The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has long been criticized for its conservative awards and lackluster ceremonies. But this year, the Academy abandoned tradition and opted for a livelier show — one carried largely by host Seth MacFarlane and a series of riveting performances.
With a 15-minute opening that included everything from a sock-puppet re-enactment of Flight to a musical number entitled “We Saw Your Boobs,” MacFarlane immediately warned the audience that this particular edition of the Academy Awards wasn’t going to be traditional. As the co-creator of the hit animated television shows American Dad and Family Guy, MacFarlane was a bit of an unusual choice for the Academy. His sometimes-raunchy comic material has landed him recognition for movies such as Ted and ongoing positions as a roaster on Comedy Central’s annual Roast specials — not the stuff of higher cinematic fare. Needless to say, his popular adult-only material made him a questionable choice for one of Hollywood’s stuffier events.
But MacFarlane didn’t disappoint. He might have dropped a Chris Brown and Rihanna joke in the first 10 minutes of the show — MacFarlane cracked that the brutally violent Django Unchained would be considered a date movie for the pair — but his biting wit and unrivaled sense of humor carried an awards show that was nearly four hours long. It would seem that by choosing MacFarlane as a host, the Academy could be testing out the waters for ceremonies more inclusive of younger audiences in the future.
Still, its choice of MacFarlane as host aside, the Academy had a couple more tricks up its sleeve Sunday evening. Predictably, Daniel Day-Lewis took home the best actor award and Life of Pi claimed the best visual effects category, but when Jennifer Lawrence won best actress for Silver Linings Playbook a surprised — but pleased — gasp swept through the Dolby Theatre.
“I don’t think that we’re going to stop until we get rid of the stigma for mental illness,” said an ecstatic Lawrence in the press interview room as she spoke about the larger themes of Playbook. “If you have to take medication for your mind, there’s such a stigma behind it.”
The first-time Oscar winner was excited, but relaxed, as she fawned over her coveted trophy. Though most of America witnessed her trip on her dress as she climbed the stage to accept her award, a down-to-earth Lawrence played off what could have turned into a nervous breakdown in the hands of a typical Hollywood diva.
“What went through my mind when I fell down?” joked Lawrence. “A bad word that I can’t say that starts with ‘F.’”
Anne Hathaway, another female favorite Sunday night, took home the trophy for best actress in a supporting role for Les Misérables.
“Playing Fantine, having to connect with the darkness of life … the unnecessary suffering that human beings can inflict on each other, I would have loved to have gone home and forgotten about that every day, but you just can’t because it exists,” Hathaway said. “It exists for millions of men and women throughout the world. I think this film changed me because it made me more compassionate and more aware.”
Life of Pi took home four awards Sunday night, one of which was in the category of best director for Ang Lee’s cinematic genius for transforming Yann Martel’s original novel. Though its wins in the best visual effects and best cinematography categories were unsurprising, the film also won for best original score, proving that Life of Pi’s appeal didn’t lie only in its CGI-heavy style.
The Academy adopted a similar mentality for its ceremony. Announcing its first-ever themed show with “music in film,” the Academy put special emphasis on musical achievements within cinema. Barbra Streisand flawlessly performed “The Way We Were.” Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jennifer Hudson added a hint of nostalgia to the ceremony with songs from former Oscar contenders Chicago and Dreamgirls, just before the cast of Les Miserables sealed the musical mash-up with “One Day More.” Adele rocked the house with her performance of “Skyfall” from the Bond film of the same name.
What audiences didn’t know, however, was that her live rendition was only a foreshadowing of the night’s later events: Just a short while later, Adele and co-songwriter Paul Epworth accepted the award for best original song.
“‘Skyfall’ and ‘Rolling in the Deep’ were absolutely done well,” gushed Adele as she cradled her trophy in the press room. “[The best I find is] to be really honest with whoever you’re working with or whoever you’re collaborating with, so that they get the idea.”
Later on in the evening, Quentin Tarantino accepted the award for best original screenplay for his film Django, which also won Christoph Waltz the title of best supporting actor. But even with these pleasant surprises dotting the ceremony, perhaps the biggest surprise came during the best picture reveal: First Lady Michelle Obama presented the award to Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov for Argo.
“I was sort of hallucinating when that was happening,” said a shell-shocked Affleck regarding Obama’s presentation. “[When you’re hallucinating, it] doesn’t seem that odd. … It’s natural because the whole thing is so unnatural. … The whole thing kind of alarmed me at the time, but in retrospect, the fact that it was the first lady was an enormous honor.”
Affleck’s win for Argo came as a well-deserved end to a ceremony that had given Argo awards in the best editing and adapted screenplay categories earlier. Snubbed by the Academy when he didn’t receive a nomination for best director, Affleck proved that he was more than capable of holding his own against the likes of Steven Spielberg and David O. Russell.
“I stood out here in front of you all, really just a kid,” said Affleck as he humbly accepted the award. “I went out and I never thought I would be back here. And I am, because of so many of you who are here tonight, because of this Academy, because of so many wonderful people who extended themselves to me when they had nothing to benefit from it in Hollywood.”
Though the 85th annual Academy Awards certainly held some disappointments — Beasts of the Southern Wild didn’t take home any awards and the production design for The Hobbit lost out to Lincoln — the ceremony proved engaging, even despite its extended run time. In what was perhaps one of its better recent ceremonies, the Academy successfully defied expectations while delivering a show that appealed to all audiences, ultimately reminding viewers of why it’s held a title as one of the most important nights in Hollywood for 85 years.