Unfortunately, I have to lead with talking as briefly as I can about Seth McFarlane, the most confounding Oscar host in the organization's history. I'm absolutely not of a fan of his TV output (which I find ugly, scattershot, and resolutely embarrassing--and depressing). And I'll be watching Ted--the only movie I readily know he's done--as a particularly hard-to-swallow homework assignment. So, with his hosting, I got what I expected. I laughed only at William Shatner's performance (which was a generous inclusion stewarded by Mr. McFarlane, a longtime Star Trek fan) and a line or two here and there during the body of the show (I did love his cleverly edited intro for Meryl Streep). I found him officially the horniest of all Oscar hosts, and while I'm sure that appealed to his core audience of drunk fratboys, it made me sick. Yeah, I like boobs--I even once participated eagerly in a podcast devoted to talking about notable nudity in movies--but it's wholly another thing making an entire audience of talented women--not all of them actresses--feel strange about those performers who've exposed themselves for the purpose of a story (few, if any, of the nude scenes McFarlane name-checked in his "We Saw Your Boobs" production number were gratuitous, and some were even rape scenes--extra classy!). Not only will that make actresses think twice about taking their clothes off again (thanks a lot), it just leaves them with a sense that they've been exploited for the bemusement of Celebrity Skin collectors (it even makes women seem stuffy, humorless, and passe if they don't give in to their own objectification). It was a nadir for an organization that already pays too little attention to women, and for the show itself. And, even though I realize it was in the service of a larger gag (a much too-large 20 minute one), it just made me feel as depressed as I feel when I even watch one minute of Family Guy or American Dad.
Even worse, in their own way, were the sock puppets spoofing Flight (not exactly the go-to, instantly recognizable movie for satire this year). I did sort of like his scene with Sally Field, though, even if it was easy stuff, and if the point of the entire piece with Shatner was to contrast McFarlane's crappy humor with things like "The Way You Look Tonight" (with an elegant Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum as dance partners, making not a false move between them), then I suppose it worked. (McFarlane does have a beautiful singing voice and can dance...but weren't these the things we DIDN'T want the Oscars to do ever again? And how much did his Family Guy audience like these segments of the show? Not much, I bet...you could hear toilets flushing all across the world.) As for the Kristin Chenoweth/Seth McFarlane Oscar losers song...I hated it. It hasn't worked in the past (and it's been done to death before) and it still doesn't work now, as a laugh line or as a comfort (though it DOES work as a final insult---I was discomfortably left hoping that's not what it was meant to be).
Look, if you found McFarlane funny, if you found it was charming his letting some air out of an overly fat tire, then I can live with that. But may I posit that you might NOT be the ideal audience for this show? I mean, no one is there on the Super Bowl, admitting how shitty sports figures and the sports industry at large is; and no one is on the Grammies, saying how crappy they have always been! Is this just about the perceived overdog being torn down? Please. I know the importance of many movies are blown up out of proportion. But against music? And freaking sports??? Sports...which gets a section in each paper and 10 minutes on each nightly newscast everyday, and has multiple channels devoted to them??? And that take over the television each and every weekend? Give me a break.
McFarlane, clearly, did not put sugar in my movie-loving tea. He left it tasting like a bisque that had long since turned. But the show is really about--these days--enriching the safes of both ABC, the carrying network, and The Academy itself. So I guess if the ratings boost (20%, I understand) helps ABC execs pay its employees (I hope), and helps the Academy put shovels in the ground for that new museum they are talking up, then it did its job.
The great irony here--admittedly, one possibly intentionally built into the show--was that the women onstage totally owned the night. Dame Shirley Bassey, gold-dressed and looking great at 76 years old, got the first standing ovation of the evening for her magnificent performance of "Goldfinger." This moment--this one woman, commanding the stage with elegant movements and her earthshaking voice (no dancers, film clips, or effects in sight) literally moved me to tears. It was easily the thing I will remember the most about the night, and I could swear I could see Tarantino afterwards turning to his Django Unchained crew and saying "Can you believe what we just fucking saw??"
Then we got Catherine Zeta-Jones recreating her "All That Jazz" number from Chicago. While it was a bit too practiced for me (it felt like an exact recreation of the same number we saw both in the movie and on the Oscars back in 2000), it was still pro all the way (though it felt a little lip-synched). But THEN we got another diva, Jennifer Hudson, showing off her long-slimmed down figure and totally killing us with "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls. Another booming moment and, even though I'm not a fan of that musical, I do have to say that's a helluva song (it's the thing that won her her Oscar, and it had never been performed on the show before). Her impassioned performance of the tune was enough to put Jennifer Holliday, its Tony-winning Broadway originator, on the backburner. The Les Miserables number, reuniting the entire cast (who were each clearly all in emotionally and vocally), was assured enough to make you wish the film itself was as moving as the stage show apparently is to many.
