Oscars: Something old, something new, some things tasteless

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Actors, from left, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, host Seth MacFarlane and Daniel Radcliffe perform during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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Seth MacFarlane hosting the Oscars was supposed to give the telecast more appeal to younger viewers. But MacFarlane hosted a strangely retro show, with singing of classic songs, more than a little dancing, tributes to musicals and James Bond, monologues that recalled Johnny Carson and Bob Hope — and ancient claims about Jews running Hollywood, testosterone-laden swipes at women and a crack about how hard it is to understand foreign actors’ speech.

All that — plus a surprise appearance by first lady Michelle Obama — came during a 3½-hour telecast where the Oscar voters spread the wealth, with best picture, best director and the acting awards each going to a different film. Argo won best picture, while Ang Lee of Life of Pi was best director. (Argo director Ben Affleck was not nominated but appeared on stage for the best-picture prize.) Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) won best actor, Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) best actress, Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) best supporting actress and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) supporting actor.

And the winners were among Hollywood’s more likable performers, with Lawrence delightful even about falling on the Oscar steps, and Day-Lewis self-deprecating and gracious.

As host, MacFarlane wanted to balance a sense of old Hollywood with his more modern irreverence. But the attempt failed far more often than it worked — and the addition of a musical number after the best-picture Oscar was anticlimactic in the extreme.

It was also, as happens at the Oscars, often agonizingly slow. It was 10:20 p.m. before the second acting Oscar was presented (to Hathaway). That was almost two hours into the formal show, which followed 90 minutes of pre-show on ABC and still more on E! and other networks.

The best thing the Oscars may have going for it these days may be social media, since posting on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other online sites — not to mention reading others’ comments — was an excellent way to get through the many dull spots in the presentation.

It was online, for example, that you could read Hillary Reinsberg’s Buzzfeed list of sexist things at the Oscars (including a MacFarlane song about actresses who’ve shown their breasts in films, a joke about George Clooney dating 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, and a Zero Dark Thirty joke about women not letting things go).

And you would be better off online than watching televised bits with the co-stars of Ted, or the often funny Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy struggling to amuse.

And some of the lesser winners were faced with the unceremonious playing of the Jaws theme to get them off the stage.

There were some bright spots. While the tribute to musicals was on familiar territory (Catherine Zeta-Jones with All That Jazz, Jennifer Hudson with And I Am Telling You, a big finish by the cast of Les Miserables), at least everyone was a trouper. Even Russell Crowe could have been worse.

The 50th-anniversary tribute to James Bond movies — introduced by Cleveland’s own former Bond co-star, Halle Berry — was capped by a bravura performance of Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey. (Adele performed the latest Bond song, Skyfall, which won the best-song Oscar, later in the show. As fine as she is, Bassey was better on this night.)

Serious weirdness was also on view during the pre-Oscar telecast, notably when the usually wonderful Kristin Chenoweth proved less so as a red-carpet interviewer. She spent a lot of time talking about her height (4’11”) in comparison to various other stars, although there were occasional nuggets. Chenoweth and Lawrence, it turns out, are both Dance Moms fans — Lawrence’s enthusiasm included a bleep — and Moms co-star Cathy Nesbitt-Stein of Jackson Township tweeted her thanks for the plug.

But the pre-shows indicated once again how awkwardly fawning (and ignorant) the activities can get. On E!, the hosts fawned over the stars. Then ABC started its coverage with its people fawning over each other.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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