You don’t have to be a boxing aficionado to know the Oscars are Hollywood’s version of a heavyweight fight. Despite the designer dresses and Dentyne smiles, the Oscars are a bloody battle — and we’re not just talking about the millions spent on who goes home with the awards.
The TV event itself will be as talked about as much as Christoph Waltz’s upset win or Anne Hathaway’s dress. Rookie producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron promised an evening full of special music moments, jaw-dropping surprises and irreverent humor from first-time host Seth MacFarlane. So how did the newcomers do on points? Here’s our round-by-round call:
Round 1: MacFarlane believes he can straddle the line between racy humor and Rat-Pack charm, a feat he failed to pull off in his opening monologue. The naughty moments worked, particularly taped segments of a musical number “We Saw Your Boobs,” and a bit with Sally Field that nodded to both “Smokey and the Bandit” and Hathaway’s front-runner status (she did win). But the host’s stab at old-school nostalgia flopped to such a point that cohorts Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt should can their agents—and their dance instructors. Verdict: Split decision.
Round 2: Bringing together five cast members of “The Avengers” should have been an heroic stunt, but Robert Downey, Jr. and company seemed so ill prepared to give out awards that Odin would have crushed them in minutes. In fact, nearly all the night’s presenters appeared to have skipped rehearsals, mumbling and stumbling through uninspired material. Verdict: Lightweight.
Round 3: A tribute to the 50th anniversary of James Bond was so hyped that you’d expected an appearance by Sean Connery’s hairpiece. Instead, Halle Berry introduced a tepid montage of movie moments, followed by an overly dramatic reading of the theme from “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey, which wouldn’t have made it out of “American Idol” auditions. The crowd appeared to give her performance a standing ovation, but part of me suspects most of them were thinking about heading to the restroom. Verdict: Flop.
Round 4: Jennifer Hudson may have not done much film-wise since winning the Oscar for her role in “Dreamgirls,” but she’s still got the golden touch when it comes to ripping out a tune, which in this case was “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” This extended tribute to movie musicals was also mesmerizing, thanks to a stirring turn from a large cast of “Les Miserables” and a sassy version of “All That Jazz” by Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose dance moves were almost as impressive as her muscle tone. Verdict: Knockout.
Round 5 and 6: Heavyweights Adele and Barbra Streisand have had superior musical highlights in their careers, but each managed to live up to her diva title with restrained grace. Adele’s Oscar-winning “Skyfall” may not be worthy of her talents, but she is on such a roll, she could perform “Call Me Maybe” and make it sound like a Gershwin classic. Streisand was quite controlled with her version of “The Way We Were,” a tribute to the late composer Marvin Hamlisch, but it still managed to bring up great “memories.” Verdict: Technical knockouts.
Round 7: Jack Nicholson got hearts racing when he announced he’d be co-presenting the award for best picture with a special guest. Those who hoped Doris Day might emerge out of hiding had to be disappointed when the cameras went to Michelle Obama, who came one step closer to being overexposed. At least she wasn’t convinced to take Kristin Chenoweth’s place as MacFarlane’s partner in a ridiculous closing number, “Here’s to the Losers.” Verdict: Sucker punch.
Overall decision: Zadan and Meron may have done themselves a disservice by dedicating this broadcast to music, setting themselves to be compared to the Grammys, Tonys, the Kennedy Center Honors and a dozen other shows that specialize in showstopping numbers. In the end, this Oscars couldn’t keep up the tempo. For much of the night, MacFarlane did a decent impression of Ricky Gervais, but for the most part, he didn’t do enough to convince us that he should venture far from the sound booth for his juvenile cartoons. Final verdict: Down for the count.