Adele, the presumed winner of the Oscar for her title song to Skyfall, quickly followed, performing the song live for the first time in a rather subdued and slinky performance that was, I must point out, quite fine but not as memorable as I was hoping (I wonder if she was feeling upstaged by Shirley Bassey and John Barry's obviously superior and non-Oscar-nominated song...I mean, who wouldn't feel that? Shirley Bassey must have performed that song literally a thousand times). And then, there's Barbra Streisand...
I have very mixed feelings about Ms. Streisand. I recognize her inimitable talent as an actress, a comedianne, a personality, a filmmaker, and especially as a singer. But I've resisted being a big fan. Yet, her capping of the In Memorium segment with real feeling for her recently-passed friend and collaborator Marvin Hamlisch (the first behind-the-scenes artist I can remember ending the now-famed yearly feature), and then her moving performance of their Oscar-winning signature song together, "The Way We Were"...well, some may call it camp, but I found it absolutely stunning (especially when she added, after the line, "Would we?" the comment "Pshh, of course we would.") I marveled at how she kept control of herself during an obviously overwhelmingly emotional personal moment, and she deservedly earned one of the shows record nine standing ovations. And, finally, as a final afterthought (perhaps TOO after), we had Norah Jones doing Seth McFarlane and Walter Murphy's song from TED, which is a sweet, simple ditty that totally deserved a nod. Like Ms. Jones, the performance was understated and unshowy, which I was fine with (though I was quickly disappointed not to see Scarlett Johannsson and Joshua Bell performing "Before My Time," the song from Chasing Ice, which easily would have been my personal pick for the Best Song Oscar; to think such a performance was cut because of "We Saw Your Boobs" makes me sick all over again.)
Enough about the show. Now, for the winners. It was an ecumenical night--more so than any Oscar night I can remember. Eight of the nine Best Picture nominees walked away with at least one award (unsurprisingly, only the most indie of them, Beasts of the Southern Wild, went away with nada). I didn't do great with my predictions in this unpredictable year--I got a miserable 15 out of 25 correct. But I'm happy, always, to be surprised, because that's what I hope for from the Oscars.
I was disappointed that Roger Deakins--the photographer of 1984, Sid and Nancy, Mountains of the Moon, Barton Fink, Passion Fish, The Hudsucker Proxy, Dead Man Walking, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Courage Under Fire, Kundun, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Man Who Wasn't There, A Beautiful Mind, The House of Sand and Fog, The Village, Jarhead, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (his masterpiece), No Country For Old Men, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, True Grit and this year's nominee, Skyfall--did not win. My biggest disappointment of the night and a TRUE oversight by the Academy that continues to astound and confound all film fans. The fact that Claudio Miranda won for the 3D, effects-driven Life of Pi gobsmacks me; this is the third year in a row, after Avatar and Hugo, that an effect-driven, heavily post-production rejiggered movie has won the award. What happened to photographing REAL people and REAL images?
I was glad to see a historic tie ("No BS," said presenter Mark Wahlberg) for Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty in the Sound Effects Editing category (and this category NEEDS to be renamed Sound Effects). I was happy to see Paperman win for Best Animated Short, but I was confounded (TRULY) by the win for Brave as Best Animated Feature (maybe the biggest surprise of the night...over obviously superior Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie? No way!) I was surprised, kindly, by the win for Lincoln in the Production Design category (as they got every detail, down to Lincoln's actual watch, correct). Anna Karinina deserved its costuming award (though I would have given it to Cloud Atlas, which was cruelly left out of the entire conversation). It was extremely interesting to see Michael Haneke out of his element, having to be surprisingly sentimental in accepting a much deserved Oscar for the brilliant Amour.
Most importantly, I was thrilled with the Documentary categories. With the short film Innocente, I was glad to see the winners bringing up their once-homeless subject as a nominal co-winner of the award (could you imagine this woman's journey?). And, with the justified win with Searching for Sugar Man, I was initially disappointed to hear Sixto Rodriguez wasn't there, but when the producer of the piece said that Rodriguez elected NOT to be there, I instantly understood and was moved anyway. As for the screenwriting categories, I must admit that I would have preferred Lincoln's Tony Kushner being up there to accept the award. And though I wasn't a tremendous fan of Django Unchained, I do recognize Quentin Tarantino's continued excellence and so I had no problem with seeing him get his second Oscar (which I prefer to see as a makeup for Inglourious Basterds).
