As my seventh annual foray into this personal fun ritual, presented below anyway is the timeline of events as I witnessed them during tonight’s ABC telecast of the 85th Academy Awards. All quotes are approximate as best as possible without benefit of rewatching, cribbing from national news outlets, or much proofreading. Our household does not own a DVR; all recollections are a combination of short-term memory and notes hastily handwritten on a legal pad, not a copy/paste reassembly of a distracted live-tweet flood. When I’m seated in front of a TV, I’d much rather watch than type.
8:30 — Our host Seth MacFarlane takes the stage with minimal intro and his first joke: “The quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins.” Naturally he jokes that he was only offered the gig after the producers were turned down by everyone else “from Whoopi on down to Ron Jeremy.” MacFarlane seems at ease and on his game most of the night, albeit with occasional edginess, such as a Rihanna/Chris Brown joke that seems more dated than offensive.
8:36 — MacFarlane’s monologue is interrupted by a TV descending from the ceiling, featuring special guest William Shatner as a time-traveling James T. Kirk who’s come to prevent the ceremony from becoming an unmitigated disaster due to tasteless skits and musical numbers. The time-travel element is essentially a framework to pardon prerecorded segments of varying levels of tackiness with the excuse of “Boy, it’s a good thing Kirk came back in time and prevented us from doing that!” Some moments are still funnier than any excerpts I’ve ever witnessed from American Dad or The Cleveland Show.
The first such “alternate timeline” segment is MacFarlane singing “We Saw Your Boobs”, a musical name-checking of several major actresses and the specific films in which they did nude scenes. Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet’s list is the longest of them all. The number concludes with backup from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
8:39 — Instead of performing that undignified song in this timeline, WINK WINK, MacFarlane sings some other normal, probably famous song that I completely ignored because I was watching the accompanying dancers, Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron, stepping it up old-school style.
8:41 — Alt-segment #2: Flight reenacted with sock puppets. Imagine a plummeting airplane piloted by a black sock puppet chugging liquor and freaking out with white powder on its nose. Not your usual Oscar mental image.
8:43 — With R-rated sock-puppet theater averted, WINK WINK, instead MacFarlane, Daniel Radcliffe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt sing and dance to Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes”.
8:44 — Alt-segment #3: sketch in which Sally Field confronts backstage green-room flirting by MacFarlane, strung from the ceiling in a Flying Nun costume. Viewers at home mull over whether or not to bother explaining this forty-year-old homage to their teenagers.
8:46 — The sketch that ended with MacFarlane and Sally Field making out ceases to exist, WINK WINK, replaced by a generic yay-movies song sung to the tune of “Be Our Guest”. On the sci-fi viewscreen, Kirk confirms our timeline’s morning-after headlines have shifted from “MacFarlane Worst Oscars Host Ever” to “‘Best Oscars Ever’ Says Everyone Except Entertainment Weekly“. Thus the evening is saved. WINK WINK.
8:48 — Last year’s Best Supporting Actress winner, Octavia Spencer (The Help), presents Best Supporting Actor to Django Unchained‘s Christoph Waltz, one of the two categories most likely to upset numerous Oscar pools. Waltz thanks his character, the memorable Dr. King Schultz, and of course director Quentin Tarantino, whose efforts also made his first Oscar possible. I should hope two Oscars will be enough to allow Waltz to rule Hollywood at last.
8:56 — Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy indulge in the night’s mandatory moment of awkward comedy, in lieu of absentees Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. After a minute or so of pretending to be horrid voice-actors (cute in concept, eye-rolling in execution), they move on and present Best Animated Short Film to John Kahrs’ Paperman, Disney’s first win sans Pixar in this category since 1969. We’re also told that this is the first year that copies of the fifteen nominees in all three shorts categories were provided to all Academy members for viewing before voting. Apparently the honor system was deemed a total failure.
