Even stripped to his skivvies in a “Birdman” parody during the dreaded middle part of Sunday night’s Oscars telecast on ABC, go-to awards show host Neil Patrick Harris couldn’t deliver quite all the thrills needed to get through the three-hour, 38-minute Oscar folderol without a yawn.
But who on Earth settles in with their Oscar-night carbs and hopes for perfection? Good enough is fine by most of us.
Harris delivered precisely the exact sort of Oscar night you’d expect from him: His so-so opening number, a duet with fellow show-folker Anna Kendrick, was another one of those lyrical Oscar litanies about the magic of the history of movies (“How they can move you! / And improve you!”), was livened up only by the sudden interruption of actor Jack Black, who sang out a cynical — and completely true — tirade about everything that’s wrong with the movie biz.
Kendrick threw her shoe at Black to get him to shut up, just as he was verging on the best anti-Oscar sentiments ever ranted. Then it was back to business as usual, in which the movie business takes movies way too seriously.
My gosh, you guys with your arguing and bickering about movies lately: “American Sniper” is a patriotic triumph except that it’s also a horrible act of jingoism. “Selma” was unjustly snubbed by overwhelmingly white Academy members and got LBJ wrong. “Boyhood” is the most brilliant movie ever made, unless it’s just a gimmick stretched over 12 years. And there was the usual complaint about the fact that “nobody” ever buys tickets to the movies that get nominated.
Fuss, fuss, fuss. If movies — and Oscar snubs — make everyone this unhappy, may your TV critic humbly suggest some television? With something like 350 scripted comedies and dramas currently in production across broadcast, cable and streaming networks, we here on Planet TV never have time for fights. There’s always something else on, and often it’s something quite good.
Whoops — someone just threw a shoe at me. Sunday was the movies’ night to shine.
As with recent years, and maybe since forever, this year’s viewers at home had to take the good (such as the Lonely Island’s 48-bowls-of-Froot Loops spectacle when performing the best original song nominee “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”) with the bad, such as Harris’s ill-timed swipe at the dress worn by an Oscar winner for short documentary (“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”) who’d just quieted the time’s-up orchestra cue by telling the audience that her son committed suicide. “It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that,” Harris said as she was leaving the stage.
What do you want to bet that Harris hadn’t been listening to her acceptance speech at all and instead was intent — perhaps goaded by writers backstage — on saying something about the dress? Which, in his defense, was covered with puffy black balls. (And when it comes to ill-chosen remarks, what possessed Sean Penn, of all people, to make a “green card” joke when announcing that Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” had won best picture?)
Harris doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, which is a letdown only for those cruel, cruel people who like to watch their Oscar hosts bomb. An accomplished song-and-dance man, he is almost always on point and keenly in touch with the silly side of his success. The jokes written for him weren’t memorable (are we really still making jokes about producer Harvey Weinstein’s fearsome powers in 2015?) and occasionally wincing (is there anything funny about a soldier who kills 160 other human beings?), but they were mostly serviceable.
Often the only jokes that work on Oscar night are general swipes at the wealth and hype that the event represents.
In one particularly good moment, Harris explained a joke to audience member Oprah Winfrey about “American Sniper’s” boffo box-office sales compared with other best picture nominees. He said “American Sniper” was like Oprah Winfrey compared with the combined wealth of everyone in the audience. She feigned ignorance.
“’Cause you’re rich,” Harris deadpanned.
Other highlights included John Travolta’s mea culpa to Idina Menzel for messing up her name last year — together they presented the Oscar for best original song, as everyone expected, to “Glory,” from the under-nominated “Selma.” Singers John Legend and Common took the opportunity to give a rousing acceptance speech on the subject of racial inequality and black incarceration rates.
Other moving speeches came from best supporting actress winner Patricia Arquette (for “Boyhood”), who spoke out on behalf of working mothers and women’s rights, and best supporting actor winner J.K. Simmons (for “Whiplash”), who, in thanking his parents, convincingly urged Oscar viewers to pick up a phone and call their mothers and/or fathers (if your parents are still alive), while you still can.
Lady Gaga sang a “Sound of Music” medley for no real reason other than to single-handedly rescue Oscar night from its post-11 o’clock doldrums, receiving a standing ovation and the approval of none other than Julie Andrews herself. That was one of those award-show moments where your first response is a groan and a mournful look at how long the show is running (the 50th anniversary of “The Sound of Music?” Big whoop). But your last response is a plain and simple wow. It’s nice to know the Oscars can still do that.
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