Before looking back on last night’s Academy Awards telecast, a few notes:
1. I don’t know about you, but I tend to forget a lot about the substance of most awards shows about a week after I read the last article or hear the last podcast discussing them. Memorable moments always stand out and winners, upsets and surprises are not quickly forgotten, but if you were to ask me to give any more than a vague recollection and a “great/good/okay/bad/awful” rating for any past show, I’d be struggling to come up with much. I have enough trouble remembering what it is I think I want to say about the movies I see and write about here, it seems a waste to spend too much time thinking about the movie awards show and how things compare to previous years.
At this point, the Oscars are like an annual version of Saturday Night Live. There’s a host who starts with a monologue and appears throughout the night in various capacities. There’s an all-star “cast” of presenters and performers who try out various bits before getting to the nominees. There are the musical guests, performing the nominated songs or just singing to entertain. There are the recurring segments that we get every episode (think of “In Memoriam” like the Oscars’ version of “Weekend Update”). The two shows have a lot of similar pieces that are all separate and distinct. Judged on their own the parts can, and often do, run the gamut of quality. Because of this, when judged as a whole, it’s rare to find a full episode of SNL or a complete Oscar telecast that is great. And, of course, the Oscars are always at least twice as long as the average SNL episode, so that’s definitely working against them. Obviously, the comparison is not perfect (where do the acceptance speeches and the gigantic star-filled audience fit?), but I think it works well enough for me to have spent this paragraph discussing it. Regardless, this is just my way of saying that whatever everyone thinks of the Oscar telecast for the next week or so, I, for one, will remember the very good and the very bad, but soon forget everything that falls in between, which is usually the majority of the show.
2. I’m writing this without having read any other critical reviews or “best/worst of” articles. I did see some headlines and I did check out a few online posts that appeared during the run of the show, but I haven’t read any in-depth opinions on how the telecast went, what worked and what didn’t. So if I repeat something everyone is saying, I’ve wasted your time and if I say something contrary to what everyone else is saying, I’m an astute and perceptive viewer (or I’m an idiot).
3. Lastly, I must admit that I often do other things while watching the Oscars. Mostly it’s just reading online, sometimes it’s going to the kitchen to prepare food. Because of this, I probably miss certain things. I don’t get paid to do this, so I’m fine with missing bits and pieces of a 3.5 hour long show.
If you hated the Academy Awards this year, don’t put all of the blame on Seth MacFarlane (even if you hated him to begin with). I was optimistic about his shot at hosting and I believe he was on the “good” side of the hosting spectrum. I thought his monologue was pretty good, though the Captain Kirk thing was a little odd and the Flying Nun bit didn’t quite work beyond the initial sight/reference gag. His jokes were sometimes crass, sometimes corny, often funny but always appropriately self-aware. Plus, he got Tommy Lee Jones to smile right off the bat, which seemed an impossible task after the Golden Globes. He sang a song about boobs which was funny, if juvenile (he’s a good singer, too). He managed to work a Nazi into the show. He also said that Argo was so Top Secret that the film’s “director is unknown to the Academy”. That’s good stuff. There was bad stuff too, like the two-years-too-late Mel Gibson joke, but on the whole, I think he did well when he was featured.
I feel that after the monologue, Oscar hosts almost uniformly fall into the background of a telecast, with their main task being to introduce presenters and maybe a couple of other segments. I think this is also where the host’s writers (or the host him or herself) stop caring so much. They’ve made it past the big opener, now they just have to keep people from rolling their eyes too much for the next three hours. Presenter intro jokes are usually hit-or-miss and I didn’t really have a problem with MacFarlane’s because if they fell flat, at least they were fleeting.
I don’t think it’s “too soon” for jokes about the Lincoln assassination, especially ones as cleverly worded as MacFarlane’s (call me a cynic, but I doubt that the average American knows that John Wilkes Booth was an actor, if they even know his name at all–maybe the average Oscar viewer does though). On the contrary, I don’t think that jokes about the assassination are anything new. Still, when you’ve got Lincoln nominated for 12 awards, that’s too big a target (if you’ll excuse my language) and I think MacFarlane hit closer to the bullseye on that particularly controversial joke.