8:59 — Rudd and McCarthy remain to present Best Animated Feature to Pixar’s Brave, because the Academy populace contains more women than gamers. (Not that I’m bitter about Wreck-It Ralph‘s loss. No, not at all.) Accepting are directors Mark Andrews (wearing a kilt despite lack of Scotsmanship) and Brenda Chapman (despite being fired by Pixar mid-production). I was hoping they’d also share their moment with the movie’s credited co-director Steve Purcell, creator of Sam and Max, Freelance Police, but I was denied this simple fanboy pleasure.
9:01 — Each Oscar ceremony always includes intros for each of the Best Picture nominees sprinkled throughout the telecast. This year, instead of nine separate segments, the nominees are combined into three segments with three nominees each. Best Picture nominee montage #1: Reese Witherspoon introduces Les Miserables, Life of Pi, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Afterward, MacFarlane jokes that, if the night goes a certain way, Oscars will now become forever devalued as “something a 9-year-old could do.” I think he’s joking, anyway.
9:05 — Welcome the cast of The Avengers, the box-office smash of 2012 (MacFarlane: “…which is why it’s only nominated once”): Robert Downey, Jr.; Chris Evans; Mark Ruffalo; Jeremy Renner; and Samuel L. Jackson, who seem to enjoy each other’s company. Presumably Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and poor overlooked Cobie Smulders had other engagements. The boys’ club enjoys ribbing each other’s heights and ages, and eventually makes time to present Best Cinematography to Claudio Miranda for the scintillating Life of Pi. Miranda is one of the most nervous winners of the night.
9:09 — The Avenger-Men also present Best Visual Effects to Life of Pi‘s four-man team of Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan DeBoer, and Donald R. Elliott. Speaking for the group is Westenhofer, who thanks people for too long and is orchestra’d away from the microphone by John Williams’ Jaws theme, possibly because of Pi’s boating misfortune.
9:16 — Presenters Jennifer Aniston and a returning Channing Tatum discuss makeup, hair, beauty care, body waxing, and the difficulties all actors have arriving on set in working condition, “except George Clooney, who does indeed roll out of bed camera-ready.” Best Costume Design then goes to Jacqueline Durran for Anna Karenina, one of those standard British period pieces that no one sees but everyone nominates for the fashion and home decor categories.
9:19 — Tatum and Aniston press on and hand Best Makeup and Hairstyling (formerly “Best Makeup”, renamed this year) to Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell for the alternating glamor and grunge of Les Miserables. Once the duo reaches the stage from their lousy balcony seats, their thanked contributors include their family, director Tom Hooper, and a mysterious someone named “Dave”.
9:21 — Onetime Bond girl Halle Berry introduces a salute to fifty years of James Bond films, several of which were worth celebrating. If you had a favorite Bond moment previously included in any film montage ever, chances are it made the cut here. I may have blinked and missed George Lazenby. From there the tribute segues directly to special guest Dame Shirley Bassey singing her one hit, “Goldfinger”.
9:32 — Django Unchained costars Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington present Best Live-Action Short Film to my favorite of the lot, Shawn Christensen’s Curfew. Christensen realizes he has “T-minus-2 seconds to do this” and rapid-fires numerous shouts-out, including “my beautiful mother and my devilishly handsome father.”
9:35 — Mr. and Mrs. Django also present Best Documentary Short Short Subject to the Kickstarter-funded Inocente. Accepting the statuette are directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nik Fine, along with their subject, homeless Mexican artist Inocente Izucar, who seems understandably overwhelmed.
9:43 — Ben Affleck, unamused by a MacFarlane intro that included a lame Kardashians joke, presents Best Documentary Feature to Searching for Sugar Man. Accepting are director/writer Malik Bendjelloul and producer Simon Chinn, who tries to explain that the film’s subject, obscure musician Sixto Rodriguez, isn’t there because he “didn’t want to take any of the credit.” Then a guard ushers them offstage while the orchestra reprises the Jaws theme, maybe because their conductor thoughtlessly failed to photocopy any Sixto Rodriguez sheet music.
