OSCARS: Analysis By Pete Hammond

Oscars 2013 AnalysisEven as tonight’s Governor’s Ball was winding down, Ben Affleck was still off in a corner of the room celebrating his Argo‘s most unlikely Best Picture victory in becoming only the second film in 80 years to win the top prize without even a nomination for its director. Affleck’s roller coaster ride has been remarkable this season and as he told me earlier this weekend, and tonight after the Best Pic triumph, it has been filled with hills and valleys, but it all came together at the Dolby Theatre when First Lady Michelle Obama (from the White House) opened the envelope and announced his film as the winner.

Related: Nikki Finke’s Oscar Live-Snark

When he was left off the list of Directing nominees on January 10th he said he was really depressed, but that same night he won the Critics Choice Movie Award as Director and Best Picture, then the Golden Globe three days later, then the PGA, SAG, DGA, WGA and BAFTA honors to name a few. Suddenly Argo was the one to beat and it never wavered. Affleck’s emotional acceptance was heartfelt and perfectly described the personal journey of this actor turned first-rate director. And his acknowledgement of Steven Spielberg from the stage was a nice touch. He won, with Matt Damon, for Best Original Screenplay in 1997 for Good Will Hunting, but this was different as Affleck told me and he was going to savor this moment as long as he could before moving on into the night. It was the same for Argo’s winning screenwriter Chris Terrio who also was hanging late at the Govs Ball even though he had to catch a flight back to his New York home where he is currently writing a new script based on the Greengrass story. As he was just exiting the Ball at the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom, he told me someone gave him advice that he should just try to enjoy this moment first. He seemed to have a hard time soaking it in, but he was going to give it at least this one night before getting back to work.

Argo, after vitually a clean sweep of awards season since the directing snub (which in retrospect could not have hurt), won a respectable three Oscars (also for Editing and Adapted Screenplay), tying Les Misérables for that number of Oscars. But the big winner of the night (if you can call it that) was 20th’s risky box office success Life Of Pi which nabbed four statuettes including a biggie, Best Director for Ang Lee. Had Affleck been nominated, he likely would have won since Best Picture and Director usually go hand in hand, but for whatever reason in a year with an embarrassment of riches it somehow seems totally appropiate that there was a split and Lee was given this award. If anything, Life Of Pi was a directorial achievement like no other and this Oscar was acknowledgement of that. In fact, right after Affleck was snubbed, I predicted Lee would take it, and in the last couple of weeks it was apparent a tide was building for him among Academy voters. It became one of the easiest calls of the night despite the fact that many pundits were calling it for Lincoln‘s Steven Spielberg. At the Govs Ball, Lee, who has won two previous Oscars (for Best Foreign Language Film for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Director for Brokeback Mountain), told me this one means as much or probably more because of the extreme challenges Pi provided. He was clearly thrilled with it and I told him he becomes the first director since George Stevens in the 50s with A Place In The Sun (1951) and Giant (1956) to win two Best Director Oscars for two films that did not win Best Picture, a rare occurence.

But there were no sweeps. The Academy seemed smartly determined to spread the wealth this year and spread they did with at least one Oscar going to eight of nine Best Picture nominees (only Beasts Of The Southern Wild was blanked). To me that statistic just reinforces what a great year it was for film. “The Academy did what I hoped they would do and really voted for what they thought was simply the best individual achievement in each category. They really did their homework this year,” Academy President Hawk Koch told me at the Ball. He also seemed really proud about pulling off the Obama coup and gave me a detailed account of how (with the help of Harvey Weinstein) they were able to do it. If the Globes got a former President to present in Bill Clinton, the Oscars staged a history-making move with having the First Lady rip open the envelope to announce Best Picture. Koch also told me he thought the Oscar show itself was the “best one ever” although I found others in the room, including one very prominent Board member, who might not quite share that level of enthusiasm.

Among some I talked to, host Seth MacFarlane‘s material just wasn’t strong enough. His self-deprecating, on-the-edge-of-good-taste humor grew on me although he doesn’t have the natural rhythm of a great stand-up. You almost wished the Academy said “screw it” and just let this guy rip with the kind of edgy comedy for which he is known and beloved. It was a little neutered on the Oscar stage but MacFarlane managed to grab some moments.

