February 25, 2013

THE DAY AFTER: Oscar Thoughts


There are 4 ways an Oscar night can be memorable:

A Great Host:  Seth MacFarlane was bad–maybe not James Franco bad, but bad.  The ways he was bad, though, weren’t in any way unexpected.  Meta-gags and courting offensiveness are the things that have made him very, very rich.  When you hire Seth MacFarlane, you’re not going to get (pre-2012) Billy Crystal.  Blaming him for doing what he does would be like blaming Jennifer Holliday for singing big, or Jack Nicholson for being cool.  As it is, his material was quite toned down from a typical Family Guy, a show that features a child molester as a regular character (and not a villainous one), and if Executive Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan thought they were going to channel MacFarlane’s style into something more suited to a tuxedoed-and-gowned group of thousands and a live global audience, that was their mistake and not his.  All that being said, the following things were true:  (a) there’s a huge difference between the inevitable stylization that comes with animation and making a joke about how long it’ll be before a 9-year old girl will be ready to have sex with George Clooney, when that girl (and for that matter, that adult) are sitting there in front of you, just as there’s a difference between an idiot character like Peter Griffin being thrilled to see Jodie Foster’s breasts when her character is being gang-raped in The Accused, and singing that sentiment yourself; (b) it was clearly going to be impossible to duplicate the quick-cut insert joke humor of Family Guy in a live TV show–in one of MacFarlane’s series, the Flight sock pocket bit and the pre-Christopher Plummer Sound of Music gag would have lasted seconds–and MacFarlane is smart enough that he should have realized he needed to adjust his rhythms; (c) the line between parodying your own inappropriateness as Oscar host and just being a bad Oscar host is erased when you spend the show’s first 15 minutes wallowing in “deliberately” bad material; and (d) leaving aside any offensiveness issues, jokes about Chris Brown beating Rihanna, Mel Gibson being a racist and Jews controlling Hollywood are about as topical as a Mitt Romney campaign speech.

Surprise Winners:  There were no shocks to be had.  Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz were “surprises,” but oddsmakers already had them as close 2d choices to favorites Steven Spielberg and Tommy Lee Jones, so they were the least remarkable of unexpected results.  (With the late momentum nominees pulling ahead, it almost qualified as a surprise when Jennifer Lawrence held off Emmanuelle Riva.) The Academy spread the awards widely (of the 9 Best Picture nominees, only Beasts of the Southern Wild went home empty-handed), which was reasoned but also fairly dull.

Spectacle:  Some of the most heralded parts of last night’s show fell flat (the “salute” to James Bond, which turned out to be an utterly ordinary montage, and the final MacFarlane/Kristin Chenoweth song, a transparent rip-off of what Neil Patrick Harris does so well at the Tonys) or were borderline embarrassing (the fact that two-thirds of the tribute to musicals starred cast members of the Zadan/Meron-produced Chicago and Smash–and Catherine Zeta-Jones, as part of the former, lip-synched).  Nevertheless, Shirley Bassey and Jennifer Holliday delivered (Adele might have too, if the sound mix had permitted), the Les Miserables “One Day More” was legitimately thrilling, and a singing appearance by Barbra Streisand is still an event.  Also, the coup of having Michelle Obama announce Best Picture may have been topped only by that of successfully keeping it secret.

The Unplanned:  With all the time, money and effort that went into this year’s Oscars, the one thing everyone will remember forever is Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way up the stairs (and then her quick-witted recovery, joking about the standing ovation just being sympathy for her fall).  With all the high-paid writers brought on to write the evening’s gags (both the Zadan/Meron team and a group from MacFarlane’s staff), the funniest, most charming bit of the night was Daniel Day-Lewis’s acceptance speech, deftly taking advantage of Meryl Streep being his presenter and his own failure as a musical star in Nine (hey, maybe he should host).

So, another disappointing night.  But where would the Oscars be without disappointment?  It’s safe to predict that in a year, we’ll all be back to kvetch about another subpar host and more deserved nominees (and non-nominees) who were shortchanged.  The ratings were up from last year, ABC was able to raise its rates for 30-second commercials, and the show definitely goes on.  Early odds on August: Osage County for Best Picture, anyone?


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."