The 2012 Academy Awards just ended and it’s emblematic of the evening as a whole that the most shocking thing to happen all night was Meryl Streep winning an award. Going into the ceremony, Viola Davis was the favorite to win the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in The Help: Streep’s victory in that category instead was the night’s major surprise, but Meryl Streep — the most respected, admired, beloved, and lauded actor alive — winning an award is about as unsurprising as a surprise can be and still be identified as such. Streep's victory was entirely in keeping with the long night of staid, old-school, not-quite-spectacle: It was a major award going to old-guard Hollywood royalty (and also a middle-aged white woman) for her stellar work in a little seen, mediocre movie instead of a major award going to a newer guard, hopefully future member of Hollywood royalty (and, not irrelevantly, an African-American woman) for her stellar work in a popular, not nearly as mediocre movie. It was a long, plodding night.
Having been burned by last year's Anne “the Tasmanian Devil” Hathaway and James “the hipster on Quaaludes” Franco's hosting kerfuffle and then by the Brett Ratner fiasco, the Academy turned to the safe arms of host Billy Crystal, consummate professional, reliable show-business man. Crystal did as asked: Unlike last year, the show never felt out of control, disastrous, or unrehearsed — it also never felt particularly lively or engaging. Just like the nine lackluster Best Picture nominees, Crystal was totally fine (except for maybe the black face). He was never uproarious, but he was also not often embarrassing.
Far more embarrassing was the Academy itself. As it does at almost every Oscars now, the show seemed hellbent on making a case for the awards' very existence — and that of the movies themselves — an ambition that got increasingly desperate as the night went on. What started out with a pretty good joke — Justin Bieber and his enormous earring making a cameo in the opening sketch in an overt and stated play for the 18–24 demographic — quickly degenerated into a sort of quiet, and somehow still self-congratulatory, panic. The kids don't really care about movies! And maybe neither do the adults! Let's show them montages featuring movies other than the nominated ones because maybe they will like those better! And let's get hordes of famous people to earnestly talk about why movies are important to them! They'll believe movies matter if Reese Witherspoon and Adam Sandler say they do! Right? Right? Say "Right"!
Meanwhile, the Oscars didn't seem to have learned all that much from how good movies work: The show was paced so as to deny us a meaningful award for the first 45 minutes, Billy Crystal's opening medley was unintelligible, Gwyneth Paltrow may not have had a single mike on her while presenting, and somehow, Natalie Portman's muffled clapping (with envelope in hand) during the Best Actor presentation was louder than anything we heard during the whole telecast. Maybe the panic was well-placed.
And then the whole evening culminated in Meryl's surprise win. It’s impossible not to like Meryl Streep. She’s Meryl Streep. She's the best actress alive; she gives great speeches; she's poised, funny, and, despite all her accomplishments, always seems truly touched to win. She is, pretty incontrovertibly, the best. But while she may believe, as she stated in her speech, that she'll never win an Oscar again, only a fool would bet against her. And in giving Streep the award, the Academy shafted Viola Davis, another great actress who gives great speeches, who was in the better movie, and arguably gave the better performance. It's not meant to take anything away from Meryl to say that, in this particular instance, the favorite winning would have been the more energizing, interesting outcome. Instead, Meryl won, so did wonderful old men Woody Allen and Christopher Plummer, and the two films that took home the most awards all night, Hugo and the the Best Picture winner The Artist, were both love letters to Hollywood's past. Maybe next year can be about the future.
But, enough complaining. The bright side of such a long show is that there are always, inevitably, some good moments. To counteract all the criticism, some things we enjoyed.
The J-Lo Nip Slip
Though at first there was some confusion as to whether the exposure in question could be considered a Janet Jackson–level "wardrobe malfunction," the Twitter masses were pretty clear on this one: Yes, that was part of Jennifer Lopez's nipple peeking out from her perilously low-cut dress. A close-up of the moment is available here, if you care to relive the experience. Cameron Diaz's face sums it up nicely.
