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by Alison Willmore
February 25, 2013 12:52 PM
14 Comments
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The 2013 Oscars: Torn Between Self-Seriousness and Wanting to See Boobs

Seth MacFarlane hosts the Oscars ABC

The Academy Awards are not, as we were reminded several times during last night's telecast, a reflection of the films that are most successful by the measure of the box office. None of the best picture nominees were among the top ten money-making titles of the year, though a few were in the top 20. The massive blockbusters of Hollywood, with their superheroes, talking animals and young adult fiction adaptations, may get the popular vote, but they're not what the industry is looking to celebrate itself for on its special night. Nor do the Oscars match up with the critic and cinephile picks -- "Holy Motors" won Indiewire's annual year-end critics' poll, while "The Master" topped that of the Village Voice, two unconcernedly uncommercial films that weren't even up for the big prize.

No, the Oscars are all about how Hollywood sees itself, with the sparkle and glamour and joshing between famous friends. But Hollywood also wants and needs people to actually tune in to watch this giant 210+ minute affair, which is how we ended up with the whiplash combination of a ceremony themed, throwback style, around a celebration of movie musicals, but hosted by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane. Here, have some razzle-dazzle dance numbers, and also some jokes about boobs! Everyone can get a turn to be bored and offended.

The mess wasn't entirely MacFarlane's fault, though his stint fell so flat that when Ben Affleck came up to present an award, the actor/director made a wince-inducing crack about how maybe the host could still turn things around. MacFarlane's fratty humor relies on rapid churn, shock value and committed juvenilia, which made it a particularly odd fit for the event. That live recreation of the type of random cutaway gag he uses in his animated shows, involving a nod to "The Sound of Music" ahead of the introduction of Christopher Plummer, was the only solid laugh he received. Otherwise, made to operate at the pace of an award show and defanged just enough that his jabs were dragged out of the "everyone's a target" range and into the "you actually mean that, don't you?" one, MacFarlane felt like the visiting creepy uncle who interrupts Thanksgiving dinner to tell obnoxious ethnic jokes no one finds funny, then spends the rest of the night hitting on his niece's high school-aged friend.

Part of the problem was that MacFarlane didn't feel like part of this world. Rather than come across as an insider comfortably jesting with colleagues, he seemed like someone who'd be more in his element snarking about the proceedings on Twitter alongside everyone else at home. Why else would someone ever think it a good idea to close out the ceremony singing a song dedicated to (and including specific nods to) the Oscar losers? Kristin Chenoweth, a showbiz pro through-and-through, smiled like a champ at his side as the pair stumbled through that final number, but it was hard not to think that the reason the producers weren't showing the reactions of people in the audience was that they were all already filing out on their way to the party.

MacFarlane's shtick involved a lot of meta-commentary on his being a host, from William Shatner's appearance as a time traveler sent to prevent him from tanking to the way he couched a creaky joke about facial hair on the Kardashians with a comment about how he thought they'd cut that line. It felt like a preemptive deflection of criticism that, as the show rolled on, became clear would be well-earned -- but predicting people won't take to what you're doing isn't the same as or the next best thing to actually making it all work.

What was worst about MacFarlane's many failed bits was how broad and easy they were in their attempts to be edgy, particularly when it came to attempted quips about women. Misogyny's consistently been an undercurrent in his work, and it was hardly subtextual here. From the "boob" song to the line about Salma Hayek's attractiveness overcoming her apparently incomprehensible accent, from the eating disorder joke congratulating the beautiful women on "giving themselves the flu" to the bit about "Zero Dark Thirty" being about "every woman's innate ability to never ever let anything go," the rage against the female half of the population that MacFarlane's always seemed to harbor was uncomfortably close to the surface.

But not even MacFarlane's Adele fat joke by way of Rex Reed could change the fact that women were responsible for the majority of the interminable night's few highlights -- divas Shirley Bassey, a terrific Jennifer Hudson and Adele stole the show with their performances, though the faulty sound mix that plagued the ceremony left the latter sounding swamped by the backing orchestral arrangement, while Jennifer Lawrence taking a tumble on the stairs in her voluminous dress and then laughing at herself about it in her speech was an endearingly human moment.

