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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Beam them all up

In the end, I think it was too much about Seth. And about famous women’s mammary glands.

Yes, of course, I am talking about the Academy Awards telecast. And, no, I’m not talking about the usual parade of over-designed gowns.

There generally seem to be two ways to go with Oscar hosts. You can go the traditional route with a personable person who tells a few jokes, maybe sings a song or two and perhaps even does a little hoofing. Then disappears for most of the rest of the 18 hours of the show. An example might be Hugh Jackman. (Or, as my fave podcast film guys on BBC Radio Five Live jokingly call him, Huge Action.)

The other way to go is the young, hip, ironic, post-modern type who turns the show into a big deconstructed meta-comment on awards shows. You know, a Conan O’Brien type.

But there are lots of variations between these two arbitrarily defined types. Sometimes you get a host that thinks any live television event with lots of celebrities is meant to be a roast, i.e. Ricky Gervais.

The very fun Seth MacFarlane seemed to be aiming for someplace between the two hosting extremes. To be sure, his opening bit seemed like an extended deconstruction of Academy Awards type shows. But he did it in a way that made the whole thing about him, which can be a bit off-putting when the viewer at home is chomping at the bit to see much bigger egos clashing on his or her television screen. To be sure, having Capt. Kirk critique his yet-to-play-out performance as host from the future was a very funny idea. And if people here in Europe can get used to a little horse in their lasagna ready meals, what’s wrong with a bit of ham (in the form of William Shatner) showing up as a surprise on our Oscar telecast?

It was an interesting ruse because (sorry to go geeky and nerdy) MacFarlane more or less created an alternate timeline for himself, he could do all the rude and offensive gags he wanted but put them in the timeline he was nobly avoiding. But we had to see them anyway. I, for one, was left wondering if the disgusted looks on those female actor’s faces as he sang about their naked breasts were spontaneous or part of the gag. But I do have to say that Sally Field was an especially good sport for her part in one Seth’s funnier bits.

The funny thing was that, for most of the show, the host was almost like a schoolboy in his bland respectfulness and his clear joy in indulging in traditional song and dance. In fact, he was so earnest that it nearly came off as post-ironic mockery—although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. At least every so often, he would push through a boundary, just to make sure we were paying attention. Like the joke about John Wilkes Booth being the only actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head. As surprised as I was to realize it, yes, Seth, it actually is still too soon for that joke.

Just as well the winners seemed less pre-ordained this year. Because there was certainly no suspense around the presenters or winners saying or doing anything unexpected or shocking. Everyone has long since been beaten into keeping their remarks within the twenty-second time limit. And what a stroke of evil genius to start using the shark theme from Jaws as the play-off music! I think we heard it only two or three times.

So, anyway, there were no political outbursts, no denunciations of artistic awards, no emotional breakdowns. My brother-in-law asked me this morning which actor had the big cry this year, and I was surprised to realize that no one burst into tears. That job would normally have fallen to Jennifer Lawrence as the Best Actress winner. But either she is made of sterner stuff than past winners or else she judged that crying would be too maudlin since she was just only after having fallen while coming up the steps.

And did any of the right people win? Well, my pitiful predictions are available for you to judge for yourself. Obviously, not every category went the way I would have wanted, but my feelings about it weren’t particularly strong this year. Ang Lee did get Best Director, as I had wanted, so I didn’t feel too bad about Life of Pi not getting Best Picture as well. In fact, I was tickled to see Argo get that statuette. Not as delighted as I would have been to see Zero Dark Thirty get it, but I was delighted enough. Ben Affleck was just human enough yet gracious enough that I think anyone could identify with him.

In recent years these telecasts have seemed crammed with lovingly created film montages of classic movie moments, designed to tug at our nostalgic heartstrings. We didn’t really get those this year. Instead we got musical numbers. And they were great. Seeing both Dame Shirley Bassey singing the theme from Goldfinger and Adele singing the theme from Skyfall all in the same show made lovely bookends when looking back on the year that was James Bond’s golden anniversary. And, while I don’t bother with predictions in the Best Song category, this year there was no competition in my mind. Fortunately, the voters agreed with me. (Or more accurately, I with them.)

As usual, the local broadcasters were viewing the show through their own national prisms. Two of the three Irish nominees came home empty-handed. Those were Armagh’s Seamus McGarvey (cinematographer on Anna Karenina) and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly (producer of the animated short film Head Over Heels), who would practically be a neighbor of ours when we decamp to the wilds of southwest Ireland. But County Wicklow became home to a big prize brought home by the Best Actor winner.

I couldn’t help but notice this morning that the BBC was proudly describing the London-born thespian (who is an Irish citizen and resident) as “British actor Daniel Day-Lewis.”

-S.L., 25 February 2013

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