9:49 — MacFarlane surveys this Sunday gathering of a nicely dressed crowd, describing it “like church, only with more people praying.” (Acerbic and saddening as it is, this is the sharpest line of the night, worthy of an essay unto itself.) Next presenters Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain congratulate foreordained winner Michael Haneke, winner of Best Foreign Language Film for Amour (i.e., the most known nominee). When it came to notating the gratitude, Haneke’s mumbly accent and my poor hearing were a losing combination.
9:52 — Quick salute to the evening’s orchestra, who are not onsite in the theater proper, but are instead holed up at famous Capitol Studios down the street, having their results piped in from afar. So when they raise their instruments and frighten winners off the stage, the winners don’t even have the opportunity to look their tormentors in the eye. That’s just cold-hearted.
9:53 — John Travolta introduces the most gratuitous portion of the entire ceremony: a musical tribute to musicals. Chief among the honorees is the 2002 Best Picture winner Chicago, whose producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron just so happen to be producing tonight’s Oscar telecast. Conflict of interest? Favoritism? A producer knows not of these things. Nope, nope, nope.
Anyway. Performance #1: Catherine Zeta-Jones and numerous limber henchmen dancing and possibly lip-synching to “All That Jazz” from Chicago. Performance #2: American Idol loser and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson bringing down the house with “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls. Performance #3 is also Best Original Song nominee performance #1: “Suddenly” from Les Miserables, performed by returning cast members Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, and even Sacha Baron Cohen. A few dozen extras behind them may or may not also be production alumni. This ostentatious show-stopper earns a standing ovation while French flags unfurl from the ceiling. Older viewers at home probably cheer, high-five, and ask each other, “Remember when the Oscars were like this all the time?”
10:09 — MacFarlane introduces Star Trek: Into Darkness costars Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana as “future Priceline.com spokespeople” while the orchestra plays the theme from Star Trek: the Next Generation as a weird musical tangent. Nü-Kirk and Nü-Uhura were this year’s designated famous hosts at the Sci-Tech Awards dinner, where Oscars were given for achievements involving CG muscle tissue animation, digital camera hardware improvements, and other obscure yet vital inventions that were narrated too quickly for me to parse. These awards have to be segregated from general populace because Nielsen commoners fear them and no one in the theater wants to sit through that bonus half-hour.
10:10 — MacFarlane introduces the stars of his film Ted, Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, The Fighter) and non-award nominee Ted the vulgar stuffed bear, voiced by MacFarlane and brought to life onstage by means over which my son and I debated fruitlessly for minutes (puppetry? CG? ‘shrooms?). The duo present Best Sound Mixing to Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes for Les Miserables. Nelson does all the talking.
10:14 — “Ted” fails to convince the crowd he’s half-Jewish and should therefore become a much bigger movie star. Once the mixed reaction dies down, he and Wahlberg begin to present Best Sound Editing, but have a major bombshell on their hands: the results are a tie. One billion Oscar fans gnash their teeth at discovering that no one on Earth will have a 100% Oscar-guessing success rate this year. Internet riots probably ensue.
Winner #1: Paul N. J. Ottosson for Zero Dark Thirty, who previously won dual sound Oscars for The Hurt Locker. Also winning: Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg for Skyfall. Quoth Hallberg: “This is so cool.”
10:19 — MacFarlane introduces us to “the Von Trapp Family Singers!” Cut to closed, motionless double doors. An unfazed MacFarlane introduces us again to “the Von Trapp Family Singers!” Cut again to same closed, still motionless double doors. In bursts a Nazi who yells, “THEY’RE GONE!” (If you’ve recently watched The Sound of Music, as I coincidentally did this past Friday night, this is a magnificent homage.)
MacFarlane then introduces The Sound of Music costar Christopher Plummer, last year’s winner for Best Supporting Actor (Beginners). Plummer, age 83, mutters in MacFarlane’s direction to “pick on someone your own size,” and graciously acknowledges that he’d love to work with each of the Best Supporting Actress nominees “in my next thirty films.” The winner: Anne Hathaway, whose suspiciously organized speech includes a nod to “my team”, a “special contributions” section, and a concluding hope that someday “the misfortunes of Fantine will be found only in stories and never in real life.” This softball remark is the closest to political that this year’s proceedings get.
