Award Show Season 2013: The Academy Awards

Hello out there in Award Show Land!  I'm reporting for the last time this season from my trusty sofa for the biggest production of the year, the Oscars! (NOTE: some call it the TOTY's of the Film Industry")

At this point in the season, we've seen A LOT; good, bad, ugly, AMAZING! A few trends have emerged, and countless of jokes have been made at the expense of celebrities by comedian hosts.

As always, I started my day on the E! Red Carpet. I'm not sure if I should have been impressed or horrified by the 5 HOURS of pre-Red Carpet coverage. Though most of it was inane fodder which I used as a background for folding laundry and cooking meals for the week, the "Monkey vs. Man" winner selections were live television gold. If you could survive the blah blah blah about shoe art you aren't actually supposed to walk in (???) the behind-the-scenes Oscar looks were quite interesting. An interview with Ric Robertson, CEO of A.M.P.A.S., revealed that over 400ft of "Oscar Red" carpet  is used on the scene,as well as numerous 8ft-tall golden statues (which are made of plexiglass, and weigh about 75 lbs each. The perfectly even "Oscar Gold" paint coating are a must for the lovely sheen in bright lighting along the carpet).

The pre-show buzz was all about Seth MacFarlane hosting the show for the first time. Apparently his show opening had been in the works for over 5 months, and involved many secretive celebs.

When I just couldn't take another second of fashion-talk, I switched over to ABC. A quick word with the jittery-pre-show Producers (who apparently had their show concepts prepped for the last 10 years, so I better get cracking!), and a peek at the little gold men laying in wait backstage (each with unique serial number, interesting!). All-access in-theater interviews a great idea, (too bad it was with Renee Zellweger!), and it was surprising to see the crowd in the background so well-behaved and in their seats with 5 minutes to go (the magic of tightly-packed theater seats! No escape).

And now for the main event . . .

The Staging
First impression: it's GORGEOUS! A textured arch proscenium (later detail revealed to be Oscar statues in a shadow-box grid), industrial but elegant floral-like cogs lent another interesting sculptural element (the golden spokes were Oscar award cutouts) with color changing lights showing through. The stalactites and stalagmites in lights were another industrial element that in execution looked so whimsical, almost like candles from afar. Was a really interesting camera backdrop as well, actually felt very organic. The entire semi-circle set had an LED screen behind it (a huge trend in award show staging this year). The Oscars used the LEDs much more sparingly, and there were times when more traditional stage sets were left to shine. They also weren't afraid to play with basic fabric and more simple textured backgrounds throughout the show.

The Host
Seth got off to a great start, making Tommy Lee Jones laugh on his first try. He seemed cool, calm, and collected. He introduced the evening's official-unofficial theme: Celebrating music in film, with a focus on live performances (all the walk-in and transition music were previous Best Song winners). Kudos for what may be the first joke EVER made about the dramatic Coppola family: That's a tough family to be a part of . . . "Mom, I got an A in Spanish!" response "Literally everyone you're related to has an Oscar." Zing!

Then, in a move that felt a bit low-budget (but charmingly so), a screen dropped down and there was Captain Kirk! The following was a somewhat predictably-structured storyline that Kirk was there from the future to stop Seth from making the show a disaster: Headline from the next morning: "Seth MacFarlen Worst Host Ever"  Why?! Because he sang an offensive song . . . and luck would have it, Kirk has a recording. Cue "We Saw your Boobs" (not the obvious boob joke, Seth! For shame.)  What should he do instead?! Cue Channing Tatum and /Charlize Theron dancing (beautifully) as Seth crooned (YES, crooned) "The Way You Look Tonight".

Headline update: "Pretty Bad Oscar host"  Why?! Because of the sock puppet Flight reenactment, of course! (I have to say, the socks in dryer shot as the plane spiraled out of control was genius)  What should he do instead?! Cue Daniel Radcliffe & Joseph Gordon Levitt leading a troupe of soft shoe dancers. Classic Oscar graphics on the LED wall, camera work shows off the swirl pattern on stage.