Those sparks of life were very scattered in what was, aside from MacFarlane, a well-behaved affair in which the threat of the "Jaws" theme as playoff music made every speech feel hurried, after it was used to impolitely cut off visual effects award-winner Bill Westenhofer's attempt to bring up the financial problems of VFX house Rhythm & Hues, who worked on winning film "Life of Pi." It was Daniel Day-Lewis who got the night's biggest reaction with a joking mention of how he'd been in line to play Margaret Thatcher while Meryl Streep, who presented the award, was due to take the role of Lincoln, and they "decided to do a straight swap" -- a funny line to start off a sincere, classy speech that was a reminder of how these events can, and really should, work.

Not that we needed another one -- as Shatner grumbled, "why can't Tina and Amy host everything?" Fey and Poehler oversaw an uncommonly good Golden Globes telecast last month that was everything the Oscars were not, including something that was actually entertaining to watch. MacFarlane may have been a terrible fit for host, but he's that's because he's an example of the identity crisis the award show and the industry have been having in recent years. As the middle drops out of film and there's a growing divide between indies and massive franchises, the intersection between craft and celebrity that the Oscars celebrate becomes an ever more precarious place, and the ceremony has always displayed a warped idea of what people at home want to watch and what's important.

"You guys have made some inspiring movies. I made 'Ted.'" said MacFarlane. "Your movies are going to win awards. My movies are in Redboxes outside of grocery stores being urinated on by bums." But that urinal cake of a DVD was also the 9th biggest of the year at the box office, so it's hard to imagine that he feels all that bad or, really, cares -- what does he need awards for? His sizable following probably checked out long ago, if they tuned in at all. It's everyone else who had to suffer.

14 Comments

  • WeSawYourJunk | February 27, 2013 5:11 AMReply

    If the jokes are funny and harmless, then they'll still be funny and harmless when we reverse the genders. Let's test that out, shall we?

    Tarantino gave himself the flu to fit in his tux! Shirley Bassey says George Clooney is too old for her! Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Daniel Day-Lewis is kind of a c*nt, right?

    Ned Beatty, we saw your junk! You were being raped, but laugh along or you're difficult and don't have a sense of humor!

    Steven Spielberg won't admit his past as an exotic dancer, and it doesn't matter that we can't understand Ang Lee because he's so attractive.

    It's funny!!! Because comedy is never political or expressing a skewed world view, or reinforcing power dynamics that Those In Power are afraid of losing. Suck it up, minorities! Your white male mastah is making fun of you!!

    All of this year's Oscar male actor nominees (Supporting and Lead) have shown their butts onscreen. All of them. And I made memes ("We Saw Your Butt") here:

    http://WeSawYourJunk.tmblr.com

  • rob | February 26, 2013 1:17 PMReply

    I thought the oscars were more fun and interesting than ever. I disagree with this article completely. I actually stayed tuned in entirely. The jokes were funny. The skits were hilarious. Even the music was interesting. All of the OSCARS and award shows should be as interesting.

  • rob | February 26, 2013 1:17 PMReply

    I thought the oscars were more fun and interesting than ever. I disagree with this article completely. I actually stayed tuned in entirely. The jokes were funny. The skits were hilarious. Even the music was interesting. All of the OSCARS and award shows should be as interesting.

  • Nival | February 26, 2013 6:25 AMReply

    dear alison, i don't know much about the show business or seth for that matter, i was a viewer of oscars from sri lanka who watched it because i love movies and i love to see great work being rewarded. but what i can't understand is this is just one event and just because he uttered one or two jokes about women, does it mean the guy is misogynist? come on, you sound very childish to me..why can't u consider a joke as it is and just leave it at that?..ok if he's consistently using misogynistic and racial undertones in his show then that's another matter. i dont know a thing about his show, but is this something you have to take this seriously??..this is precisely the reason why most critics are painted bad in the final picture, i remember what ebert says about this, the thing he had pasted in his room. the show was boring..but offensive?..come on..there are lot more crude, crass and offensive jokes shared all over the world all the time, give this guy a break, he tried his best and it was probably not good enough, but can't you at least acknowledge he was better than franco and anna?..can't get where you are coming from, your objections sounds to me as irrelevant and childish.