10:29 — The annual mandatory speech from the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is usually entertainment death. This year, current president Hawk Koch has two special announcements to include, in addition to the usual stultifying boilerplate: plans for an Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and introductions of several college students who won a contest that allowed them to appear on and assist with tonight’s telecast. Afterward, MacFarlane jokes of the inherent danger in combining “coeds and drunk producers at an open bar.”
10:31 — Sandra Bullock introduces Best Film Editing by analogizing it to rump-roast butchery. Another few lines that I failed to jot down because of lack of laughter hint that perhaps this intro was intended for another presenter with a livelier delivery. Thus does the Oscar go to Argo‘s William Goldenberg, who calls the script “an editor’s dream.” I’m a little curious to know what he meant.
10:35 — Jennifer Lawrence and her giant-sized Oscar dress introduce Best Original Song nominee performance #2, Adele embodying Bond musical history with “Skyfall”.
10:44 — Nicole Kidman introduces Best Picture nominee montage #2: Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, and Amour.
10:48 — Teen-lit adaptation blockbuster franchise stars Daniel Radcliffe and Kristen Stewart are forced to team up for Best Production Design. Winning for Lincoln, set designer Jim Erickson is absent, but production designer Rick Carter accepts the Oscar and ends his gratitude, “…and I love my wife Adele.” Was this a fan’s compliment or a truly, coincidentally named spouse?
10:51 — Salma Hayek covers another recently added tradition, the Governors Awards Banquet. Remember how the ceremony would drag out past the fifteen-hour mark because of honorary Oscars and special awards for reasons beyond our flyover-state understanding? As with the geeky Sci/Tech awards, those special awards have also been expelled from the telecast and sequestered in a special function, with dinner included. This year’s Honorary Oscar winners were stuntman Hal Needham (sometime director, the auteur behind the Smokey & the Bandit and Cannonball Run series), musical documentarian D. A. Pennebaker, and American Film Institute founder George Stevens, Jr. Also presented this year, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was given to DreamWorks cofounder and former Disney Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg.
10:57 — George Clooney presents the annual In Memoriam montage. Names we lost in 2012 included but weren’t limited to Ernest Borgnine; Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie; 2012 Best Costume Design Oscar nominee Eiko Ishioka (Mirror, Mirror); Jack Klugman; Celeste Holm; MCA from the Beastie Boys; Michael Clarke Duncan; Charles Durning; director Tony Scott; songwriter Hal David; sci-fi author Ray Bradbury; Disney songwriter Richard Sherman; onetime Oscars producer Richard Zanuck; and composer Marvin Hamlisch. In honor of that last name, the montage segues into a live performance of Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” by former Oscar mainstay Barbra Streisand.
11:08 — Because “tonight’s show isn’t gay enough yet” (per MacFarlane), and because the producers aren’t done celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their own film, reuniting onstage are Chicago cast members Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, and Queen Latifah. Castmate and Wreck-It Ralph star John C. Reilly is nowhere in sight. It’s possible the rest of the world loved Chicago much, much more than I did, but I couldn’t help noticing the lack of celebration for Best Picture winners reaching their 20th, 30th, 40th, or even 50th anniversaries. Poor Mrs. Miniver celebrated her 70th anniversary as Oscar royalty, but you certainly wouldn’t know it if you relied on tonight’s selective commemoration.
Anyway. The Chicagoans present Best Original Score — that collection of fine music that will someday, in their words, “chase us years later through malls and elevators” — to Mychael Danna for Life of Pi.
11:12 — The presentation for Best Original Song continues. Two of the nominees, “Before My Time” and “Pi’s Lullaby”, receive no live support and are merely sampled from recordings. Concluding the segment with Best Original Song nominee performance #3 is Norah Jones singing “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted. Eventually she’s shuffled off so the kings and queens of mighty Chicago can hand over the Oscar to a teary-eyed Adele and her occasional producer Paul Epworth.