Headline update: "Proves to be Mediocre Host"  Why?! Cut to backstage clip of Seth dressed as the Flying Nun, talking dirty to the ever-classy Sally Field, zing after zing. Ouch!  What should he do instead?! Back onstage, sliding LED panel walls open revealing a dance troupe of lovely ladies in golden dresses. Seth regales us with "Be our Guest" as lovely kaleidoscoping Oscar graphics dance onscreen behind them.

Headline update: "Best Oscars Ever"!!! All in all, I liked the opener. I was mostly entertained despite the forumlaic structure. However, did it really need to be 17 minutes long? We got the point 2 minutes in. However, it was a great opportunity used to incorporate over a dozen celebrities playing along and showing their fun sides and side talents. I'll accept and move on . . .

The Graphics
While presenting the nominees, I thought they did a great job focusing on the actor or category. They used the full screen to show clips, and gave each nominee the time it deserved (one of my big complaints about the Grammys. I liked also how they presented the live shot of the nominees in audience along with the presenter onstage for maximum tension. Quick flashes of the lightbulb/shooting star graphics (GRAPHICS TREND ALERT: Lightbulbs), didn't detract attention. As the winner came to stage a shooting star drew the Oscar onscreen, while the other half showed the winning film and category name. Worked nicely.

The Memorable Moments

I'm not sure I was a fan of the somewhat disjointed way the nine Best Film Nominees were presented. First, Reese Witherspoon reading (in somewhat awkward succession) names and descriptions for three of the nominees, followed by a video montage. Was a weird way to do this, talking at the audience through all 3 nominees (awkward clapping). I think there might have been a better way to show and tell at the same time . . .

Teleprompter malfunction?!
The cast of The Avengers had a weird blunder. Did Samuel L. Jackson skip a chunk of text? Was he just saving face by insisting they skip to the nominees? Were Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. really upset that he wasn't giving the respect deserved to visual effects? What was going on with the prompter last night . . . more to come.

LOVED the styled wigs and plentiful clothing racks as set pieces for the makeup/hair and costume awards! Really grounded the presenters on the large stage, and set the scene. Throughout the 3-award segment, we got a different background in each shot, which was really dynamic.

Oops, camera cut back to Channing and Jennifer before they were ready to continue, a bit awkward.

Featured Presentation: 50 Years of Bond! Great idea, but HUGE missed opportunity for an all-Bond reunion onstage, right?! Great graphics, and a fitting video tribute which tied together many generations and styles of film with sexy silhouettes and the retro-chic circle patterns. The transition to the amazing live glittering-gold performance of Bond theme songs which used lighting, simple set pieces, and the LED in a perfectly complementary way. Singer Shirley Bassey sounded incredible, and launched yet another OSCARS TREND ALERT: The Standing Ovation!

Ugh, live music. Why must it always be so hit and miss? There were too many awkward pauses to count throughout the show. The first noticeable one coming as Jamie Fox and Kerri Washington walked out, when there were a few full seconds of silence before they actually reached the mic. Not so well cued by the live orchestra performing down the street at Capital Studios.

More beautiful set pieces! A beautiful arched shelving unit, with vintage projectors. Really simple, again industrial. Loved the honeycomb Oscars, really fun. It was cool to get a peek at how it was placed onstage in this side shot as Liam Neeson took the stage.

The next 3 "Best Movie" (Laim said the WRONG category name!) nominees had a somewhat more convincing link as Liam pointed out that it seemed like you were "not watching a film, but real life" in all three: Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty. Again, then a film montage.

Teleprompter malfunction?!
Was it just to prepare the audience for what was to come, or was Seth re-thinking his joke live onstage when he said "I thought we cut this joke, but really you want to do it?". Was it another teleprompter malfunction? A bad facial hair/Kardashian joke ensued to audience boos.

