"Here's to the losers," Oscars Seth MacFarlane sang in a closing number with singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth, an ode to nominees going home empty-handed after the three-and-a-half Academy Awards ceremony concluded on Sunday evening. Like so much of the night, it was not particularly funny, a bit awkward and, as music, underwhelming.
Touted as the most musical Academy Awards ceremony in ages, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron failed to live up to that billing, providing little in the way or innovative or refreshing performances. MacFarlane, nominated in the song category and a decent showtune singer, was not given anything that played to his talents as a musician or as a witty satirist.
Instead, the show opened with a collection of missteps that were interrupted by William Shatner dressed as Star Trek's Captain Kirk informing MacFarlane of how bad the show was going. (Groans had already greeted a Chris Brown-Rihanna joke). MacFarlane's big musical number, about actresses seen topless in films, was played as a "mistake" rather than a piece of semi-raunchy humor. Having the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles sing a chorus of "in the movie we saw/we saw your boobs" felt straight out of FOX animated sitcom "Family Guy," but not up to Oscar standards.
MacFarlane said that this year's show, the 85th annual, would have a theme: music in film. They toasted three recent musicals and three James Bond pieces of music. If we're being generous, Oscar winners "High Hopes" and "The Way You Look Tonight" were included, too, as was a visual gag related to "The Sound of Music." Besides exposing a new audience to Shirley Bassey, the Zadan and Meron show did not further the cause of music in films.
Bassey's "Goldfinger" was the highlight of a Bond tribute that included the 007 theme and Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die." Her performance grew in intensity and power bar by bar, putting an exclamation point on a tepid performance by the orchestra that was bizarrely housed a few blocks away at the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood. Not only did it make no logical sense, there were sound mix issues throughout the night.
Jennifer Hudson, reprising her vocal turn from "Dreamgirls" -- "And I am Telling You I am Not Going" -- and Barbra Streisand's tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch with "The Way We Were" provided the night's other musical peaks. Should anyone be searching YouTube to look at clips? No.
Otherwise, the night belonged to the favorites. "Argo" winning best picture, Ang Lee grabbing best director ("Life of Pi", Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor ("Lincoln") and Jennifer Lawrence as best actress ("Silver Linings Playbook"). "Searching for Sugar Man," another odds-on favorite, won the documentary trophy as the story of a forgotten musician from Detroit bested films about weightier issues.
"Life of Pi" won four awards, while "Argo" and "Les Miserables" received three. About the biggest surprise was Quentin Tarantino winning the original screenplay award.
For years, the Oscars have looked for ways to make the broadcast more similar to the Grammys. Yes, there was more music this year than last, but in the long run the production lacked pizazz.