This year the most thankless job in Hollywood went to Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, in a move which was obviously supposed to give the ceremony a bit of edginess and youth appeal (and on that front it was a success with the viewer numbers in the US up 20% from last year). The reviews of McFarlane’s performance have ranged from lightly positive to downright scathing. It’s a tough job at the best of times, but it was made all the tougher, as he alluded to, by the fact that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had been so universally praised for the job they did at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago.
McFarlane was a bit hit and miss, as most hosts are, but was largely exactly what anyone who is familiar with him expected him to be. His opening bit, in which he conversed with William Shatner as Captain Kirk who was contacting him from the future to warn him against all the mistakes he was going to make as a host, came in at 19 minutes and was just way too long. There was a good idea there, but it was just stretched too far.
The humour in McFarlane’s television and film work comes from two sources: crossing the line of good taste and being inappropriate, and very specific pop-culture referencing. Both were on display on Oscar night. While it was apparent that he was reining himself in to some extent, McFarlane was always going to try and push things a little bit. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it crossed the line. The joke about no actor being able to get inside the head of Abraham Lincoln quite like John Wilkes Booth, was in typically poor taste but it got a good laugh. The “We Saw Your Boobs” song in his opening number didn’t go down so well, being just one of a number of incidents which led feminist commentators to accuse the host of misogyny (though as Family Guy co-writer Alec Sulkin pointed out on twitter, it seems slightly ironic to accuse the host of misogyny on a night that was also celebrating fifty years of James Bond).
McFarlane may have been better served to more heavily favour the pop-culture referencing, given he was in a room full of people who live and breathe movies and would therefore understand that kind of referencing and in-joking. His introduction of Christopher Plummer, in which he pointed to a side door to usher in the Von Trapp family singers only to have a young Nazi run in and exclaim “They’re gone!” went down a treat. A bit more of that sort of stuff and a bit less of jokes about nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis being a potential future girlfriend for George Clooney, and he may have got a more generally positive response.
This year it was really pleasing to see a bit of class return to the Academy Awards on the presenter front. The Oscars are an institution and an important part of maintaining that sense of grandeur is having big names presenting awards. In recent years the really big names have been notably absent, but this time around the presenters included screen legends such as Christopher Plummer, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep (because she wasn’t actually up for an award this year) and Jack Nicholson. Their presence brought a bit of prestige to the event. That being said, I want to have one whinge. Jack Nicholson was brought out to present the Best Picture award, but had to hand over to Michelle Obama who appeared via a live video cross from the White House. Michelle Obama is a good get for the Academy, however, in this situation I don’t think she trumps Jack Nicholson (especially not on video). Jack is one of Hollywood’s absolute living legends, and being in the twilight of his career and not doing a lot of publicity means we don’t really see much of him. Michelle Obama tends to appear on the nightly news just about every day, so I felt that her presence was a waste of valuable Jack time.
As always, the presenters were a bit hit and miss in their attempts at pre-announcement banter. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy take the cake for least funny seemingly adlibbed jokes, and Kristen Stewart and Daniel Radcliffe have no business being on stage at an Academy Award ceremony at this point in their careers (Stewart was her usual grumpy self but at least this time had the excuse of an injured foot).
Moment of the night from a presenters point of view was Mark Wahlberg who had to present the Best Sound Editing category in which there was a tie. Clearly taken aback by what he was reading, Wahlberg felt he needed to convince the crowd that he wasn’t having them on, so in classic Boston fashion stated “No BS. We have a tie.” When I was saying before that the presenters brought back a bit of class to the event, I wasn’t so much thinking about Marky Mark.
Despite the fact that this was one of the more open Academy Awards in recent history it ended up being a night almost entirely devoid of surprises on the awards front. Argo followed on from its dominance of the lead up awards to claim Best Picture. Daniel Day Lewis cemented his position as one of the all-time greats with his win for Lincoln making him the first man to win the Best Actor award on three occasions. Jennifer Lawrence tripped over on her way up to collect her Best Actress award. Christoph Waltz’s magic relationship with Quentin Tarantino continued as he claimed his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar from two collaborations. Anne Hathaway won the one award which was such an absolute lock you could have bet your house on it. In fact, the only major award in which the bookies’ favourite didn’t walk away with the statue was Best Director, in which Ang Lee pipped Steven Spielberg (but that category was a shambles from the moment Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were left off the nominations list).
The speeches are always the least interesting part of an awards night. After the excitement of finding out who wins you then have to sit through a couple of minutes of them listing names of people you don’t know. In a nice, if not overly subtle, comic touch, the decision was made to replace the usual play-them-off music with the theme from Jaws, with John Williams’ ominous tones letting rambling recipients know that their time was up. As is always the case, there is a bit of a double standard when it comes to playing them off, with winners of lesser awards being cut while Quentin Tarantino was able to finish his speech, walk away from the microphone and then come back to say one more thing and have the music stop for him.
Christoph Waltz spoke beautifully, Adele spoke horribly (but that is more to do with the fact that her speaking voice is every bit as ghastly as her singing voice is wonderful). Daniel Day Lewis got big laughs for his revelation that he and presenter Streep had, after much thought, decided to switch roles, as he was originally meant to play Margaret Thatcher and she Abraham Lincoln. But for mine, best line of the night goes to Argo producer Grant Heslov who, standing between co-producers George Clooney and Ben Affleck, opened his acceptance speech with “I know what you’re thinking… three sexiest producers alive.”
The Musical Numbers
The “theme” for this year’s ceremony was a celebration of movie musicals, seemingly because Les Misérables had been nominated for Best Picture and because it was ten years since the last time a musical won Best Picture (Chicago). It was a bit of a shame, therefore, that a number of the musical numbers for the evening were a bit flat.
Both Shirley Bassey, singing ‘Goldfinger,’ and Adele, singing ‘Skyfall,’ appeared to be singing within themselves, not really punching the big notes, except for the last “Gold” which Dame Shirley hammered. The cast of Les Misérables came out to sing a number, an awkward mash-up of ‘Suddenly’ and ‘One Day More’ designed to give everyone a bit to sing, even if they are not in that scene, without going on too long, which just ended up sounding a bit messy.
While there was nothing spectacular about Barbara Streisand’s performance of ‘Memories’ as part of the In Memoriam section, it was still a reasonably big deal to see her on stage. But Jennifer Hudson was the absolute standout for the night and really brought the house down with her rendition of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ from Dreamgirls, appropriately receiving a standing ovation.
As it turns out, after it was all said and done the moment of the night didn’t even happen as part of the ceremony, but in the interviews after. Jack Nicholson, obviously agreeing with me that Michelle Obama got in the way of valuable Jack time, decided that he would interrupt Jennifer Lawrence’s interview with ABC. Classic Jack…
by Duncan McLean