For the first time in years, perhaps since I was a lad, I did not see any of the films nominated for Best Picture. This was due largely to the fact that I was broke much of last year and as a result saw fewer movies than I had in many years. For that reason I do not have much of an opinion on the various winners. That having been said, I watched the 85th Academy Awards as it is a tradition for me. Some people watch the Super Bowl regardless of which teams are playing. I watch the Oscars.
I have to say that I generally do not watch the Academy Awards ceremonies with high expectations. There have been too many times that ceremonies have been dull, over long, and often both. This year's Academy Awards ceremony was no different. I seriously did not expect too much and, quite frankly, I thought it was a bit dull. I know that there are many who seriously disliked Seth MacFarlane's performance as this year's host. In fact, the press concentrated on how offensive many thought Mr. MacFarlane's jokes were. Now while I have to say I do not find jokes about gays and Jews acceptable, I do not think Mr. MacFarlane was that offensive. People seem to forget that it was just last year that Billy Crystal, regarded by many as the best Oscars host in many years, appeared in blackface in the ceremony's opening. And then it was only a few years ago that Chris Rock mocked the Oscars before the ceremony began and offended actors by making light of them (I am a fan of Chris Rock, but I do think he was a bit too edgey for the Oscars). Keeping in mind that the Golden Globes are not the Oscars by any stretch of the imagination (I can't take them seriously at all), Seth MacFarlane was not nearly as offensive as Ricky Gervais was hosting the Globes.
No, my problem with Seth MacFarlane was not his occasional political incorrectness. Instead it was the fact that most of the time he just wasn't very funny. Of course, this did not surprise me at all, as I have always found that Seth MacFarlane is very inconsistent when it comes to humour. What I expected from Mr. MacFarlane is the same thing I expect those rare times I watch Family Guy. It is either going to be uproariously funny (the Stewie and Brian episodes) or one big yawn (the Peter Griffin episodes). Unfortunately, it seemed to me that Seth MacFarlane was in Peter Griffin mode most of the night. Quite simply, he was not very funny.
Of course, the presenters and winners at the Academy Awards can make up for any deficits on the part of the host. Unfortunately, I was not particularly impressed with many of the presenters and very few of the winners' speeches. Indeed, for whatever reason Daniel Radcliffe (known worldwide as "Harry Potter") was paired with Kristen Stewart, who proved that she is as wooden as an Oscar presenter as she is in her acting roles. I understand that she had cut her foot and was in pain, but quite honestly I did not see that she behaved any differently than she always does. As to the presenters with whom I was impressed. I have to say that I thought Meryl Streep did a very good job, as did Jack Nicholson and the First Lady Michelle Obama. As to the winners, I must say that if I did not have a schoolboy crush on Jennifer Lawrence before the 85th Academy Awards, I would now. She tripped on her way up to receive her Oscar for Best Actress, which was understandable given her dress (here I should make a side note that they really should have people there to help the winners up the steps). Despite this she was funny and charming and delightful in her acceptance speech. I also loved Daniel Day Lewis's acceptance speech for Best Actor. He was extremely funny, making me think he would be a very good comic actor.
Beyond the awards themselves, I have to say that I was happy with the tribute to the James Bond movies. I thought the film montage was well done and seeing Dame Shirley Bassey was the highlight of the evening for me. I thought the tribute to film musicals was well done, although I have one caveat about it. Why was Chicago (released in 2002) the oldest musical in the tribute? First, while there was a small cycle towards musicals in the late Nineties and early Naughts, the decade of the Naughts was not particularly known for its musicals. Second, when I heard there was to be a salute to movie musicals, I assumed it would cover the entire history of movie musicals, from 42nd Street to Les Misérables. I honestly think the musical tribute would have played better had they had music from the greatest musicals of all time in addition to a few recent favourites. Singing in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, My Fair Lady, and many others could have been included. Speaking of music, this brings me to my second biggest complaint of the night. Did they have to inflict Barbara Streisand upon us? Now I like Miss Streisand as an actress (I think she is wonderful in that regard) and she seems like a nice person, but I have always hated her singing. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I would have much rather heard the heavenly Dame Shirley Bassey or Norah Jones sings a bit more!
