And now, the most buzzed-about Oscar telecast in ages has concluded, leaving us with a weird, gold-plated aftertaste and nothing to reflect on but our (cue Barbra) meeeemmmmories. What moments from the show made us shrink in our seat a little bit, inspiring pity, sympathy, or irritation? And, at the same time, what expertly staged (or utterly spontaneous) moments brought us back from the brink and gave us something significant to talk about with our friends? Here are sixteen of the Oscarcast’s highlights and lowlights. (For a hi-res red carpet slideshow, click on over to the Cut.)
LOW: Seth MacFarlane’s opening monologue
Had Seth MacFarlane elevated his persona beyond his brand of usual shtick, this could have worked: With his deep announcer’s voice and musical talent, he’s got the raw material for a good Oscar host, after all. But he was totally unable to marry his irreverent Family Guy side with the class that we usually expect from an Oscar emcee, and this was never more apparent than in the opening monologue, where MacFarlane would lurch awkwardly from casually racist jokes to actually-this-isn’t-a-joke musical numbers. There was only the barest acknowledgment of the nominees before MacFarlane made the never-ending monologue mostly about himself, and while exhuming an old sci-fi star worked fine in Ted, it was baffling that we would spend so much of cinema’s biggest night of the year pondering the sight of William Shatner squeezed into a Starfleet uniform. It was a total head-scratcher.
HIGH: Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence packed a whole “The Week in Jennifer Lawrence Quotes” feature into that Lead Actress win, didn’t she? Of course she would trip on the way up to the stage … would it really be a J-Law moment without something self-deprecating to joke about? But the speech was short and sweet, as was that “Happy birthday” wish to her Lead Actress competitor Emmanuelle Riva.
LOW: The Jaws music that played people off
We understand why, when this was thrown out there as an idea during the Oscar brainstorming question, people might have sparked to it. But wow, it was sort of inhumanly brutal when it drowned out, say, the poor visual effects winner trying to memorialize his fired colleagues.
HIGH: The tie!
What do you even do when that happens! So rare! Obviously, it would have been even better to have a tie in a category that wasn’t populated by anonymous long-haired white dudes working in a technical field, but still, pretty novel and great. Like Mark Wahlberg said, No b.s.!
LOW: Lackluster montages
The Academy is capable of putting together an enormously stirring clip package, but this year’s group was pretty uninspired (The Bond franchise has never seemed more anonymous than in its tribute reel), and those cheesy orchestrations made things feel awfully cruise-ship.
HIGH: Daniel Day-Lewis, jokesmith
Who would have guessed that the famously serious Daniel Day-Lewis would start his acceptance with two zingers? And then, when he pivoted so expertly to genuine emotion and gratitude … That’s how you do a speech, people.
HIGH: When Halle Berry was dressed as a dodecahedron
LOW: Paul Rudd/Melissa McCarthy was no Ferrell/Wiig
We love Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy. We understand, after watching Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig kill it at the Globes, why you would want to pair another Anchorman star and Bridesmaids actress in a mostly made-up piece of introduction. And we realize that Melissa McCarthy is an improv goddess … or at least has been historically, because that sparky wit was sadly absent from Identity Thief. And unfortunately, it also wasn’t evident in McCarthy’s weird, rhythmless banter with Rudd early in the telecast, which continued the night’s theme of comic bits drawn out way, way past the first hopeful chuckle they solicited. (But at least McCarthy was funny in that ad for The Heat!)
HIGH: The musical segment featuring Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Les Misérables
It didn’t make complete and utter sense that in a ceremony that was always going to run long — and one where the five Best Song nominees still had yet to be sung — so much time would be allocated to remember these specific three musicals from the last decade. But! This was a solid ten minutes of divas taking huge bites out of the scenery, plus the Les Miz cast performing in great voice. If anything, it gave us plenty to talk about tonight and lots to YouTube in the future, which is more than you could say about any other ten-minute run from the ceremony.
HIGH: Seeing Ted in a format other than 24 frames per second
REALLY unnerving, right? So lifelike!
LOW: When John Travolta said “I’ve got a big treat for you”
Our minds all went to a bad place, John.
HIGH: That moment where Christopher Plummer announced the Supporting Actress winner, and he began “Miss…”
And Anne Hathaway convulsively seized, thinking, “But my name doesn’t start with Miss! …Oh.”
HIGH: Two helpings of Channing Tatum
At one point, Chan danced quite vigorously with Charlize Theron (We would watch that movie, Hollywood), and then, a little bit later, he came out on stage with Jennifer Aniston and pronounced Les Misérables in an adorably French way. Every time Channing Tatum tries and succeeds at something, an angel gets his wings in a weirdly erotic process.
LOW: All the casual racism
The “all black people look like” joke. The “Armenian women are hairy” joke. Yes, we’d steeled ourselves for this sort of material from MacFarlane, but it still landed with a thud.
HIGH: Adele’s “Skyfall” performance
It wasn’t mixed flawlessly — the orchestra really drowned out Adele during those choruses — but man, that was some good singing, right? Also, any good Oscar moment should provide a wealth of things for viewers to discuss, and this performance certainly did. Among the exclamations it prompted: That dress, so sparkly! That figure, so shapely! That face, so Sarah Paulson-y! Thanks, Adele.
LOW: MacFarlane’s final song with Kristin Chenoweth
Remember when Neil Patrick Harris closed the Tonys with a great, referential song they’d written during the telecast, and it was great, and he performed the hell out of it? Cling to that memory.