hideous reviews. And the master of ceremonies at Hollywood's biggest night is an unenviable one at that-- everyone gets nasty reviews; it's a pretty awful job come to think of it. It's only after time is past, and newer, lesser hosts come out of the wood works when prior shows are given a better shake. Think about that-- the general consensus of recent triumphs with Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman or Steve Martin were never praised in the moment, but merely in the wake of later crimes in the forms of people like James Franco, Anne Hathaway and David Letterman. MacFarlane, known for his crudeness exemplified in box office hits like Ted and cartoons like Family Guy and American Dad, had the odious position this year. In an unsettled show, and in truth the Oscars have difficultly getting all the gears working right every year (it's an overlong, massive beast of a show-- ungainly even) MacFarlane can be accused of being crass, sexist, racist and misanthropic, but he also came across neutered, reigned in by the Oscar machine at the same time.
And while certain parts were bad from the start-- a musical celebration of female nudity on screen, a sock puppet reanactment of Flight, the worst part was how nothing felt remotely connected at all. It should be a celebration in the past years achievement in film, and 2012 was a massive one at that-- the material was ripe...look at the smaller-scaled magic that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did at the Golden Globes? Instead there was frat boy humor (sold on the sad desperation for the younger male demo that the Academy Awards will never get...something AMPAS needs to sharply get over) mixed with old time song and dance; all of which made strange bedfellows. Surely, it was sweet, if odd, to see Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum cutting it up and MacFarlane doing a two-step with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe, but you had Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Argo, Django Unchained, etc. all in one place; was the diversion really necessary? There was one finely pointed joke (one of the few last night) when MacFarlane addressed Argo, a film about the classified CIA mission, one of such secrecy that even the films director wasn't known-- a nice dig at director Ben Affleck's notorious Best Director snub. It wasn't class-less or awful, since everyone knew he would still have bragging rights come at the finality of the 3-hour-plus show.
The rampant sexism that permeated throughout the show appears it's consistent target, and something important to address. For all those referencing and sexualizing was at the very least, awkward. Belittling Jessica Chastain's role in Zero Dark Thirty as a node of how woman, "can't let anything go," or digging at George Clooney by suggesting that 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis will some to be young for him was lowly and at the very least, examples of bad and lazy writing, but for all that, it was the musical performances of Adele, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Hudson and Shirley Bassey (as part of lame 50 years of Bond package) were the real highlights. MacFarlane's humor likely derailed for the most part because his particular persona is well honed in broad satire, and his jokes read like real digs from an outsider, versus the cuddly good nature that was felt from insiders like Jackman or Fey and Poehler. The moral of the story remains that hosting the Oscars is probably the worst job in show business, and much of Oscar 2013 would have lagged despite MacFarlane, like all of the mugging and ungracious commercial time spent honoring Chicago, complete with a commemorative performance of "All That Jazz" and an reunion of stars Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah. A shout out to movie musicals isn't a bad idea in theory, but by hewing only to Chicago, Dreamgirls and this years nominee Les Miserables (which was a high point, for me at least) limits the strength of the genre itself-- expand it, why not-- you have decades of choices to make it work on Hollywood's biggest night.
One thing that couldn't be expected was the relative blandness of the speeches, most of which were just a litmus of thank yous and shout outs to the expected parties, something of which is a given more and more of as the long parade of televised awards shows becomes noticeably a bit dull when the Oscar conclude the season each year. Still, there was a few moments where the producers made some tacky twitches. When the Life of Pi team accepted their Best Visual Effects award, they were promptly played off (to the tacky screeches of Jaws score) when mentioning the ensuing striff among the Visual Effects community and the recent bankruptcy of Rhythms and Hues, the effects house that did the extraordinary Pi work. It was one of the few genuinely important statements in the show, one rudely cut off. Sure, it's a below the line tech prize, and sure the beast of the Oscars run long every year, but cut off someone foaming at the mouth about nonsense in the warbling of thank yous, not in a sermon of substance.
The acting winners weren't overly engaging either as Christoph Waltz surprised for Django Unchained, winning a mere three years after his last win-- for a similarly performed, Tarantino film. Anne Hathaway, winning despite a vehement season plagued by lots of nasty online bickering-- she firmly deserved in the prize in my book, but her false humility does tend to bomb onstage-- someone should tell her, it is OK to really, really want it as long as your talent backs it up. In her case, it does. The leading actor winners were in fine form as Jennifer Lawrence tripped on her way to accepting for Silver Linings Playbook, giving the actress not just a cute story to tell for the rest of her life, but promptly giving naysayers and Emmanuelle Riva supporters a hearty blow with her natural and refreshing joie de vivre. Daniel Day-Lewis, on the other hand, winning the ever expected prize for Lincoln, was funnier and looser than ever before-- joking with "needs no introduction" presenter Meryl Streep about how he tried out as Margaret Thatcher. Still, there's no real surprises or insights, or particularly emotion in the festivities-- I half expected Hathaway to at the very least shed a few tears.
But the Oscars are more than ever, after 85 years, a machine in its self, and once more, the show opens itself up for criticism and hateful, cringe-inducing comments year after year. It's one of the things that once digested, usually quell for entertainment, and why so many obsessives will continue to write, talk about and in spite of themselves, go back for more. And while there was some noticeable errors in judgement this year-- Michelle Obama reading the Best Picture winner from the White House reeked, just as MacFarlane's Sound of Music reference in introducing Christopher Plummer was an unexpected pleasure, the Oscars will live and fight another day.