Related: OSCARS: Seth MacFarlane’s Comedy Bits – Videos

One former Governor said once she was able to get past the first half hour she thoroughly enjoyed the show. Nearly everyone seemed to like the musical numbers, particularly Adele, Barbra Streisand and a killer performance of Goldfinger from an ageless Shirley Bassey as well as the tribute to Musicals. Another very prominent current Governor said the show was “okay” but had problems with the way some of the presenter segments came off. Indeed it looked like Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy, as well as Kristen Stewart, might not have shown up for rehearsals. Universal President Ron Meyer on the other hand told me he thought it was a terrific show. Certainly producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan seemed to be basking in praise at the Ball as they spent a lot of time at the table where Adele, Streisand and John Travolta were sharing.

Related: OSCARS: All The Musical Numbers – Videos

There were so many standing ovations for the show I lost count, but I have never witnessed any Oscar audience stand up so many times during one show. Whether it was because they needed the exercise I don’t know, but they seemed to really be responding to the performance aspects of the show. From where I was sitting in the First Mezzanine, MacFarlane’s comic bits at the top of the show really seemed to work although it may have played differently on television. When I got wind Saturday night that he and Kristin Chenoweth were going to do a closing song as a tribute to the “losers” I thought this was really risky business, but it sort of worked over those end credits — even though Neil Patrick Harris has a similar bit done to perfection after every Tony show he’s hosted. Overall from my viewpoint, the decision to do so many musical numbers was a good one as the speeches from the winners this year were by and large uninspired with some notable exceptions. Daniel Day-Lewis‘ was a highlight, Ang Lee was charming, and writing winners Terrio and Quentin Tarantino had some strong remarks that made an impression, but most of the acceptances were rather bloodless this year. Why read off a list of thank yous?

And there were no real stunning surprises to make this an especially memorable Oscar show other than its variety aspects. But as a moment in time for the well-liked and sincere Affleck it will certainly be one he will never forget. With the interminably long Oscar season now officially at its end, it is interesting to note that I stood in that very same Governors Ball exactly a year ago and casually asked Warner Bros. marketing topper Sue Kroll if she had any hot Best Picture Oscar prospects for 2012. Off the record at the time, she said they had some but singled out a film in production called Argo. Good prediction. Just look what happened.

  1. I’m kinda surprised you didn’t mention the changing of the guard between Affleck and Speilberg. We are going to see this more and more as the stars age out and the Academy begins to promote the younger directors and screenwriters.

  2. Thank you for this opinion. I “somewhat” enjoyed the show…I thoroughly enjoyed the musical numbers, although I thought some of the musicals went on too long. But they came just in time as a pick-me-up during a lull. Towards the middle the show moved along better. The sits were fails: Avengers, Melissa McC&Rudd, and poor Kristin Stewart, could anyone look more miserable?
    I’ve read that hosting the Oscars is a thankless job and everybody gets criticized, so for Seth to take the job is admirable. But he needs to step it up from the jokes meant for his teenage fans and more for the adults in the audience.
    Jennifer Lawrence needs to pick a designer who can design “sensible” gowns….I knew she would trip when I saw that gown on the red carpet. I said, “thats too much gown” and yep, it happened.
    (She’s a klutsch anyway)
    Love Dame Shirley, Barbara, Jennifer, Adele (OK, not great).

  3. Might Seth MacFarlane host again? If so, I hope the Academy can find enough 15-year-old boys to turn off Call of Duty to watch the Oscars, because I certainly won’t be watching.

    The problem with sophomoric humor is that, by the time you’re 35, you’ve already heard all the jokes before. (Jews run Hollywood? Really? Lincoln Assassination jokes? “We Saw Your Boobs”? They seemed funny when I first heard them in the 80s.). But kids who’ve never heard them before will think you’re a stick in the mud because you don’t get “edgy” humor.

  4. I was glad for all the musical performances too — it made it easy for me to know exactly where to Fast Forward through as I watched on a slight DVR delay!

  5. Ang Lee thanked the people of Taiwan and his lawyer among many, many others, but somehow forgot to thank the screenwriter who wrote the script for him to direct. Classless.

    1. And what about the visual effects company that made the movie possible? Rhythm and Hues wasn’t mentioned by Lee and they just went bankrupt, even as the film won for effects. So sad that visual effects companies are dropping like flies even as films demand more and more effects innovations (like the amazing tiger) to wow audiences.

