Another year brings another set of films to celebrate at the everlasting, and sometimes never-ending, Academy Awards. However, in the face of plunging rates and disinterested youth viewers, for this year’s 85th ceremony, the Academy gave the thankless job of host to Ted star and raunchy animation mogul Seth MacFarlane. Tensions were high going in as many worried that MacFarlane’s decidedly lowbrow humor would clash with the atmosphere of glamour and distinction. Now that it’s all over though, in my opinion, this was by far the most watchable, entertaining Oscar night in a long time.
What ultimately made MacFarlane such an inspired choice was how perfectly he embodies the two seemingly contradictory ideas the awards also seem to be looking for: youth edge and old grandeur. As any fan of Family Guy can attest, MacFarlane isn’t just into sex jokes and racism. He’s also into old-school swing and flair, be it Bobby Darin’s singing, Gene Kelly’s dancing or pretty much anything having to do with the word “wiseguy.” The man put out an album of standards for God’s sake. While James Franco’s hosting gig may have been an ironic masterpiece for some (me), MacFarlane’s genuine talent and incredibly specific entertainment sensibilities fit the Oscars like no one else could have, at least, no one still alive.
That same fusion of old and new energy could be felt in the evening’s most entertaining segments. One minute William Shatner is showing up like it’s a Comedy Central Roast. The next, there are musical tributes to Chicago and James Bond. Then there were the jokes about The Sound of Music, Nazis and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination that seemed stale and risqué all at once. And of course, the final song took the mean-spirited concept of mocking those who failed to win their category, including nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, and married it to the lovely Frank Sinatra classic “Here’s to the Losers.”
As for the winners, as usual the preceding buzz clued most of us in on who had momentum and who didn’t. Who cares about best director when Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow weren’t nominated? Of course Daniel Day-Lewis (who’s no Joaquin Phoenix), Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, and Argo were going to win. Christoph Waltz’s second Oscar for a Tarantino role was a bit cool and surprising but honestly this was as good a chance as any to let Leonardo DiCaprio get his. The real surprise of the night though was watching First Lady Michelle Obama present the award for Best Picture. In a year full of great, “America Rocks” movies like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Lincoln, the choice to add some presidential prestige looked like an easy one. However, it did nothing to convince the more suspicious among us that Hollywood, Democrats, and the liberal media aren’t all in bed with each other especially during this post-election victory phase. However, what are the Oscars if not one big, fun display of millionaires congratulating each other? It’s like a soap opera but real.
Unfortunately, while this year the stars may have aligned, literally, if MacFarlane is serious about not returning we might as well brace ourselves for a few more years of boring, safe Academy Awards presentations. It’s not like the Academy was super thrilled about his performance either. Oh well, we’ll always have this year. Meanwhile, it looks like it’s time to start thawing Billy Crystal again.