By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 25, 2013 at 2:35PM
The "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator was always going to be divisive -- his mix of old-school entertainer vibe and button-pushing humor made demograhpic sense, and he impressed hosting "Saturday Night Live" recently, but there was always the risk that it would come out as mean-spirited as much of his output so far. And unfortunately, that's what we got. MacFarlane was reasonably competent at hosting (he didn't fall off the stage or dry up or anything), and he had a few decent laugh lines -- it wasn't a James Franco-style disaster. But it was almost more insidious than that, with a thick vein of sexism running throughout the show, from opening number "We Saw Your Boobs" (it's worth remembering that several of the scenes MacFarlane mentioned in the number were rape scenes) to an icky joke about Quvenzhane Wallis to gags directed at Jennifer Aniston and Adele, to the line about "Zero Dark Thirty" being about how women can't let anything go -- barely a commercial break would go by without MacFarlane targeting women. He might take pride in being an equal opportunity offender, but he was certainly aiming at some targets more than others. There was no "We Saw Your Penis," for instance, a contrast particularly drawn by the way Andy Samberg at the Spirit Awards joked not about Helen Hunt's nudity, but about John Hawkes' lack of it. Not that the others got off scott free either, with very MacFarlaneish jokes about Jews (the very word treated, as it so often is, as a sort of punchline), Nazis and more. A balance can be struck when it comes to offensive material, but it has to feel less lazy and mean-spirited than this (as with "Ted," the gags were shocking, but never even transgressive), leaving MacFarlane looking like a flailing frat-boy. That much of the show also revolved around his narcissist swing singer side gig (including the trainwreck of a closing number, which had the feeling of being performed to an empty auditorium) didn't help his cause much either.
It felt a little odd when the cast of "The Avengers" were introduced, only for them to walk on without Scarlett Johansson (who is presumably unavailable due to Broadway commitments, but still). And the bit (which saw the cast presenting Cinematography and Visual Effects) only got more ill-conceived from there. Robert Downey Jr's opening crack about box office came across as bitter, the banter failed to ever take off and we're still not sure whether they actually botched it, or if it was just deliberately terrible. But it perhaps demonstrated that you if you can't get Joss Whedon to write for those guys, it may not be worth bothering.
While Quentin Tarantino probably had good intentions when he started his “Django Unchained” acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay last night, the man’s healthy ego certainly got in the way fast. Ostensibly trying to pay his actors a compliment, he ultimately did it in a way -- much like he did all season long with talk about his own “poetry” -- that was painfully self-congratulatory, patting himself on the back for the casting, and in his skill in writing characters. “It’s not just an easy thing to say,” Tarantino said of the lines of dialogue in his “Django Unchained” script. “It really is why I’m standing here. Knowing people who watch my films 20-30 years from now it’s going to be because of the characters I created.” Cut to shot of Jamie Foxx going, “Jesus, Quentin, where are you going with this?” Yes, a lot of people get awkward during acceptance speeches generally full of emotion and fear, but this has been Tarantino’s signature form all year long. “I’ve only got one chance to get it right. I’ve got to cast the right people to make those character come alive and hopefully live for a long time,” Tarantino said. “And boy this time did I do it!” Yes, Tarantino, perhaps realizing how this may sound tried to rally and thank his actors, peers and competition, but lord that was a very awkward and strange acceptance speech.
While we dug the dance numbers, the "Les Miserables" medley and the Bond themes, there were just as many musical numbers that didn't work, mostly revolving around MacFarlane. We've already talked about the borderline-infantile "We Saw Your Boobs," but the rewrite of "Be Our Guest" was pretty lacking in laughs, and the final number, a tribute to the losers, with him and Kristen Chenoweth was wildly misjudged. But even those he wasn't involved with were hit and miss. We know that the show's producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron were behind "Chicago," but it was a truly ego-driven move to make much of the show an extended tribute to their own brilliance, with a lip-synched number from the film, the cast presenting an award, and a mean joke about how no one remembers what film lost to "Chicago" ten years back. There was even a moment where MacFarlane took time to thank Zadan and Meron, a moment presumably written into the show by... Zadan and Meron. The "Dreamgirls" extract was pretty dull as well. We get the desire to pay tribute to the movie musical, but to do so exclusively from films in the last decade (where was "West Side Story?" Or "Cabaret?" Or 'Singin' In The Rain?") felt short-sighted.
Probably the moment that left the sourest taste was when the winners of Best Visual Effects (for “Life of Pi”) were played off with the “Jaws” theme music. It would have felt nasty for anyone, but given that it happened as Bill Westenhofer paid tribute to his colleague at Rhythm & Hues, the recently bankrupted company who did much of the extraordinary work on 'Pi,' and who had employees protesting outside the red carpet, it feld distinctly cold-hearted. It gave the impression of a cover-up at worst, and at best it just seemed to be heartless, particularly as the company also worked on the later "Ted" segment. And it was all the more egregious in the way that the time was instead used for pointless musical numbers, unfunny sketches, and indulgent "tributes," like the 007 one, a missed opportunity that essentially proved to be just a poorly assembled supercut. Even the In Memoriam section seemed truncated this year, in favor of Barbara Streisand's extended tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. For all the "without them, we'd be nothing" spirit of the awards, moments like playing off Westenhofer and co. really betrays the contempt with which the Academy can often treat the below-the-liners.