  6. Argo wasn’t the 2nd movie to win the Best Picture Oscar without a nomination in the Best Director category in 80 years. It was the fourth in 85 years.
    – 1929 (1st Oscars): Wings, William Wellman (but the categories weren’t very clear at the time, so Wings had the “Outstanding Picture” award, while Sunrise got the “Unique and Artistic Contribution”, which was later demoted. In either case, Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven, drama) and Lewis Milestone (Two Arabian Knights, comedy) got each a “Best Director” Oscar
    – 1931-1932, actually November 1932 (for films released from August 1931 to July 1932): Grand Hotel, Edmund Golding for “Outstanding Production”. Best director was, once again, Frank Borzage.
    – 1989: Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Beresford. Best director: Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July
    – 2012: Argo, Ben Affleck. Best director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi

  7. Thanks for the thoughtful, early-morning recap. I’m relieved to hear that MacFarlane has said he is one and done as host – he’s a one-trick pony that only works (weakly, at that) in animated form. Fey and Poehler should be locked down as next year’s hosts ASAP.

    1. I’m going to guess that the Golden Globes will grab Amy and Tina first if they haven’t already got them under contract.

  8. The Chicago and Dreamgirls musical numbers were bizarrely incongruous (and totally extraneous) indulgences.

  9. The awards shows and the people and films that are nominated are so far-removed from moviegoers, for whom the films are supposed to be made and who, when you get down to it, pay 100% of the tab.

  10. Yes let’s have the first African American First Lady announce from the White House ARGO winning Best Picture over Lincoln. Well played, Hollywood!

  11. I thought MacFarlane did a credible job, though as noted he did not have the timing of someone accustomed to performing in front of an audience…of a billion folks. He seemed a bit uncomfortable at times and tended to laugh nervously at his own punchlines. Still, he had some good zingers for an audience that tends to take itself too seriously sometimes.

  12. My thought is that while the name change from Academy Awards to Oscar is alright it does seem to diminish the award’s prestige. The word Academy gives one the feeling that there is a body of film experts studying a film’s various elements and after doing so, an award is given. For some reason, I don’t get that same impression from the word, “Oscar”. Oscar is the award given by the Academy.
    Suggestion; Admit the error, reverse the decision and continue with the “Academy Awards” next year.

  13. Why the motion picture academy seems a fit org to put on dance numbers eludes me. It was if the producers really, really, wanted to produce the Tonys. Why there is not more FILM at a film event will always escape me.

  14. Actors in the last two consecutive films by Tom Hooper, Tarantino, and David O. Russell have won Oscars. Has this happened before? Meanwhile, it’s the first time an actor has won for a Spielberg film.

  15. This piece is way too kind. The show was a hot mess. And please, please PLEASE put the orchestra back in the pit next year. They played into people’s intros and the Jaws cue for “time’s up” was funny once. But not every time.

  16. All the “leaked” hype about the Bond tribute and it turned out to be a real clunker. So much more they could have done, even if all the Bonds wouldn’t show up.
    Enjoyed Bassey, but if she was all that constituted the “tribute” (that clip package was truly heinous), they could have at least had her sing all her Bond theme songs.

    1. I agree about Bond Tribute…I, too, was pretty disappointed. It really could and should have been more. I enjoyed the host, by the way…extraordinary family of his we met on the red carpet!

  17. I skipped out of the festivities to watch a new episode of “The Walking Dead.” Much better than the musical numbers, the lame jokes, and the Affleck and Spielberg sideshow. I really don’t trust the Academy Awards in picking the Best Movie. It really isn’t. Sorry, if Lincoln was absolutely flawless, it would have won. If Argo was really good, Affleck would have been nominated as well. This year, Affleck and Spielberg had so much baggage, they were snubbed.

  18. I’m really surprised than Ben Affleck’s really nasty swipe and McFarland went totally unnoticed!!! I thought it was petty and sh**tty. I understand from this blog that Affleck was “furious” over McFarland’s Giglio joke.

    Seeing that ugly ego rear up is not pretty and shows that as much as some of those people try to come across as humble, they just aren’t. Humility is a luxury for most people. It’s easy for someone as hot as Ben Affleck to play it cool.

    1. Far, far worse was the idea of Heslov PRESENTING Affleck with an Oscar, as if Affleck WINNING one Oscar isn’t enough, they have to throw themselves a pity parade that Affleck missed out on a director snub. If the voters didn’t pick Affleck, then tough. It’s not up to the ‘Argo’ team to rectify this decision, whether they liked it or not.

  19. As far as the show, the first half hour was too long but the boob song and the sock puppet schtick made me laugh so hard tears were running down my cheeks. Seeing such frat boy humor thrown into such a sacred cow event made it all even funnier.

    It was the endless musical numbers that made me want to throw a brick through the tv.

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