The Real Problems
I have two bigger problems with the show. First, I thought that many of the presenters were bad. I doubt we should blame MacFarlane for the crimes of Octavia Spencer, Paul Rudd & Melissa McCarthy, the Avengers (minus Scarlett Johansson), definition-of-hot-mess Kristen Stewart, and unkempt (but sunglasses-free) Jack Nicholson, to name a few. Yes, their patter may have been scripted for them, perhaps even by MacFarlane, plus presenting can sometimes just be an awkward situation in general, but why were things so bad?
[I totally forgot to mention Michelle Obama’s appearance when I posted this originally. It was as strange, if not stranger than Captain Kirk showing up, particularly combined with Nicholson. Not exactly bad, just weird.]
Second, the celebration of music in film “theme” of the show simply did not work at all (for me). I don’t know if MacFarlane lobbied for this because of his sometime-crooner persona, or if it was a decision by someone else, but regardless, it was a misstep. It’s okay to want to celebrate the great musicals, but why only Chicago (twice) and Dreamgirls? Nobody mentioned Singin’ in the Rain once. Yes, Adele rocked “Skyfall” and I liked seeing the Les Miserables cast (the music was never the problem in that film, Russell Crowe aside), but Nora Jones performing the song from Ted and then only clips of the other two nominees exemplified the odd thematic structure in microcosm. Sure “Skyfall” was totally going to win, but after hearing 30 seconds of the song from Chasing Ice (did anyone actually see Chasing Ice? Because I want to now) was there anyone who wasn’t wondering just why we weren’t given a chance to see Scarlett Johansson perform it live?
Shirley Bassey was a nice touch, though I don’t think she needed to sing the whole song. I don’t think we needed Streisand at all, though her appearance was appropriately sentimental. Finally (on the music theme), the big finale number with MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth was worthless. It was awkwardly placed after in-show sponsor ads, the credits were played over the top of it, it was difficult to hear (that’s another problem for this show as a whole), and it was shot from one angle, presumably so we couldn’t see the crowd sprinting for the exits.
[2/26/13 – I’ve been convinced that Streisand wasn’t superfluous, but perhaps could have been used differently (see comments below).]
Streisand aside, I think the “In Memoriam” montage was one of the best in recent memory. It seems weird to be judging a bunch of clips of dead people, but there a couple of reasons I thought this one worked. It wasn’t overlong. It gave everyone pretty equal time, with the exception of a few audio quotes and the extended Marvin Hamlisch song tribute. The audience stayed quiet for the most part. Sure, there were a few little moments of applause, but we didn’t get a big ovation for an acclaimed actor or director followed by crickets chirping for some poor, dead sound guy.
I think I’m mostly on board with the Best Picture montages too. With nine nominees and a 3.5 hour telecast, it’s best to keep things concise. The only problem is deciding which films to present together. Argo, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty were obvious. Beasts, Les Miserables and Life of Pi were close enough. But then we’ve got Django, Silver Linings and Amour. Hmmmmmm. Oh well, you can’t win them all, and when you don’t have time for nine separate segments, I think this works fine.
50 Years of 007
As a huge James Bond fan, I’m glad they decided to pay tribute to the series. I don’t care for Halle Berry as a Bond Girl (or Die Another Day as a Bond film), but she looked great introducing the clip package. As for the presentation itself, I think it was a little lackluster. What we got were clips from the movies played behind writhing silhouettes so frequently seen in Bond title sequences. Obviously, the music was great, but I get the feeling that whoever was supposed to edit together the clips was a bit overwhelmed by 23 films and 50 years worth of footage. There were at least two or three stunt sequences that needed to be in the montage, not to mention a few more lingering shots of actors. Maybe they could have put together clips of several villains and girls and maybe every James Bond doing some similar action, just to give us a feel for the history and variety that the series had to offer. That said, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t exactly outstanding. Still, the fact that they were willing to spend what must’ve been about 6-8 minutes on James Bond alone, a series with a reputation for offering formulaic, perhaps even disposable action fare, is a reward on its own.
