From Meryl Streep walking on her dress to Jennifer Lawrence falling on her way to accept her Best Actress award to Seth McFarland’s early nervousness, the 85th Academy Awards was a clumsy affair marked by pregnant pauses, technical confusion and more than a few moments that left its star-studded audience unsure of how to react.
As for the awards themselves, the Academy cast a wide net with six films taking home at least one major prize, with Life of Pi leading the pack with four wins, including perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening when Ang Lee picked up his second Best Director Oscar over perennial favorite Steven Spielberg. Argo and Les Miserables both took home three awards, while Django Unchained and Lincoln each won two, with Silver Linings Playbook only winning one.
It became evident early on that Academy members were going to spread the wealth when Christoph Waltz pulled off a minor upset by winning the Best Supporting Actor award for his turn in Django Unchained. The thinking was that this film was too incendiary for the largely conservative membership of the Academy to embrace but they proved this was no fluke when Quentin Tarantino took home the Best Original Screenplay award for the same film.
Other highlights included expected wins by Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor in Lincoln and Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress in Les Miserables. Both performers gave gracious speeches, something that was in support supply throughout the evening. And while neither will earn any style points, Jennifer Lawrence, winner of the Best Actress trophy for Silver Linings Playbook, and Ben Affleck, who took home an Oscar as one of the producers of Best Picture winner Argo, delivered sincere moments in which they genuinely expressed their gratitude. As for the show itself, it got off to a shaky start and never worked up a full head of steam. MacFarland’s nervousness was palpable from the start as he referenced porn star Ron Jeremy within the show’s first five minutes and referred to the violent Django Unchained as a “Rhianna and Chris Brown date movie.” Though he hit a few of his targets, the host lost his audience when he made light of Mel Gibson’s troubles and commented that while Day-Lewis did a great job as Lincoln, “the one actor that really got into the president’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” Surprisingly, after delivering that groaner, MacFarland got better. Maybe knowing you’ve permanently alienated your audience takes some of the pressure off.
The theme of this year’s ceremony was music in the movies and the producers were true to it – to a certain extent. While famous themes played in the background throughout the evening, the show’s tribute to great movie musicals centered on Chicago, Showgirls and Les Miserables, all films made within the last decade. What with no mention of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Busby Berkley, Stanley Donan, and Vincente Minnelli or great musicals such as 42nd Street, Singin' in the Rain or even The Sound of Music, it’s obvious that the Academy’s historians were quite myopic in their look back on the history of music in the movies.
There was only one film montage shown during the evening – an awkward collection of James Bond scenes celebrating the franchise’s 50th anniversary – but we were treated to the sight of Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dancing to “The Way You Look Tonight” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe doing a soft shoe to “High Hopes,” which is exactly what I want to see during an awards show devoted to a visual medium.
More than any Oscar telecast in recent memory, there was a sense of desperation to the show as the producers seemed to employ a kitchen sink approach, throwing a bit of everything at the audience in the hopes that something would work. While it was nice to see that Shirley Bassey and Barbara Striesand can still bring down the house when they need to, I’m still wondering what the role of First Lady Michelle Obama was in helping announce the winner of the Best Picture award. A strange evening all around and one that all involved, except the winners, would do well to forget.