They call the show the Academy Awards, but the actual accolades felt few and far between on Sunday night, as stars gathered at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre to celebrate the past year in film. Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame was on hand as a first-time host, and between his extended opening shtick, a slew of not-always-necessary musical performances (the theme of the night was “music in film,” after all) and several lengthy tribute sections, the show felt unusually bloated and meandering this year.
Still though, MacFarlane was often funny, threading the line between goodhearted Hollywood mocking and poor taste all night long. (Highlights included jokes about John Wilkes Booth, Daniel Day-Lewis’s method acting intensity and the Chris Brown/Rihanna relationship, as well as a song-and-dance number about Oscar-nominated actresses who have shown their breasts on camera.) MacFarlane’s hosting gig has received mixed reviews around the net, with many claiming that his offensive brand of humor was a poor match for the evening’s usually-classy, timeless atmosphere. But after two years of weak hosts—first with the disastrous James Franco/Anne Hathaway year, and then last year, where Billy Crystal thoroughly phoned it in—MacFarlane was a breath of fresh air. Had the ceremony been shorter and better planned out, this year’s telecast could have been one of the most memorable in recent memory. As it was, the show was merely okay, but I hope next year’s hosting choice is as adventurous.
Beyond the show’s poor framing though, I found this year’s actual awards to be quite satisfying. Things got off to a good start, with Christoph Waltz winning a well-deserved (and largely unexpected) Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his stunning turn in Django Unchained. The film was my favorite of last year, but I figured that its uncomfortably parodic violence and thought-provoking racial themes would result in it going home empty-handed. Waltz defeated a field of veterans and Oscar favorites to claim the award, his second in just four years, and his second under the direction of Quentin Tarantino (he won in 2009 for Inglourious Basterds). It was a nice show of support for Django, which never had a chance at the Best Picture prize, but which nonetheless managed to claim a second Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (much) later in the night. I predicted neither win, but as a huge fan of the film, and of Waltz and Tarantino in general, their victories were the undisputed highlights of the night for me.
After that, it was a wall of technical categories, awkward presenter bits and odd musical tributes for the better part of the next two hours. The visionary work of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi paid off, making the film the most decorated project of the night and netting it awards in Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score. Lee would get his own award later in the night, stealing the Best Director prize—his second—from supposed frontrunner Steven Spielberg. The category felt especially consolatory this year though, due at large to the absence of season-darling Ben Affleck from the field. The actor-turned-director helmed Argo, a thriller based on declassified CIA files, and one of the year’s most universally-loved films.
“The film is so top secret that the film’s director is unknown to the Academy,” MacFarlane said. “They know they screwed up.”
Mark Wahlberg broke the most surprising news of the night, however—that of a tie in the Best Sound Editing category—and divided the honors between Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty. Skyfall scored a second win in the Best Original Song category, with singer/songwriter Adele in attendance to both accept the award and perform the titular torch song. And the James Bond franchise got its own tribute, with a clip-filled segment emphasizing some of the film’s more off-the-wall moments. A roof-raising performance of “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey, who has delivered three different 007 theme songs over the last 50 years, brought the segment full circle.
On the more confusing end of musical tributes, Chicago, the Best Picture winner from ten years ago, got almost as much recognition as the actual nominees from this year. The film’s cast—Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah—were tapped as presenters, while Zeta-Jones performed (read: lip-synched) the musical’s signature number, “All That Jazz,” in the middle of an awkward and extended movie musical number. Jennifer Hudson appeared moments later to belt her way through “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls, the song that single-handedly won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar six years ago. And the cast of Les Miserables gave the lengthy tribute number its finale, taking the stage to perform bits and pieces of three different songs from the film.
With all of that time wasting, it took nearly two hours for Argo, the evening’s Best Picture frontrunner, to actually win its first award. When it did though—in Best Film Editing—the writing was on the wall as to where the evening was headed. The film toppled its primary Best Picture competition in the Best Adapted Screenplay category—including Lincoln, Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook—and despite Affleck’s absence from the Best Director field, no one was betting against his film for Best Picture.
The rest of the night went just about as planned. Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress for her emotional turn in Les Miserables. Silver Linings Playbook made good on one of its four acting nominations, scoring a win in the Best Actress category for the 22-year old Jennifer Lawrence, who looked radiant in a billowing ball gown. She tripped up the stairs on the way to get her award, and looked especially shocked and flustered at her victory, but her youthful energy was refreshing and endeared her well to the crowd.
Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person to ever win the Best Actor Oscar three times, though his towering portrayal in Spielberg’s Lincoln was the undeniable favorite all season long. Day-Lewis is a known method actor—a performer who never breaks character during the shooting of his films—and his incredibly varied resume of work displays the success of that process. Still though, Day-Lewis often goes for dark or serious roles, so it was a nice surprise to see his self-deprecating, deadpan wit come out in his acceptance speech. And the image of Day-Lewis going about his everyday life in the guise of his characters is an especially funny one.
“Since we were married 16 years ago my wife has lived with some very strange men,” Day-Lewis said.
Ultimately though, the night belonged to Argo and its three producers—Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov—who, along with their cast, took the stage to accept the Best Picture Oscar. Affleck’s part of the acceptance speech was especially moving, as the actor-turned-director fought back tears to thank his wife, reminisce about his last time on the Oscar stage—he and best bud Matt Damon won a screenplay award in 1997 for Good Will Hunting—and to acknowledge the ups and downs of his Hollywood career.
“You can’t hold grudges. It’s hard, but you can’t hold grudges,” Affleck said, perhaps referencing his Best Director snub. “And it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life, ‘cause that’s gonna happen. All that matters is that you gotta get up.”
With this win Argo becomes a precedent-breaker, the fourth film in the Academy’s 85-year history to win the top prize without a corresponding Best Director nomination. And really, it’s a deserved one. I don’t think Argo was the best film of the year, but I do think it’s an immensely entertaining, well-made and well acted film, and it takes its place as my personal favorite Best Picture winner since 2009’s The Hurt Locker.
Now. Let’s see what 2013 has to offer.
Check below for a full list of winners. For anyone who was wondering, I went 20 for 24 on my predictions (with the tie taken into account).
Best Picture: Argo
Directing: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Argo
Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Cinematography: Life of Pi
Costume: Anna Karenina
Film Editing: Argo
Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Miserables
Original Score: Life of Pi
Original Song: “Skyfall” from Skyfall
Production Design: Lincoln
Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Sound Editing (tie): Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty
Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Animated Feature Film: Brave
Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Foreign Language Film: Amour
Documentary (Short Subject): Inocente
Animated Short Film: Paperman
Live Action Short Film: Curfew