Seth MacFarlane, I thought, did a fine job hosting the 85th Academy Awards ceremony. He turned out to be a fine choice for the frequently thankless Oscar-emcee position, tossing in some fine jokes in between the generally fine production numbers and mostly fine acceptance speeches ... .
I'm sorry, but I am alone in thinking that last night's telecast, in the end, was just a little too "fine"?
Where were the exhilarating, "Oh, we gotta talk about that tomorrow!" highs? Where were the deeply embarrassing, "Oh, we gotta YouTube that debacle!" lows? Where, aside from the frame of Halle Berry, were the hideous fashion selections? (Did she steal that outfit from the year-2144 wardrobe on the Cloud Atlas set?) I enjoyed much of last night's show but also feel that, before long, I'll be hard-pressed to remember a great deal about it, and I'm thinking my half-box of wine can only be partly blamed for my lukewarm response.
Things certainly started well. Or rather, they started terribly, but that turned out to be the point. After scoring with his opening "The quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now" line - a gag that actually did elicit a chuckle from the famously unflappable actor - the host's first three minutes of scripted material felt awfully stale, with jokes about the Coppolas and Mel Gibson and Daniel Day-Lewis' acting process and such ranging from blandly predictable to deeply unimaginative (and unfunny). For all of the excitement generated by the promise of Stewie Griffin with a live mic for three-plus hours, MacFarlane seemed uncharacteristically ill-at-ease at the telecast's onset ... until, that is, James T. Kirk beamed in, and subsequently proved that MacFarlane knew exactly what he was doing up there.
Addressing the host from his captain's seat aboard the Starship Enterprise, William Shatner's futuristic alter ego appeared in an attempt to prevent MacFarlane from becoming the Worst Oscar Host Ever - a fate that, as Kirk showed us, would be sealed with his tasteless song-and-dance tribute to female nudity titled "We Saw Your Boobs." (The song was tasteless, and joyously so, with the skit's Naomi Watts and Jennifer Lawrence delivering priceless reaction shots.) And while the rest of MacFarlane's overlong introductory segment was kind of all over the map - Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum dancing (beautifully) to "The Way You Look Tonight," Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt hoofing (energetically) with Seth on "High Hopes," a scene from Flight performed (freakin' spectacularly) by sock puppets - it was certainly alive, even when it bordered on the lunatic. (The climactic "Be Our Guest" number was preceded by some passionate kissing between MacFarlane and Sally Field, with the former decked out in Flying Nun attire.) Say what you will about the opener, but it was completely unlike any the Oscars have offered in previous years, and hinted that the rest of MacFarlane's face time as host was going to be time very well spent.
Sadly, though, that opener featured about as much spirit and cleverness as we were going to be getting from MacFarlane, who appeared to visibly wilt as the evening trudged on, and definitely missed numerous opportunities for ad-libbed zingers following acceptance speeches. (No mention of the orchestra playing rambling winners off to the Jaws theme? No mention of the clearly out-of-it Renee Zellweger?) After getting away with his few potentially off-putting jokes at the start, MacFarlane seemed to be in best-behavior mode for the rest of the show's duration, and while he was genial throughout and his one-liners weren't particularly bad, he was hardly on fire; by the time Kristen Chenoweth joined him on stage for their post-Best Picture duet - a wrong-headed idea if there ever was one - the snap and wit of MacFarlane's early production number was a distant memory.
