In recent years, there have been some really good Oscar hosts like Hugh Jackman, some acceptable hosts like John Stewart, some disappointing hosts like Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, and some flat-out horrendous hosts like James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Despite the best efforts of some, none have come close to capturing the same wit, timing, and showmanship of reoccurring hosts like Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, or Billy Crystal. At the 85th Annual Academy Awards ceremony however, Seth MacFarlane of “Ted” and “Family Guy” emerged as the single most entertaining first-time Oscar host of the 21st century.
We all anticipated funny voices, musical numbers, and offensively hilarious jokes to accompany MacFarlane’s opening monologue. What nobody expected to see was a song about boobs, a reenactment of “Flight” with sock puppets, and a surprise appearance from William Shatner as Captain Kirk. While MacFarlane took a risk with this outlandish material, he hit a bull’s-eye with just about every joke. He even managed to incorporate some legitimate class into the monologue with renditions of “The Way You Look Tonight,” “High Hopes,” and “Be Our Guests.” At 15 minutes, his opening never overstayed its welcome, always keeping the audience laughing and on their toes. MacFarlane found just the right balance of being obscene and edgy, while also being charming, funny, and respectful.
Unlike most hosts that just disappear after the first hour, MacFarlane carried the entire show with his likable presence and one-liners. Even during an uncomfortable John Wilkes Booth joke, it was pretty hard to restrain oneself from laughter. That’s more than can be said about some of the award presenters. “The Avengers” lineup and “Chicago” reunion both fell kind of flat, never reaching their full potential. The most disappointing team up of all was Melissa McCarthy and Paul Rudd, who were great together in “This is 40.” Here though, they had nowhere to go with a meandering, effortless bit about voiceovers. It was actually reminiscent of that painfully unfunny Samsung commercial Rudd did with Seth Rogan at the Super Bowl.
Now let’s get into the actual awards. Christoph Waltz pulled off a semi-surprising Best Supporting Actor win for his work as the German dentist/bounty hunter in “Django Unchained.” While I had predicted Tommy Lee or Robert De Niro to win here, Waltz was still my personal favorite of the bunch. Seeing the right actor take home the gold is really what matters most. “Django” additional brought Quentin Tarantino his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
The Best Animated Short category is often viewed as the little, independent artist’s award. Since the uplifting romance “Paperman” was produced by the biggest animation studio in the world, it appeared some voters might be reluctant to award the film. Politics fortunately didn’t get in the way as “Paperman” triumphed over its worthy competition. Seeing John Kahrs get on stage to accept the Oscar just about made my night…then “Brave” won Best Animated Feature and my night was ruined. While “Brave” was a perfectly fine animated film, it didn’t come close to reaching the level of “ParaNorman,” “Frankenweenie,” or “Wreck-It Ralph.” But at least the award didn’t go to a bad animation like “Madagascar 3” or “Ice Age 4.”
The Academy would redeem itself later in the ceremony by granting the Best Live-Action Short award to “Curfew.” This 19-minute film from writing/director/actor Shawn Christensen is a genuine treasure with a breakthrough performance from young Fatima Ptacek. Be sure to check it out on iTunes if you haven’t already.
No big surprises in the Best Documentary category where Simon Chinn and Malik Bendjelloul won for “Searching for Sugar Man.” Also not at all surprising was seeing Michael Haneke’s devastating “Amour” win Best Foreign Film. In a bit of a surprise though, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix’s “Inocente” beat out “Open Heart” and “Mondays at Racine” for Best Documentary Short Subject.
The biggest shocker of the night had to be in the sound-editing category, where Mark Wahlberg and Ted the teddy bear announced a tie. The winners were “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Skyfall,” neither of which I predicted to win this award. While many may assume a tie is unheard of at the Oscars, this is actually the sixth time in history it has occurred. The most memorable tie remains when Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand won Best Actress in 1969.