I mentioned the series’ Oscar history above, but it is worth noting that of the 11 nominations for the series, six of them actually came during the Roger Moore era. That might come as a surprise for some fans, but keep in mind that none of those nominations resulted in an Oscar. Diamonds Are Forever, perhaps somewhat appropriately, is the only non-Moore James Bond film to “lose” an Academy Award.
Although news came out that it wasn’t happening, how AWESOME would it have been to get all six “official” James Bonds on stage at the end of the tribute? I’d trade Shirley Bassey for that any day. I don’t know how hard they tried to make this happen, though I did hear rumors that Sean Connery (the only Academy Award winning 007) was the holdout. Never say never again, Sean!
The Winners and Losers
I did alright with my predictions, but missed on several “will win” guesses, including Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Supporting Actor and more. I don’t want to re-hash everything I said in my Pre-Oscars post, so that should keep this post to a manageable length. We can just do some quick-hits here:
- Skyfall Sucks: Roger Deakins goes 0 for 10 in Best Cinematography. Thomas Newman goes 0 for 11 in Best Original Score. Greg P. Russell goes 0 for 16 in Sound Mixing. At least they’re not Sound editor/mixer Kevin O’Connell, who, though not nominated this year, is 0 for 20 (12 of which he co-lost with Russell).
- Skyfall Rules: The Best Original Song win and the Best Sound Editing win doubles the number of Oscars won by James Bond movies. These were the first nominations for the series since 1981 (For Your Eyes Only, Best Song) and the first wins since 1965 (Thunderball, Best Special Visual Effects) and 1964 (Goldfinger, Best Sound Effects).
- “No BS, it’s a tie”: Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty (with its only win of five nominations) tied in the Best Sound Editing category. I was actually really excited about this, probably more than I should have been considering the category. Also, this is not unprecedented. The most notable tie was in 1968 when Barbara Streisand and (an absent) Katherine Hepburn shared the Best Actress award. In 1949 two films shared the Best Documentary short award. In 1986, two films shared the Best Documentary Feature award. In 1994 two films shared the Best Live Action Short award. Also, in 1931/1932 Fredric March and Wallace Beery tied for Best Actor. Beery technically lost by one vote, but at the time if the margin was three votes or less, it was declared a tie.
- Michael Haneke (director of Best Foreign Film winner Amour) was actually at the ceremony, and clapping!
- Daniel Day-Lewis picked up a record third Best Actor award. Say what you will about his method, that’s impressive. Plus, his speech was one of the highlights of the night. I’d love to see him as Margaret Thatcher.
- Jennifer Lawrence perhaps not unexpectedly won Best Actress. I’m excited to see where she might go from here, but I’m also cautious because I know we’ve got three more Hunger Games films (plus at least another X-Men film) to get through in the next 3-4 years.
- Speeches: I sometimes tune out during acceptance speeches since they are often very similar. As a result, I have very little to say about them. None were actively bad anyway. I am on the fence as to whether I like the Jaws theme being used to “play off” winners. It’s kind of mean and a little cheesy, but also kind of funny.
- Argo took home the big one, which was really no surprise given that it was the movie that had the biggest Hollywood storyline. It’s also pretty good too. Props to Clooney for not hijacking the mic, though Grant Heslov could’ve given Affleck a little more time. It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since Affleck and Matt Damon won for Good Will Hunting. Now Affleck has a Best Picture in his pocket and of all of the Best Picture directors, I’m most interested to see where he goes next.
So…MacFarlane was good, not great, but not terrible. I wouldn’t mind seeing him try again. The show itself was overlong, as always, plus the musical theme was half-baked. Many presenters left something to be desired, but most recipients were genuine and gracious. Also, I feel like all of the recipients, as far as I my opinion goes, were deserving. I didn’t really feel upset by any of the winners (even if I was rooting for Deakins and Riva). Wreck-It Ralph losing to Brave was my biggest “problem” as far as the actual awards are concerned, though it’s one I saw coming (and I still haven’t seen any of the other three nominees). I doubt I’ll come back here with more to say after I read what the online critical community has to say, even though something tells me I liked MacFarlane a lot more than everyone else did. Obviously, I’m open to debate and discussion, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later, because I will have forgotten all of this by next weekend.