Indeed, the inclusion of "The Way We Were" sung by Barbara Streisand galls me even more given how brief the In Memoriam segment was and how many people were omitted. It is the omissions in the In Memoriam segment that angered me the most about the 85th Academy Awards ceremony, to the point that it cast a pall over the rest of the ceremony for me. Now they almost always leave someone out of the In Memoriam, but this year they left out some very big stars. Indeed, how can you play "Tara's Theme" at the awards, but leave Ann Rutherford out of the In Memoriam segment? Never mind that she was a supporting actress in Gone With the Wind, she was also an extremely popular star in the Thirties and Forties. She made over 80 movies and, while I may be wrong, I seem to recall she was the most popular pin up during World War II. To add insult to injury they also left out Harry Carey Jr. Not only did he star in what is often regarded as the greatest Western of all time, The Searchers, but he made well over 100 films. Ann Rutherford and Harry Carey Jr. were not the only stars they omitted in the In Memoriam segment either. Andy Griffith, Dorothy McGuire, Phyllis Thaxter, and many others were also omitted. Now the Academy did have an online gallery to honour those not included in the In Memoriam segment of the ceremony, but to me that is not good enough. When one has made the kind of contributions to film history that Ann Rutherford and Mr. Carey did, they deserve to be remembered during the ceremony. While I realise many may not agree with me, they could have cut Miss Streisand's song and included every important star who died last year in the In Memoriam segment.
Of course, I suspect the reasons behind the tribute to musicals that included no musicals made before 2002 and the abbreviated In Memoriam segment may be due to the same reason. Quite simply, the Academy is trying to appeal to younger viewers. I suspect this is the reason that the 85th Academy Awards largely ignored movie history in favour of more recent films (the James Bond tribute was an exception). I suspect it is why no musicals older than 11 years were included in the tribute to musicals and popular stars of yesteryear were excluded from the In Memoriam segment. I suspect it might also be the reason that in press releases, promotions, advertising, et. al. the 85th Academy Awards was simply referred to as "the Oscars." I have to wonder that this is not attempt to make the Academy Awards seem new and fresh and thus appeal to the younger generation. This seems rather silly to me, as the term "Oscar" is no more new, fresh, or appealing than "Academy Award." The awards have been called "the Oscars" for so long that no one really knows when it began, except that it was apparently in the early Thirties. I rather doubt that calling the ceremony "the Oscars" drew more young viewers, then, for the simple fact that everyone knows "the Oscars" are the exact same thing as "the Academy Awards" and, as far as many are concerned, always have been!
By now I think most of you realise that I think the Academy's pursuit of younger viewers has hurt the ceremony itself. What is more I also think that in de-emphasising older stars, older films, and movie history the Academy may actually attract fewer young viewers. In many years of blogging and being on various social media sites, I have come to the realisation that most of my acquaintances who are also classic film fans tend to be young. Most of them are under the age of 40. I only know a few Baby Boomers (people over the age of 52) and older who are classic film buffs. This is perfectly understandable when one realises that Turner Classic Movies began in 1994 and as a result there is an entire generation ("the TCM Generation" one could call them) who have grown up watching classic films. Instead of de-emphasising film history in the awards ceremony, then, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should be emphasising film history. I can guarantee that many of my younger friends would be delighted to see clips from pre-Code movies and songs from Forties musicals!
Anyhow, I hope that this review of the 85th Academy Awards ceremony does not sound overly negative. In all honesty I have to say I enjoyed the awards over all and I cannot say that it was any better or any worse than other Oscar ceremonies I have seen. Indeed, despite what some in the press might have you believe, Seth MacFarlane was not the worst Oscars host I have ever seen. In the end I have never seen a perfect Academy Awards ceremony, and this one was no different.