven move to make much of the show an extended tribute to their own brilliance, with a lip-synched number from the film, the cast presenting an award, and a mean joke about how no one remembers what film lost to “Chicago” ten years back. There was even a moment where MacFarlane took time to thank Zadan and Meron, a moment presumably written into the show by… Zadan and Meron. The “Dreamgirls” extract was pretty dull as well. We get the desire to pay tribute to the movie musical, but to do so exclusively from films in the last decade (where was “West Side Story?” Or “Cabaret?” Or ‘Singin’ In The Rain?”) felt short-sighted.Playing Winners Off While Including Irrelevant Bullshit
Probably the moment that left the sourest taste was when the winners of Best Visual Effects (for “Life of Pi”) were played off with the “Jaws” theme music. It would have felt nasty for anyone, but given that it happened as Bill Westenhofer paid tribute to his colleague at Rhythm & Hues, the recently bankrupted company who did much of the extraordinary work on ‘Pi,’ and who had employees protesting outside the red carpet, it feld distinctly cold-hearted. It gave the impression of a cover-up at worst, and at best it just seemed to be heartless, particularly as the company also worked on the later “Ted” segment. And it was all the more egregious in the way that the time was instead used for pointless musical numbers, unfunny sketches, and indulgent “tributes,” like the 007 one, a missed opportunity that essentially proved to be just a poorly assembled supercut. Even the In Memoriam section seemed truncated this year, in favor of Barbara Streisand‘s extended tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. For all the “without them, we’d be nothing” spirit of the awards, moments like playing off Westenhofer and co. really betrays the contempt with which the Academy can often treat the below-the-liners.

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