Another Academy Awards ceremony has come and gone, and overall it was an enjoyable evening. There were few surprises among the award winners, though I only correctly predicted 16/24 winners correctly (equaling my score from last year, at least I’m consistent). In addition to there being no real surprises there are also no winners that I feel were not deserving to win; even if I disagree with the outcomes, the awards went to quality films/performances which makes it hard to complain too loudly. The show itself was enjoyable, if not spectacular, with some wonderful moments and some bits that fell flat, and I was surprised with how much I enjoyed Seth MacFarlane. Read on to see my thoughts in a bit more detail.
There’s an odd feeling of anticlimax when a film fails to sweep many of the categories. Life of Pi won the most awards, but only with 4, and Argo and Les Miserables tied for second with 3 awards each. Argo won best picture, of course, but it felt a bit like a consolation prize for Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director. He even seemed to realize the fairly even nature of the nominated films and the arbitrary nature of the winning selection, which he showed by graciously acknowledging Steven Spielberg in his acceptance speech. I feel that, 50 years from now, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook will be the most well remembered films from this year’s Best Picture nominees, particularly as winning performances give a film longer legs than simply winning Best Picture. (Of course, The Avengers and Skyfall might be the best remembered films from the year as a whole.)
The only mild surprise in the acting categories might have been Christoph Waltz winning Supporting Actor over Tommy Lee Jones and Robert De Niro. As much as I love Waltz, and as winningly charming as he seems to be, I feel like the award was more of an acknowledgement of how well he and Tarantino fit together rather than a statement that his was truly the best performance. His role in Django Unchained was nowhere near as fantastic as his previous Oscar-winning role in Inglourious Basterds. Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Day-Lewis all successfully capped their awards season sweeps, and all were gracious in accepting their statues. Hathaway’s speech was rather uninteresting, but I feel like she was so overwhelmed by it that she stuck to a simple list of names, though adding a worthwhile plea for changing the world so that there are no more Fantines. I’m sure every viewer’s heart stopped when Lawrence tripped on the way up the stairs, but she handled it gracefully and with her trademark sense of humor. At this point, it’s hard for me to imagine her not having a long and successful career. Day-Lewis was hilarious as always, and his joke about swapping with Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady was brilliant.
Ang Lee’s win over Spielberg wasn’t a surprise, but it was an upset. Life of Pi won its awards based on the stunning visuals, and I think that carried over to Lee’s win, especially considering that many people thought the book was unfilmable. Lincoln generally got crushed, winning only for Lead Actor and Production Design. I think it’s a bit of a shame, because I truly feel that Lincoln was the best picture of the year, but it lost to movies that were also very good. I feel like it suffered by being too “traditional” and safe a choice. The new and modern films may be more appreciated now, but in the long run Lincoln’s quality will shine the brightest. Watching the clips from it reminded me how truly perfect the film was.
The technical categories went mostly as expected, with the biggest shock coming in the form of a tie between Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty for Best Sound Editing, only the sixth tie ever. My only real complaint in the “lesser” (such a horrible way to look at the Oscars) is that Brave won Best Animated Feature over Wreck-it Ralph. This seemed to be the product of the opposite sort of thinking that doomed Lincoln. Brave was the “safe” choice (hard to go wrong with Pixar), particularly among the older voting population of the Academy, who probably either didn’t get Wreck-it Ralph, or dismissed it automatically due to its videogame basis. Wreck-it Ralph, however, was by far the better film, with deeper characters and performances and a more creative story. I would also have loved to see Wes Anderson (and Roman Coppola) win Best Original Screenplay for Moonrise Kingdom, the better script in my opinion, but the Academy loves Tarantino. I don’t begrudge Tarantino for winning, he’s one of Hollywood’s most unique voices, I just felt like Django wasn’t his best.
As I said before, the show was enjoyable, but not spectacular. Seth MacFarlane was a better host than I had imagined. He is charming in a tux and has actual song and dance skills, and can be snarky and tell harsh jokes without seeming overly mean (unlike Ricky Gervais). Many of his jokes skewed oddly sexist, but not enough to make it uncomfortable. His opening monologue was hit or miss; it’s great to see Shatner as Kirk, but it was an odd narrative choice. The “We Saw Your Boobs” song was actually pretty funny, as was his picking up Sally Field, though the dance segments seemed forced. The tribute to musicals was a bit shaky. Jennifer Hudson crushed it, and Catherine Zeta-Jones did fine, but the Les Miserables cast seemed to have trouble hearing. (Note, haters, that Russell Crowe sang very well.) (I also loved that the speeches that went too long were all played off by the Jaws theme, which some found disrespectful but I found hilarious.)
The “In Memoriam” segment was capped with a Barbra Streisand performance of “The Way We Were,” which worked better in theory than in practice. By far the best parts of the night belonged to James Bond, however. Adele’s rendition of “Skyfall” proved why that song deserved to win Best Song Oscar. But everything else pales in comparison to Shirley Bassey. After an uninspired montage in tribute to Bond’s 50th anniversary on film, she came out to sing “Goldfinger” and absolutely knocked it out of the park. She began a bit off, but I think a lot of that had to do with the orchestra being in a different building. She quickly recovered, however, and delivered the night’s most memorable moment. She sang with sass and with soul, clearly loving every minute of the song, and managed to even make Adele pale in comparison. I’m sure someone has already started a petition to have her sing the next Bond theme (which would be her 4th, after “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever” and “Moonraker”), and you can bet I’ll sign it.
All-in-all, it was an enjoyable evening, and a solid, if not spectacular (excepting Shirley Bassey, of course) show. Seth MacFarlane didn’t crash and burn, but probably didn’t earn himself an invite back for next year. The winners are all generally of high quality, if not perhaps truly the best in each category, and in the end, the winners are what the show is all about.