What might take slightly longer to forget was the uniformly disappointing banter by the awards' presenters. It was a pretty disheartening omen when two of the funniest people on the planet, Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy, teamed up for a thoroughly unamusing introduction to the animated-film categories and barely elicited a chuckle from even their non-scripted moments. But crummy, mood-killing material hampered Oscar presenters over and over again: the super-heroic assemblage from The Avengers, with Robert Downey Jr. touting box-office dominion over Best Picture recognition and a grim-faced Samuel L. Jackson suddenly looking and sounding like a very, very old man; the strangely paired Theron and Dustin Hoffman, delivering a lamely written prelude to the screenplay awards; Mark Wahlberg and MacFarlane's ambulatory teddy bear, neither of whose lines were nearly as entertaining as even the worst moments in Ted. A few of the solo presenters - Meryl Streep, Christopher Plummer, and Sandra Bullock, especially - were naturally charming, but overall it felt as though too many of the recruited stars weren't altogether thrilled to be there, and given what they had to say, their lack of enthusiasm was understandable. (One famed presence who did look pleased to be there, albeit via satellite, was Best Picture presenter Michelle Obama ... though you couldn't say the same for the grim-faced staffers who stood behind the First Lady.)
Ah, but enough carping. I've sat through worse Oscar telecasts - such as the past two - and while the experience as a whole may not have been one for the ages, it unquestionably yielded plenty of good things, particularly in regards to the music.
While the salute to the 50th anniversary of James Bond was more than a trifle confusing (was anyone else expecting a theme-song montage that never emerged?), the 75-year-old Shirley Bassey's gorgeous wailing on "Goldfinger" was goosebump-inducingly great, as was the shockingly slender Jennifer Hudson's latest take on Dreamgirls' "And I Am Telling You." Catherine Zeta-Jones' obvious lip-synching was an unfortunate distraction during her Chicago number, but there was definite fun in watching the Les Misérables cast unite for "One Day More," even if it was preceded by Hugh Jackman warbling part of that atrocious "Suddenly" song, and even if it did prove that Russell Crowe was hopelessly outmatched by his co-stars. (Seriously, the man couldn't even stay in tempo last night, and he had all of one lyric to himself.) Barbra Streisand, in an incredibly rare live performance, sang "The Way We Were" in a lovely salute to the deceased Marvin Hamlisch. And Adele, who received her deserved statuette for the song, belted "Skyfall" beautifully. How in heaven, though, did she still manage to get drowned out by the orchestra? When you're having trouble hearing Adele, for Pete's sake, you gotta tone that background music down.
Plus, happily, many Oscar recipients made the most of their moments of glory. Quentin Tarantino was as madly, effusively Quentin Tarantino-y as you could have wanted, and seemed nearly as surprised to hear his name called as Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz was to hear his. Ben Affleck ended his long, strange Oscar season with a Best Picture win for Argo, and his choked-up gratitude proved enormously touching. Supporting Actress victor Anne Hathaway, despite her overly precious "It came true!" opener, expressed herself with beaming, understated appreciation and most welcome succinctness, while the clearly overwhelmed Best Actress champ Jennifer Lawrence was an absolute charmer - even her unplanned trip up the stairs was adorable. ("You're standing because I fell down," she said to the applauding masses. "That's so embarrassing, but thank you.")
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis, meanwhile, brought people to their feet right before his acceptance speech brought the house down. Joshing with Meryl Streep about role-swapping his Honest Abe for her Margaret Thatcher? Goofing on Steven Spielberg for wanting to make Lincoln a musical? Mocking his famed process by acknowledging that wife Rebecca Miller "has lived with some very strange men" over the years? Day-Lewis' fait accompli victory was certainly deserved, but I'd say the actor's emergence as a first-rate comedian is what I'll most readily recall about 2013's Academy Awards ceremony. That, and this little informational nugget ... .
Nineteen correct predictions, baby! A personal record! Woo-hoo!
Okay, so in the end, maybe I'll actually remember this year's Oscars better than most.
2013 Academy Award winners:
Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Argo
Best Foreign-Language Film: Amour
Best Animated Feature: Brave
Best Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Film Editing: Argo
Best Production Design: Lincoln
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Best Original Score: Life of Pi
Best Original Song: "Skyfall," Skyfall
Best Sound Editing: (tie) Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty
Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Les Misérables
Best Documentary Short: Inocente
Best Live-Action Short: Curfew
Best Animated Short: Paperman