As the two cinephiles of the Behind the Hype staff, Smoking Barrel and Soot-Case Murphy give their take on the 2013 Oscars. While Smoking Barrel was horrified and full of vitriol (as per usual), Soot-Case Murphy was merely disappointed and uncomfortable--though hopeful about this new trend in male hairstyles: The long-haired platinum blonde look (a.k.a. "The Fabio"). Smoking Barrel: The self-congratulatory nature of Hollywood was at its finest at last night’s Oscars, with a lot of blotto actors and actresses (and Quentin Tarantino) plodding through the ceremony with an inability to act sober—an indication that good acting requires compensation. Of course, no one could top Renee Zellweger for drunkest and most absent from the planet, but we’ll come to that later. But first, let’s discuss the most glaring issue of the evening: The attempt at reviving the musical. Granted, it’s a noble attempt indeed, but there can be no denying that the denizens of the twenty-first century don’t have the mindset or attention span for it (especially the straight male).
Perhaps the Oscar producers and ABC felt that the only people who still watch the Oscars are those who remember when the musical was actually a bankable box office genre. And perhaps they thought that in getting Seth MacFarlane to deliver these musical performances, it would somehow seem more palatable. Unfortunately, the result was something closer to uncomfortable and drawn out. What I will say for Seth MacFarlane is that he has an innate and highly marketable ability to pinpoint weaknesses and get inside of people’s heads. Case in point being his preface of Salma Hayek, noting that she’s one of those people you can’t understand but makes up for it with her attractiveness. She later tripped up her words as she tried desperately to enunciate. And then there was his assessment of Ben Affleck as he dredged up the most permanent blemish on his record, Gigli, and remarked on his rapid rise through the ranks of sophisticated filmmaking, quipping, “In a few months, we’ll be calling him Benjamin."
On the fashion front this year, the notion of style was paltry at best—with Jennifer Lawrence and Halle Berry seeming to be the only ones who have a grasp on quality couture. Nominee Jessica Chastain, on the other hand, looked as though she was wearing a Jessica McClintock dress. Gone, evidently, are the days of daring—as proven by Helen Hunt wearing a dress by H&M (though, admittedly, that’s daring in its own way). Even the designs of Prada disappointed as proven by Anne Hathaway’s basic bitch dress. We may never again see something as iconic as Bjork’s swan dress or Jennifer Lopez’s barely there Versace.
On the performance front, two aging icons—Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand—upstaged the overly lauded Adele. Though Shirley Bassey’s voice, at times, teetered on the crackly, it was one of the better Oscar tributes of the night (which also included Catherine Zeta-Jones performing “All That Jazz” from Chicago). And, as usual, Barbra reminds us that you’ll never escape The Way We Were. Her hand jewelry and the background behind her as she sang was possibly more memorable than the song. Adele’s performance, conversely, was in keeping with her usual plainness in terms of showmanship. On a personal note, I was obviously quite disappointed that they didn’t just get Madonna to sing “Die Another Day.” It would have seamlessly coincided with Halle Berry’s (who played the Bond girl in the movie of the same name) presentation of the tribute video.
Jane Fonda managed to stand out not for her age, but for her Dynasty aesthetic. I don’t even remember who presented with her as that lime green color outshone everything else. The only other true “highlights” were Jennifer Lawrence tripping, Daniel Day Lewis getting presented with the Best Actor award by Meryl Streep (his counterpart when it comes to the most Oscar wins), Quentin’s tie askew as he gave a self-aggrandizing acceptance speech and Jack Nicholson and Michelle Obama’s joint presentation of the award for Best Picture (a cameo that led me to believe Zero Dark Thirty might take the win—but no, it was the equally as political Argo). So I guess what the Oscars 2013 amounted to for me was the revelation that the current generation of Hollywood actors is looking a bit stale and that you have to be an alcoholic to deal with that many egos in one room. Oh yeah, and why the fuck is the Kodak Theater now the Dolby Theater? Is there no end to the decimation of Old Hollywood standards? Maybe we should ask Renee Zellweger to tell us--as long as it doesn't involve reading anything.
Soot-Case Murphy: Bite your tongue, SB! I can only speak for myself (and my brother, and the dozen-plus other straight males that love the musical and all its trappings), but I am a straight male that loves the musical and all its trappings!
I love the Oscars, too. As many negatives I can pull out of it, there are things I can absolutely adore about it. The Oscars are easy to pick on; they always have been. Much of what I see written about it in the day(s) after are full of snark and contempt, but it keeps people coming back year after year. Some of the faults have been tedious in the past (Dave Letterman's stint) but also wholly watchable (the entire Hathaway-Franco debacle).
The awkwardness this time around was a little harder to swallow. And that line is a set-up only host Seth MacFarlane would greedily embrace. MacFarlane, both crude and sophisticated, was the right man for the job. Being an established theatre geek didn't hurt either, which makes me wonder if he'll host the Tony's anytime soon. Because that's the vibe the show was going for, in the end.
This year, the Oscars made a point of dedicating much of the show to The Musical. Considering how little attention the Academy has paid to Best Original Song performances in the past few years, they're making up for lost time...sorta. Seth MacFarlane's inspired number about boobs was warmly received, and who knew Charlize Theron could dance that well? But each subsequent number trickled more and more as thing's progressed. Billy Crystal's obligatory medleys, as well as those most recently tried out by Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris, have always given the Oscars that variety-show feel. This time it felt a little forced, and two examples of overkill came at the middle and at the very end: The Chicago reunion nobody was waiting for, and the grueling credits number by MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth.
But again, that's what the Academy does at its worst: Taking an idea and running just a little too far with it. It's happened when they've dedicated shows to montages (though I can't get enough of them), had interpretive dance numbers to the Hurt Locker score, and placed Rob Lowe and Snow White together.
In the end, though, we want the Oscars to be good. I don't get mad at them, just disappointed. Usually I'm thrilled. Last night I was more attentive than I had been in recent years. MacFarlane is a magnetic personality, even if he is a little sexist. OK, maybe he's really sexist, and homophobic, and racist, but that Von Trapp joke alone was a lot more creative than the Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin pairing of 2010. The Bond tribute, too, was more than welcome. Shirley Bassey is eternally foxy, and the stage was hers (although I was praying for Chris Cornell to launch into Casino Royale's "You Know My Name"). Jennifer Lawrence's slip-and-slide (which made the New York Post cover today) was a genuine moment, showing that things can go wrong without seeming like a big thing.
I almost forgot the First Lady's appearance, which I'm glad I almost did. I wasn't disgusted by her appearance as much as a lot of other people were (probably not as many as those who were suspiciously offended by the Chris Brown joke), because frankly, who can really be surprised at this point? A lot of talk has been made about the First Lady not deserving her celebrity, or that she has better things to do. I can't get behind either of these things. It's a 3 minute long segment on a Sunday night encouraging the act of creativity towards millions of people, even if its PR-scent lingers a little too strongly. Plus, the Academy Awards and the Presidential candidacy are almost equal in their political process (lots of old, rich, white involvement; use of gimmicks; lobbying, lobbying, lobbying) so it's nice to see them all getting along so well.
It's hard to peg which Oscars telecast is the most awkward. They all are, in the end, works in progress. There are always experiments. Many of them do not work. The annual Oscars water cooler conversation was underway this morning, and much of what was discussed was the aforementioned attempt at reviving the musical. Considering how the Oscars have cared very little for live performances of Best Original Song nominees in the past few years, last night's show was an attempt to make people realize that yes, they still care about the music, man. (It's always been about the music, dig? Now slap me five.)
Also, male filmmakers with long platinum hair - the world is yours.