Angelina Jolie's Strut Stance
For what is often called the Gay Super Bowl, Angelina Jolie provided the night's only real "werrrrrk" moment (say that while wagging a finger for full effect) when, upon arriving at her mark onstage in a slit-up-to-there dress, she dramatically thrust her right leg out and assumed an aggressive fashion-model stance. Later, Jim Rash mocked the move while winning Best Adapted Screenplay, but we still maintain that Billy Crystal missed his shot to return to the stage with one pant-leg slit open. It could've been his new Palance push-up!
Uggie Was There
Never fear: Uggie did indeed show up at the Oscars, though he was more muted during this Best Picture acceptance speech than he was at the Golden Globes, where he pulled focus by doing charming tricks. Maybe he was just pissed at Michel Hazanavicius for throwing yet more shade at Uggie during the Best Director speech, where the helmer sniffed, "He's not THAT good"?
Chris Rock Does His Thing, Is Very Funny
Back in 2005, when Rock hosted the Oscars, he spent most of his time making fun of Jude Law. Tonight, after a particularly dull run of awards (editing, sound, and sound mixing, all in the first hour!), Rock came back for the Best Animation award and took aim at much more enjoyable targets: Hollywood, voice acting, and himself. The part about reading his lines, and then getting a million dollars? Funny! And of course there was this: "I love animation because in the world of animation, you can be anything you want to be…If you're a black man, you can play a donkey, or a zebra." We assume that somewhere, someone is already Photoshopping a "Draft Chris Rock Oscars 2013" campaign sign.
Emma Stone, Also Very Funny
Might Emma Stone be the new Tina Fey, in that she always does a great, comically committed job while presenting awards? (This takes nothing away from the actual Tina Fey, who also presented.)
How About the Circus Performance?
The most amazing part about the four-minute Cirque du Soleil segment was that a group of people that large actually thought it would be a good idea to bring acrobats to the Oscars. Still: the trapezes flying above the audience were cool. And respect to the very flexible woman who perched herself on the armrest near Jean Dujardin. That looked uncomfortable.
Reese Witherspoon Loves Overboard
Oscar producers always fret about bringing the show in on time, and yet they insist on stuffing the show with barely themed montages that feature such Academy Award–winning classics as … Twilight. And for all the stars who were corralled to discuss their love of movies (we love them, too, that's why we're already watching the Oscars), the only real takeaway was that Reese Witherspoon LOVES Overboard. Actually, that's a pretty good takeaway.
Billy Crystal's Nick Nolte Joke, and Nick Nolte in General
Crystal's recycled "What They're Thinking" bit was totally saved by his decision to make unintelligible but hilarious grumbling-growling noises as the camera closed in on Nick Nolte's grizzly face. Genuine laughs at that.
The Bridesmaids Gang's Scorsese Callback
It was a a little unfortunate that the cast of Bridesmaids was marched out immediately after Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo lost Best Original Screenplay — the movie's best chance at an Oscar — to Woody Allen. (Old vs. New decided in favor of Old again.) There was also something forced about Wiig and Maya Rudolph's dick jokes, though at least they weren't forced to re-create the diarrhea scene one more time. But hats off to the women for planting a Scorsese screamer in the audience, allowing them to continue the drinking-game joke they introduced at the Golden Globes. Continuity! This is advanced Awards Show gimmickry.
Waiting For Guffman Gets Its Weird Oscar Moment
On the one hand, hooray for Christopher Guest and his band of merry misfits. On the other hand, did we really need another awkward sketch to remind us how very important movies are (and, even weirder, how very important focus groups are? The satire was lost here.)? Next time, just let them host the Technical Awards and then live-stream the whole fiesta for our uncomfortable amusement.
Cymballing at Brangelina
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis march in with percussive instruments, then smash those percussive instruments in Brad and Angelina's faces. And only Brad and Angelina's faces. Well done.