  • David Kay | February 26, 2013 2:17 AMReply

    Okay, so you really, really hate Seth MacFarlane. Seems unlikely that you arrived at that feeling based on his performance last night, more likely that you were determined to hate him no matter what he did or said. Remarkably closed-minded for an "indie" website. Also a very selective, one-sided analysis of his bits, which made lots of fun of both men and women. For example, you conveniently forgot to mention that in the Salma Hayek bit was an equal mention of Javier Bardem. Disappointed to see such slanted, biased reportage on this site.

  • mab | February 26, 2013 1:21 AMReply

    You say his sizable following probably checked out, or didn't show up, then how was his telecast the first to eclipse 40 million viewers in 3 years? Television sweetheart Ellen can't even say that. Is his humor a put-off? Maybe, but it draws attention and gets people talking (see this article and many like it as proof) and ultimately that's what television is all about. Audience viewership. Doesn't matter if you didn't laugh or groaned and shook your head, you watched, and for that MacFarlane did his job. And I wish people would quit calling him the worst host. Does no one remember the Hathaway/Franco debacle?

  • D. J. Fone | February 25, 2013 10:13 PMReply

    The New Year's Day edition of Parade Magazine for 1980 suggested "How To Be Happy". One of the tops was "Avoid zealots. They tend to be humorless." I have yet to find a hardcore feminist with a sense of humor, or a tendency to not take total offense at every joke that finds any woman at the butt of it. And when such a person writes for publication or Web access, it's considered misognystic to criticize her. Let's just go back to the Bob Hope hosting days, and make fun only of straight, white men...like every TV commercial already does.

    Re "Why can't Amy and Tina" host everything?", let's see how well they do when they get away from movie AND TV stars huddling --- with alcohol --- for the Golden Globes; drop the TV stars, and have to endure an hour between interesting awards, having to make "Sound Mixing" and "Sound Editing" and "Animated Short" sound worth tuning in for.

  • acmes | February 25, 2013 11:06 PM

    Fone: You're referencing Parade Magazine from 1980? Really? Did you save it? MacFarlane is basically a frat-boy. He's kind of funny if you're drunk enough.

  • Ken Rudolph | February 25, 2013 5:29 PMReply

    Uh, Mr. Klein, THE IMPOSSIBLE was about a tsunami which killed over a quarter of a million people over a broad swath of area, including lots of white people (including my nephew, a white man, who died in THAILAND that Boxing day.) It was also the true story of a Spanish WHITE family who survived. Now maybe a case might be made for not hiring an Australian actress to play a Spaniard. But there was nothing disturbing about hiring a WHITE actress to play the role.

  • crazyXcrazy | February 25, 2013 3:12 PMReply

    In none shock news, this piece was written by a woman.

  • shipwrecked | February 25, 2013 6:36 PM

    so what?

  • Jordan | February 25, 2013 3:02 PMReply

    Come on. MacFarlane is a multi-talented individual who was probably the perfect host. He is a writer, he does voices, he sings and dances, and he has created his own brand of comedy. His comedy can be low-brow and repetitive at times, but you have to respect him for never shying away from taboo subjects, no matter what the blowback might be. We need more people who speak their minds in this industry and who put that honesty into their work, not less.

  • innerjuju | February 25, 2013 1:28 PMReply

    Shatner had it right. "Worst Oscar Host in History"

  • David Klein | February 25, 2013 1:52 PM

    Not by a long shot.

    To be fair, I totally get the lack of appeal people can have for MacFarlane's brand of humor. Were some of the sexist and Jew jokes a bit much? Probably, yeah.

    But I do find it funny that for all the hubbub over an Oscars host, I've seen far fewer pieces focusing on say, the Rhythm & Hues VFX team controversy. Or the Academy's quick "Jaws" theme trigger finger. Or maybe the disturbing undertones of nominating a white actress for an Oscar in a movie about a hurricane in THAILAND.

    I love film, but perhaps we now direct our energy to more productive outlets, not movie award ceremonies?