The Supporting Actor race was always a bear to predict and, honestly, though I thought Christoph Waltz was the very BEST feature of Django Unchained, I felt that his performance was really a lead and that that would hurt his chances. Obviously I was wrong, as were many other prognosticators. Obviously the Academy felt his absence from the movie just as deeply as I did when it occurred, and that got him the award. I do love him; I don't think I've seen him not give 100% in any movie since Inglourious Basterds (I adored his assholery in Polanski's Carnage), and so I can't be mad at him winning his second Oscar. I want to see more of him, in many roles , and if this can do that for him, then I'm all for it.
Life of Pi, as also maybe the biggest worldwide hit of the year, is clearly one of the great visual achievements of 2012, too, so how can I be disappointed at its four Oscars, including the capper for Ang Lee as Best Director. He's obviously a wonderful visual stylist, committed to doing different kinds of movies each time he ventures behind the camera. I mean, this is the man who gave us Eat Drink Man Woman, The Ice Storm (my favorite of his movies), Sense and Sensibility, Hulk (underrated), The Wedding Banquet, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and the clearly classic Brokeback Mountain (for which he deservedly won his first Oscar). And he did the impossible by translating a difficult novel into images. This is where I see the Oscars doing the right thing, making the right choice. He's a fantastic director, and obviously a generous person.
I knew that Anne Hathaway was going to be something when I reluctantly stepped foot into a preview screening of The Princess Diaries and found myself captivated by her charm. I instantly said "She is someone to watch out for!" I watched command so many movies in the coming years, and even got to see her live on stage in Central Park, in a truly magical performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that was so powerful, it seemed to control the very rain that was falling on the stage and its viewers. I could see her joy, from so far away, at the rain finally falling hard on the last scene, with the cast coming out to sing "Hey, ho, the wind and the rain..." and I thought "I'll never forget that, as long as I live." She feels like a beautiful person, like someone I know, a girl who has given her all, who has dreamed of this, and suitably, when she received her Les Miserables Oscar--justifiably, for a movie I don't care for but for a performance I love (and it might even be a double award for her equally impressive show in The Dark Knight Rises)--she looked at the Oscar and said that one thing I think all actors think but have never said. She simply said: "It came true." To some viewers, who set their minds to hating her for some reason, it sounded cloying and too practiced. I thought it sounded sweet. I just adore her, I guess.
As for Jennifer Lawrence...well, this is a person that is on top of the world right now. With her self-effacing style (the one moment of the "We Saw Your Boobs" number that made me laugh was when she gave the thumbs up to not showing hers in movies), Jennifer Lawrence allows every filmgoer to imagine themselves on top of the world, too. But, honestly, you would have to be (a) ego-free, (b) incredibly funny and well-grounded, (c) gorgeous, and (d) phenomenally talented. Yes, I was expecting Emmanuelle Riva to win for Amour, but I was going out on a limb, predictions-wise. Deep inside, I always knew Lawrence had it in the bag. She's young, yes, and she's only done a few movies. But whatever she does, she completely elevates. Hell, I was dreading watching The Hunger Games, but two minutes in, and I was invested, and that was all because of Jennifer Lawrence. If you were to, right now, pick one person in the media universe that VERY FEW people dislike, you would have to pick her (though, given the fickle nature of viewers, I'm sure that will change, unfortunately). No matter, though. She remains a wonder. And, yes, her performance in Silver Linings Playbook was what I call one of those "ass on the edge of your seats" performances. Whenever she came onscreen, I shunted forward, just a little, to study what she was doing; she was absolutely captivating, and probably the reason that movie made the splash that it did (she even got a standing ovation, led by Robert De Niro, of all people). Heck, even her little fall up to get the award was charming--that was something many might be making fun of her for. But not with this woman. She made the very best of it, and hit the winner's circle in complete and utter confidence. Just thinking of a future movie world with her in the mix makes me excited again for movies! And I don't think she's peaked too soon.