11:22 — Mismatched comedy team Dustin Hoffman and Charlize Theron present Best Adapted Screenplay to Argo‘s Chris Terrio for his very first produced script. Terrio, even speedier a thanker than Shawn Christensen, effusively praises his not-nominated director Ben Affleck, who also won an Oscar for his first screenplay, Good Will Hunting. He also acknowledges those in the world who use “creativity and intelligence to solve problems non-violently.” Take that, bin Laden pursuers.
11:26 — Hoffman and Theron present Best Original Screenplay to writer/director Quentin Tarantino, who ascribes Django‘s success to his characters and casting, and compliments the other nominees by calling 2012 “the writers’ year.” Before going to commercial, MacFarlane cautions us that due to length, “We’re gonna go ahead and start the 2014 Oscars right after this.”
11:33 — Old Hollywood is represented by Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, presenting Best Director not to the heavily favored Steven Spielberg, but to Ang Lee for Life of Pi, who’s tickled pink not only about the award, but also about his upcoming thirtieth wedding anniversary. Awwwwwwwwww!
11:40 — Last year’s Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin (remember The Artist? From way back when?) starts a small speech with “If I were an actress, I would be…” then rattles off a list of adjectives, and concludes with, “…I would be an even better actor.” Awwwwwwwwww!
The award for Best Actress goes to Silver Linings Playbook‘s Jennifer Lawrence, whose giant-sized dress causes her to stumble on the stage stairs. Though the average Best Actress acceptance speech can drone on for hours, a slightly embarrassed Lawrence keeps hers short and escapes the spotlight.
11:45 — MacFarlane begins, “Our next presenter needs no introduction,” shuts up and walks away. In his place enters Meryl Streep, who won her 312th Oscar last year for The Iron Lady. Everyone on Earth can check at least one correct box on their Oscar ballots as the winner is Daniel Day-Lewis, who also wins an instant mini-Oscar for Acceptance Speech with the Most Jokes (“Before we agreed to do a straight swap, I was actually committed to playing Margaret Thatcher…”). He salutes his wife Rebecca, who “has lived with some very strange men.” He also thanks screenwriter Tony Kushner, Mr. Spielberg, and “the mysteriously beautiful mind, body, and spirit of Abraham Lincoln.”
11:52 — The Jack Nicholson arrives much older after last year’s sabbatical away from the Oscars and begins by introducing another very special presenter: live via satellite, America’s own First Lady, Michelle Obama. Yes, that Michelle Obama, surrounded by a fairly decorated coterie but no family. My son summed up her eloquent speech in three words: “Fund art classes!” My son approves of this message.
Nicholson then initiates the virtual drumroll for Best Picture. For the official envelope we return to the First Lady, who proudly presents the Oscar to Argo. Accepting are its three producers: a silent George Clooney (happy to cede the spotlight humbly), longtime producing partner Grant Heslov (who bestows thanks a-plenty for the both of them), and not-nominated director Ben Affleck, who refers to his marriage to Jennifer Garner as “the best kind of work.” Amen, sir. He also concludes with one last piece of advice that’s served him well: “You can’t hold grudges. It’s hard, but you can’t hold grudges.” Double amen to that.
12:01 — Over the Academy Awards end credits, we’re treated to one last musical number: a duet between Seth MacFarlane and red-carpet pre-show hostess Kristin Chenoweth called “Here’s to the Losers”, a topical salute to the eight Best Picture also-rans.
12:05 — The End.
Final tally: four for Life of Pi; three apiece for Argo and Les Miserables; two apiece for Lincoln, Django Unchained, and Skyfall; one each for Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, Zero Dark Thirty, Anna Karenina, and Brave; and complete shutouts for Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, The Hobbit, and the year’s best picture according to dollars, The Avengers. I’m also grateful to report that no additional honorary Oscars were given to Chicago tonight, though I’m sure the idea was vigorously discussed.
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Hardcore MCC fans can check out my previous years’ “Oscars Blow-by-Blow” rundowns at the following links at my previous blog. Enjoy!