Featured Presentation:  John Travolta introduced an ode to rebirth of the movie musical over the last decade (I guess the Disney Princess flicks of the 1990s don't count?!)  After a video montage from the film, a scantily-clad Catherine Zeta Jones rose with full ensemble to perform from Chicago, which seems to be have been credited (reiterated later on in the show) with reviving the genre. Loved the mylar streamer background! She was clearly lip syncing, but looked fabulous despite a somewhat clumsy follow-spot. Another video montage, then lights up on Jennifer Hudson singing from DreamGirls. Her voice is absolutely amazing, and the more simple lighted backdrop really let her shine in the vintage lights onstage. Fierce.   OSCARS TREND ALERT: Another Standing Ovation!

A tough act to follow for ANYONE… other than the FULL Les Mis cast, of course! Also singing live. Fabulous imagery from the film on sliding LED walls, used wisely for dramatic entrances. A few sound blips (Amanda and Eddie's mics were low, Russell's high), but really fantastic performance. My question is: Was it ok to feature a currently-nominated film so heavily?  Something felt a little off about it to me, but (as Faye pointed out) it was also a great opportunity to bring them together one last time. I'll accept and move on . . . OSCARS TREND ALERT: Another Standing Ovation!

How'd they do that?! I was trying to figure out how they had Marc Walhberg onstage with Ted (who looks SO REAL, like a puppet). Read more here. Bold move!

A Tie at the Oscars?! Is that a thing?? I liked how they handled it: First Sound Editing Oscar presented, then speech. Then, second Oscar, speech. Everyone had their moment.

FUN INTRODUCTION of Christopher Plummer, remembered for his featured role in one of the best-ever movie musicals, The Sound of Music:

Spotlight on side door of theater . . .
Seth "Introducing the Von Trap Family Singers" . . . nothing.
Again "Introducing the Von Trap Family Singers" . . .
Soldier runs in and exclaims, "They're gone!"
;) Nice one

Another thing the Oscars did better than the Grammy's: Instead of the never-ending "coming ups" by the annoying female VOG, Seth did this himself in very short and sweet way.

What's that?! Cigarette girls with popcorn trays!!! Sequence is once again on-trend with the Oscars. Snacks are IN for 2013, viewers! Make note.

Gotta love a short speech from the President of A.M.P.A.S. Announced a forthcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (COOL!), and explained that in order to assign the evening's Dollies, they held a contest for college students asking how they would change the future of movies. Winners were onstage directing traffic and handing awards. Very cool!

The Most Awkward Envelope Moment goes to . . . Sandra Bullock! Her envelope seemed to have been super glued shut! Actual grunting while opening. Weird.

Another big flow issue for me was the presentation of the Best Original Song nominees. Apparently, the Les Mis performance almost an hour earlier was the first song (did I miss when they said that?), then we get Adele's sparkling performance of Skyfall (if they were already skipping around, why wasn't this a part of the James Bond presentation?) with full orchestra, choir and dramatic inky visuals. . . more to come as we wait, yet again, for the loop on Best Song to be somewhat awkwardly closed later on . . .

Nicole Kidman arrived to present the last 3 nominees for Best Picture. Audience seemed confused, stared clapping, awkward pause where Nicole asked the director if its ok to pause . . . Ugh.

SIDE NOTE: Can I ask whose idea was it to put the poised Daniel Radcliff with the obnoxiously-awkward Kristen Stewart as presenters? She's just so insufferable. Pay attention to life Kristen Stewart!!! Looking down awkwardly means you miss your cue and look even more awkward. Sigh.

TIME NOTE: At this point, it's clear there is NO WAY the show is ending on time. 30 minutes left and 7 major awards to go . . .