And Daniel Day Lewis. When you think of him as the stuffy Cecil Vyse in A Room with a View, as the vivacious Johnny in My Beautiful Launderette, as the afflicted Christy Brown in My Left Foot, as the sexy Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, as the gentlemanly Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence, as the heroic Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, as the frightening Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, as the conflicted Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and now as the greatest president the United States has ever known, in a brave and difficult performance as Lincoln...well, how could one not see this coming? A historic third Best Actor Oscar for him puts him in Katherine Hepburn territory, and he's poised, really, to pass. There's no way to dislike the man. In his speech, he was funny, clearly moved, willing to give all his support to his wife Rebecca Miller (what an attractive couple they are!), and all his love to his collaborators. When he says he was truly sorry to see Lincoln go from his life, you can imagine what it's like to be a truly committed actor, to let a character take you over, knowing that soon, you will have to say goodbye. To allow yourself to do something like that with someone as loved and revered as Abraham Lincoln...that's an acting achievement of Olympic proportions. This was a moment that we all expected, and yet all loved in expecting it. It was a dream come true.
As for the Best Picture winner, Argo...I don't agree with it. But it happened and there it is. I'm happy for George Clooney, though, who I think is a terrific presence in movies in so many ways (the same goes for former actor Grant Heslov). And I suppose it's a nice comeback for Ben Affleck. But I can't say its win excites me in many other ways.
My final take on the show, and all that is surrounding it: First and foremost, like it or not, The Oscars is an awards show. It is the king of awards shows: all others are pretenders. And it is the only awards show devoted exclusively to movies. For years it was treated as such. Then, post-Hope and Carson (who both knew this AND were funny), it became this vehicle for comedy. Look, there is a WHOLE channel devoted to comedy--roasts and all sorts of things, 24 hours a day. I am a movie fan, as are many out there. I'm not a sports fan, or a TV fan, or a music fan. They have whole channels and other ceremonies and entire weekends devoted to their pursuits. I am a movie fan. This is the one time of year, self-important as it may seem, that I get to celebrate movies. I'm not there for the comedy, the fashion, or anything else: I'm there for the movies. As for the awards and the nominations themselves: pay more attention to the forgotten, the truly great; hail those who need more hailing, and find some room to love the new and the astounding talents, and all the races, and all the countries, and all the TYPES of films, and all the great women in the industry, (I want to see at least one documentary in the Best Picture lineup in my lifetime, and MANY more non-English-language movies up for the award, if not the winner! It's a flawed process and ALWAYS needs improvement.) Regarding the press coverage: let's start letting some more bloggers and podcasters, who have given their lives over to the work the movies do, in there to do their own sort of inimitable press coverage (and here I point specifically to Jamey Duvall, Jerry Dennis and myself as hosts of the most respected movie podcast on the internet, MOVE GEEKS UNITED!, which definitely deserves press accreditation).
As for the ceremony: I want to see a bonafide film expert as a producer--not just a movie/TV producer but a historian (how about Kevin Brownlow, who is an Oscar winner, a historian, AND a filmmaker). I'd like to see them try having NO HOST (that would cut at least 30 minutes from the show). I want to see film clips, and mini-documentaries (like Errol Morris did a few years ago). I want to see all the Best Song nominees performed by the original artists. I want to see production sketches next to the Costume and Production Design nominees (missing this year). I liked the script drop-ins that were done for the Screenplay nominees in the past years (also missing this year). I want to hear a medley of the Best Score nominees. I want the Honorary Oscars to be reinstated as a feature of the larger awards show, with speeches and all (and I want there STILL to be at least three Honorary Oscars per year). I want the In Memorium segment to be at least a minute longer, and to be more complete, so that lobbying for such a sad thing is rendered unnecessary. I would add some categories--maybe Stunts, Casting, and Young Performer (but I would NOT add ensemble). I don't care how long the show is...make it as long as the Super Bowl (which goes on for four or five hours). I don't care. I am a movie fan. I'll be there to the end. And I'm not the only one. I'm one of billions.
Presuming to speak for all movie fans here, we believe and always will believe the ceremony needs to concern itself ONLY with the movies. Yeah, it's nice to have a laugh and a tune hither and thither, but these are easily built into the show. Because what's funny is and always will be subjective, this idea that The Oscars needs to be this launch pad for the comedy minds of the moment is absurd and is not the way to true success, as a show or as a cultural event (and it IS and will always remain a cultural event, I do not care what any Oscar haters have to say about this).
My advise, even though it won't make anybody any cash: Get BACK to the movies, and stay with them--every part of them--ratings and commentary be damned.
For the end: a big, big smile!