While we’re on the subject of Barbra, it should be noted that she honored the late Marvin Hamlisch in an elegant In Memoriam montage, singing “The Way We Were.” It’s hard to think of a more fitting song to accompany such a tribute.
My absolute favorite movie of the year, “Life of Pi,” walked away with the most awards, winning Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Director for Ang Lee. The Best Director win was perhaps the most unexpected upset of all, beating out Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.” Despite what some might say, Lee truly warranted his third Oscar for once again proving he’s one of the most diverse directors making movies today.
“Lincoln” didn’t go home empty handed either, winning Best Art Direction and Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis. Ironically, Day-Lewis probably gave the funniest speech of the night. “Three years ago I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl was Steven’s first choice for Lincoln.”
Another big winner was “Les Misérables,” receiving Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway. These are all deserving wins, with exception to makeup. Honestly, how hard was it to smear some dirt on Hugh Jackman’s face? One award “Les Misérables” should have won was Best Costume Design. Alas, that award went to the beautiful, yet unbearably dull, “Anna Karenina.”
David O. Russell’s lovable dark comedy, “Silver Linings Playbook,” won one award with the invaluable Jennifer Lawrence triumphing in the Best Actress category. As wonderful as it is to see Lawrence win here, she really needs to watch her step while walking up stairs. Between almost losing her dress at the SAG awards and tripping at the Oscars, Lawrence might become the biggest klutz this side of Steve Urkel.
In celebration of James Bond’s 50th Anniversary, the Oscars planned a special tribute to the immortal franchise. This regrettably did not entail an assemblage of the six actors that have played Mr. Bond over the years. Regardless, we did get a respectable montage and Shirley Bassey performing her timeless “Goldfinger.” Speaking of Bond songs, Paul Epworth and Adele’s theme from “Skyfall” became the first number from a 007 picture ever to win an Academy Award.
In addition to James Bond, the Academy also saluted the movie musical with performances from Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Hudson, and the cast of “Les Misérables.” Come to think of it, Zeta-Jones, Hudson, and Hathaway have now all won Best Supporting Actress statuettes for their work in movie musicals. Chances are the numerous musical numbers either brought you to tears or bored you to tears. As a big fan of Broadway, I couldn’t help but get into all the singing even if the numbers did overstay their welcome. Still, if the ceremony wanted to really pay homage to music in film, why not dedicate more time to this year’s Oscar-nominated songs? Granted, we did get to hear performances of “Skyfall” from “Skyfall,” “Suddenly” from “Les Misérables,” and “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted.” But what about “Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice” or “Pi’s Lullaby” from “Life of Pi?”
Jack Nicholson and First Lady Michelle Obama, who appeared live via video from the White House, announced the Best Picture prize. The victor was of course “Argo,” which also claimed Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. This marks the fourth time in history a film has won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. It’s nice to see Ben Affleck receive recognition for his extraordinary film. Affleck further left us with the inspiring words, “You have to work harder than you think you possibly can, you can’t hold grudges, and it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life. All that matters is that you gotta get up.” From “Gigli” to “Argo,” Affleck is proof that any struggling talent can turn their career around.
A lot of people tend to ridicule the Oscar telecast, arguing that the ceremony is overlong and the speeches drone on forever. They actually came up with a clever way to walk people off stage this year by playing John Williams’ theme from “Jaws.” But you know what? Oscar Sunday is the one night of the year we get to honor the absolute best in this important industry. The telecast should be long and the winners should have their moment in the spotlight.
All in all, this Oscar ceremony might have had one too many musical numbers, some forgettable presenters, and occasional slow pacing. Regardless, this was still a highly enjoyable ceremony, primarily thanks to MacFarlane. Some say MacFarlane is the funniest man on the planet. Others think he’s an overrated schmuck. Personally, I thought he was a comedic marvel on Sunday. Here’s hoping they bring MacFarlane back for the 86th Academy Awards, although I’m still campaigning to see The Muppets host one of these years.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.