I smelled something foul in the air the moment Seth McFarlane pounced onto the stage. There was an aroma that can be interpreted as unabated confidence--or sheer arrogance. He never stammered. In fact, you can catch glimpses in his eyes in which McFarlane clearly foresaw and embraced a joke that was destined to fail. (He has written 11 seasons of Family Guy after all.) He even broke down a wall to comment whenever the teleprompter was feeding him garbage. His half-baked Von Trapp bit ended with McFarlane attempting to replicate a look of astonishment and confusion; as if he couldn't believe that the producers approved such a lame-duck bit (that ate away minutes, I should add).
McFarlane's sheer un-likability was apparent as he walked on stage, unabashedly quipping about his ineptitude at hosting. It wasn't long before William Shatner (one of many who opted to work from home and present via monitor rather than make personal appearances) stole the spotlight. Interestingly, the camera never panned to the audience, save for the first few minutes--and even displayed a bizarre twist: Tommy Lee Jones actually laughing.
Yet, as McFarlane hosted away 15 minutes of long and tired bit, his applause grew quiet. Even Franco and Hathaway were able to garner a sympathy applause. The only real glimpses of the audience could seen in longshots as McFarlane stared at Shatner's projected image. One of the most amusing moments was the utter bemusement that can be read in front-row participant Helen Hunt's face. And the only feedback during his embarrassingly crass "We Saw Your Boobs" song-and-dance number were brief cuts to the most offended. Naomi Watts' appalled expression was so transparent, it could easily have have been mistaken as part of the act. But it wasn't. She was freakin' pissed.
In fact, if there is one word to describe last night's ceremony: FAILURE. Failure to decide which film was ultimately the best. Argo won the big prize, but only squeezed out a tally of three statues. Life of Pi was the bridesmaid in a big way; winning Ang Lee his second award of BEST DIRECTOR and garnered the most awards with just four. There were awards aplenty with Django, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Amour, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty all getting a piece of the pie (or Pi). The only loser out of the BEST PICs, was Beasts of a Southern Wild, which appeared, at one point, to be a favorite.
Despite the Oscar's generosity to its nine nominees, the producers felt no urge to be so generous to the audiences. First, they decided to sway viewers with a "theme" and offer distractions with all things Bond and musicals. The perfect blend was resuscitating Shirley Bassey for Goldfinger. It didn't sound right, but given her age, she still made it pleasant. There were other musical renditions. There was Tony-inspired performance by the cast of Les Miserables and a reunion with the Chicago cast. (When did Chicago become a classic? After ten years, isn't that film more in line with Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show On Earth, and The English Patient as the "WTF was the Academy thinking?") There was also a tribute to Dreamgirls which won Jennifer Hudson an Oscar, so she could later chase bigger fish like having a cameo in Sex and the City and Jenny Craig ads. Barbara did a fine rendition of "Memories." Adele received an unfair advantage for the BEST SONG category with a performance of Skyfall that's only forgivable because she owned the stage in a way McFarlane never did and provided one of the most humble (and fast) acceptance speeches.
The biggest atrocity with awards shows is they have lost their way. Originally conceived in 1927, the first Oscars was a quiet, gala dinner; long before television captured every last fucking freckle on the exposed artificial chests. Janet Gaynor, who won the first Best Actress Academy Award (well before it earned the nickname "Oscar") was more excited to meet Douglas Fairbanks than win the prize. Now, the Oscars are the second-largest television and media event, with most of the focus turned to the celebrities, the wardrobe, the drama, and a large betting circuit that nearly trumps the Final Four. It's time we reverted back to a humble dinner where we can see the bits in a nicely edited 10-minute clip show.
If last night's awards show proved anything, it's that the Academy Awards are not longer in business to promote the artistry of cinema, no matter how many clips of James Bond they can piece together. It's become one long-winded media circus, where the most privileged are given even more accolades; the lesser folks (sound effect editors, short form documentarians, even the once coveted Life Time Achievement winners) have been supplanted by a severe case of celebrity envy.
Every year, the Oscars tries (and fails) to rekindle its relevancy. In a world filled with poverty and other hardships, it's a sad state of affairs in which the most cherished individuals are given even more. Despite it all, I can never resist the urge to watch. The great late comedian Mitch Hedberg told a joke that encompasses my viewpoint toward the Oscars as well as most award shows. "It's like pancakes: All exciting at first, but by the end you're fucking sick of em."
Therefore, the Oscars are the real losers. Despite remaining a ratings winner, it will continue to die a slow death. Next year, more harebrained ideas will be hatched to salute the technical awards while trying to scurry them off the stage with a long cane. There will be other distractions and gimmicks, although nothing will compare to the one year in which the lesser awards were handed out to the winners from the theater seats. This year, we witnessed McFarlane bomb; harebrained ideas like having Michelle Obama (via a television) announce the BEST PICTURE; a BEST DIRECTOR and BEST PICTURE awarded to two separate movies; and about an hour of musical interludes that made a long show feel like an eternity.
Last night, many of you saw some winners and losers. Me? I just saw some boobs.