People tend to forget that it’s almost impossible to stage a successful Oscar ceremony, simply because everything is designed to cater to massively different audiences. Viewers could care less about the aspects most important to the egos in the room, and vice-versa. Seth MacFarlane was hit-or-miss as the host, but he did the best he could with a thankless task.
Here are the segments that stood out most to me, for good or ill.
Seth MacFarlane’s opener: His jokes were far from perfect, but they led to some entertaining reactions. Tommy Lee Jones smiled! William Shatner showed off his latest facelift. Charlize Theron pretended to be mortified while MacFarlane sang about boobs (yep, you read that correctly) and then gracefully danced with Channing Tatum as the host transitioned to “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Shirley Bassey and Jennifer Hudson deliver jaw-dropping performances: The night’s theme celebrated the marriage of music and film, and these two gifted singers showed why the union can be so powerful. The 76-year-old Bassey put autotune-abusing pop stars to shame with a rendition of her classic Bond theme “Goldfinger,” and Hudson reminded us why she deserved that 2007 Best Supporting Actress win with her signature “Dreamgirls” number “And I Am Telling You.”
“Jaws” theme as wrap-it-up music: I saw a lot of people complaining about this aspect of the show, but I thought it was a great way to let some of the hot air out of the room. Was it utilized fairly? Absolutely not. All the tech award winners were chased offstage by an unseen shark within 30 seconds, but I didn’t hear “DUH-DUM…” when Anne Hathaway or Daniel Day-Lewis were speechifying for minutes on end. Still, I can’t pretend it didn’t make me laugh.
Daniel Day-Lewis is funny! : Speaking of Day-Lewis, the esteemed actor proved his comedic chops are as strong as his dramatic ones. While accepting his Best Actor statue from Meryl Streep, he deadpanned that he was originally cast as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” while she was supposed to be “Lincoln.” Granted, it’s not that funny on paper, but he made it hysterical.
Genuinely suspenseful categories: For the first time in a while, many of the major categories were actually competitive. I had absolutely no idea how some of them would pan out, as evidenced by my miserable 15-out-of-24 track record. Still, I didn’t care that I bombed since a lot of my favored nominees pulled out unexpected victories. It led to some thrilling Oscar moments, like Christoph Waltz and Quentin Tarantino picking up trophies for “Django Unchained,” Jennifer Lawrence falling up the stairs and recovering gracefully, and Ben Affleck putting the finishing touches on his amazing comeback.
Adele’s “Skyfall” performance: Obviously I’m not going to criticize the Grammy-winner’s singing. The woman’s voice is astounding and her song is one of the best Bond themes in the franchise’s history. What bungled the segment was her orchestral accompaniment. The music was so loud that you could barely hear the lyrics. And there’s clearly a problem when you’re drowning out someone as powerful as Adele.
Hyping of lame “events”: At every commercial break, MacFarlane would tease another big set piece designed to attract young male viewers (AKA people who don’t watch the Oscars). Each of them sounded cool in theory, but they turned out to be duds. A James Bond tribute rumored to reunite every actor who played the role turned out to be a lame montage introduced by Halle Berry. An “Avengers” reunion ended up being a handful of actors who seemed like they wanted to be anywhere else but on stage. And so it went for the rest of the evening.
Horrendous scripted banter: Awards shows aren’t exactly famous for providing the presenters with genius writing, but the bland platitudes and attempts at comedy were even worse than usual. When Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy can’t make your material funny, something has gone terribly wrong.
Spoiling the ending of “Flight”: Denzel Washington earned a Best Actor nomination for his fantastic performance as a heroic pilot battling addiction, but viewers who hadn’t yet seen the movie don’t need to bother now. The clip showcasing his work gave away the movie’s climactic scene. Granted, the film has been on DVD for almost a month, but still…poor form, Oscar producers.
Far too long, but not a record-breaker: The telecast clocked in at three hours and 35 minutes, ending after just midnight. It didn’t even come close to breaking the record for longest in history – that would be the Whoopi Goldberg-hosted 2002 ceremony, which lasted four hours and 23 minutes), but it seemed as long as the Olympics. Maybe fewer musical numbers and pointless montages could get viewers in bed at a decent time.