In Memorium, presented by George Clooney. The stage looked absolutely gorgeous as the lights went down, leaving the bulbs illuminated. Montage well put together blending still photos, movie posters, clips, and voiceover in a fitting tribute. Transition to Barbara Streisand singing "Memories" onstage. OSCARS TREND ALERT: Another Standing Ovation!

Not only was this the least-interesting set piece of the night (somewhat awkward, boom, cables, music stands looked blah onscreen, didn't really notice it) but the Chicago cast was totally awkward as well. So, I guess it capped off the oddly-flowing Best Song category in a fitting end. After seeing the other 2 songs earlier on, we got a lack-luster "and here are 2 other nominated songs" from Catherine Zeta Jones. Then through disembodied CZJ voiceover we were transitioned to a final live performance by Nora Jones which was pretty blah. I get that they were trying to spread out the energy throughout the show, but the pacing was off. It also happened to be that the two non-live songs were so much more emotional than the final campy performance.

SIDE NOTE: Presenters, please discuss amongst yourselves who is going to say the winner. It's so awkward when someone holds up the envelope for someone else to read and then jumps in to do it themselves. Ugh! We even script that specifically for TOTYs, people.

TIME NOTE: I hope everyone was smart enough to extend their DVR recordings!  In an effort to make up for time, they tried to cut Quentin Tarentino's speech for Best Original Screenplay short by playing the music. He kept going . . .

Clever Commercial Breaks from Samsung Galaxy II:
A series throughout the Oscars surrounding a fictitious video game release called "Unicorn Apocalypse". Full arc story played out throughout each commercial break (yes, I actually watched live, so no fast-forwarding through commercials). Tied into the Oscars with Tim Burton as the Director brought on for the film adaptation.

Jane Fonda and Michael Douglass appeared down a pathway of our much-loved stalactites and stalagmites in lights. Achievement in Directing brought one of the major surprise winners of the evening in Ang Lee. The guy directed an actor who had literally NEVER ACTED BEFORE in a film that was almost a solo performance. Well-deserved. The d'oh moment in the speech came when Ang said he "didn't want to waste time thanking the cast" . . . not what he meant, I'm sure. Yikes!

Uh oh! Jennifer Lawrence forgot to thank Harvey Weinstein for buying her an Oscar! Tsk tsk. Now he'll never let you eat again!

OSCARS TREND ALERT: Another Standing Ovation for an emotional Daniel Day Lewis winning an historic 3rd Oscar for Best Actor. A surprising speech full of jokes, since he is usually more serious. Very exciting for him, though I am sure the Producers are sitting in the back freaking out about being almost 23 minutes over time!

First Lady Appearance: Lots of debate here at SEQ about if we thought Michelle Obama from the White House was amazing (me) or lame (Faye) to announce Best Picture. I thought was unexpected, and a great time for a message about the engagement of children in the Arts. Preach it, Michelle!

Jack Nicholson then reviewed all the 9 nominees that we'd met before . . .
Michele was handed the envelope live on TV, and the winner ARGO!!!!

This was the awkward moment that everyone had been waiting for. Ben Affleck's Director snub had wrought a Best Picture win. His Co-Producer even mentioned that "he thought it would be awkward for Ben to thank himself (as a Producer) for being a great Director . . ." Then he handed the mic over to Ben which was A HUGE MESS, talking a mile a minute.

In another slightly odd momentum issue, Seth said he'd be back in a moment to say a "proper goodnight" . . . sponsors sponsors sponsors . . .

TIME NOTE: Those who were smart enough to set their DVRs for 30 extra minutes JUST lost their feed as the clock turned 12:00AM . . .

Another fun surprise. Seth sang us out with Kristen Chenowith "Here's to the Losers". This may have been a better idea in theory before the losers had all sat there hungry for an extra 30 minutes ... Oh well! It's was different and certainly a risk, but more entertaining than the credits.

12:05, time for bed! I guess we'll have to find some other topics to blog about until next Award Show Season! Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you enjoyed the show!