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by Peter Knegt and Eric Kohn
October 10, 2012 10:41 AM
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Critical Consensus: Peter Knegt and Eric Kohn on the Oscar Season So Far

Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy."
KOHN: If Wallis and Riva land nominations -- and one of the two wins -- while Haneke and Phoenix take home prizes for dark, unsettling dramas with plenty of creative innovation to spare, this will be an Oscars for the ages...unless it's an embarrassment because host Seth MacFarlane combats the spark of intellect these movies represent with the half-baked sophomoric humor that pervades his work.  

Look, I have given "Family Guy" a chance. Many chances. Pretty much every episode of "Family Guy" is a series of chances, one cutaway after another hurtling a series of gags at you in the hopes something, anything, sticks. For stoned college kids, that's theoretically sufficient, until they sober up. (But I would recommend they change the channel to Cartoon Network and watch "Adventure Time" instead, as it has plenty of trippy, stream-of-consciousness inspiration behind its cartoon exterior without sacrificing narrative consistency...and it uses the Saturday morning cartoon mold to explore a post-apocalyptic world, which is a decision executed with something bordering on brilliance. Can you tell I'm a big fan? Jake and Finn for Oscar hosts in 2013!)

Of course, I get why MacFarlane was selected. As you rightly pointed out in your recent editorial, Oscar hosts have to be ridiculously versatile to do the job justice. MacFarlane can sing and dance and tell jokes in an aggressively commercial fashion, as the success of "Ted" recently proved. He's a safer choice for luring younger viewers and making the program seem relevant than Hathaway and Franco were two years ago.

But I feel compelled to push this conversation toward a focus on the movies at stake here, and worry about how the MacFarlane gamble could wind up hurting the handful of truly excellent movies the program has the power to highlight. If, the morning after the program, everybody is talking about the stupid-funny brilliance of MacFarlane's random jokes, who's going to talking about "Amour"?

One of many problems I have with "Family Guy" is that it pays homage to first-rate entertainment without explicitly acknowledging it -- a Jerry Lewis gag here, a "Who's on First" reference there -- and essentially steals its power. MacFarlane is good at appropriating greatness and spoofing it, but by hogging the spotlight could he defeat the purpose of the event in question? What say you?

Seth MacFarlane.
KNEGT: While I'm not particularly a fan of "Family Guy" (I'm more or less indifferent to it), I actually really like Seth MacFarlane as a personality. Honestly, that has more to do with watching him guest on "Real Time With Bill Maher" and host "Saturday Night Live" than anything else, but still: That's probably where we'd get a better idea as to how he'd be as an Oscar host than "Family Guy." I'm less concerned about how I might take to him than I have been for some time, Oscar host-wise.  I also don't think he'll hog the spotlight in a way that would have a negative impact on the purpose of the event. It seems to me that having a host like MacFarlane could help aid the Oscars ratings significantly, meaning more people will watch and potentially get inspired to go see films like "Amour" or "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

I do agree that having Wallis, Riva, Haneke and/or Phoenix as possible winners is an exciting prospect. And while I'd be pretty surprised if either of those actresses end up winning (I suspect this is going to look like a certain win for Jennifer Lawrence and "Silver Linings" before the nominations are even announced), I'd wage a bet on Haneke and Phoenix. That said, it is just mid-October, and quite a few films have yet to be seen by anyone. These include "Django Unchained," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Promised Land," "Les Miserables." What are you most excited to see from the remaining possible contenders?

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  • gretta | October 11, 2012 5:14 PMReply

    great discussion hope to see more of these before the Oskars

  • Daveylo | October 10, 2012 7:17 PMReply

    I wish I could share your enthusiasm for Phoenix. I don't think that's a Best Actor performance at all. I do agree about Riva, though. I am unsure about Lincoln, too. It could just do so-so business at the box office. When I think about seeing a movie around the holidays, it's not Lincoln I want to see. I have no idea if Life of Pi will be a hit but it could play well with a range of ages--teenagers to older people. I was very excited by the film when I saw it at NYFF.

    I do like musicals and I think Les Miserables looks promising. If Hugh Jackman is as good in the film as he is on the Broadway stage, I think he has a good shot at the Oscar. Jean Valjean is a heroic part. The Hobbit I think is going to be good but I don't know if the Academy will jump on the Jackson bandwagon again.

  • abacchus | October 10, 2012 3:03 PMReply

    Nice discussion guys - though I'd argue against races being locked up at this time last year or the year before. The Social Network dominated everything until the DGA Awards, no?

  • gold | October 10, 2012 3:01 PMReply

    So... there is hope for a good crop for this Oscar year?