Asking if the Oscarcast was drawn out and overlong is like asking if there’s snow on the ground in Boston. Uh-duh.
Of course it was overlong, with the usual flabby middle made of niche awards and songs. But with the help of a charming host, a stage that was both grand and intimate, a few small scandals and errors, and one or two honest, rousing moments, it passed by with a minimum of pain.
Neil Patrick Harris was very Neil Patrick Harrisy Sunday night in his first round as Oscars host. He was calm and cheerful and vanilla as usual, always ready with a lightly snarky joke and always eager to jump into a big production number involving old-timey choreography. He’s a pro at hosting, after his Tony and Emmy gigs, and it showed during the ABC telecast in his endlessly relaxed and open energy.
His throwaway bits were sweet — singing “He won an Oscar,” to the tune of the Farmers Insurance jingle, for instance, after Farmers Insurance spokesman J.K. Simmons accepted the statue for best supporting actor for “Whiplash.” And when the bits didn’t quite fly — treating Steve Carell as though he weren’t famous was one — well, Harris made them work through sheer charm. He won over the audience with his first words — “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest.”
At one point, he stood on the stage in his tighty whities, announced “acting is a noble profession,” and held the audience in the palm of his hand. That’s the kind of stunt only an industry darling can survive.
It was lovely to see Julie Andrews, whose voice was damaged in a throat operation, take the stage after a hammy Lady Gaga belted out a standard “Sound of Music” medley.
But the emotional peak of the evening came when Common and John Legend delivered a stirring version of “Glory” from “Selma.” At the end of the song, we could see “Selma” actor David Oyelowo in the audience with tears running down his face. Accepting the award for best original song moments later, Legend spoke of compromised voting rights and prisons filled with black men, making political points from the Oscar pulpit with the best kind of tone — emotional, but not self-aggrandizing. Accepting her Oscar for best supporting actress for “Boyhood,” Patricia Arquette also made a nicely pitched plug for wage equality — her “Norma Rae” moment, as Harris put it — drawing an impassioned response from Meryl Streep in the audience.
Most of the Oscarcast proceeded without incident; it was almost a paint-by-numbers night from Harris’s opening number about motion pictures to the big awards at the end. But — phew! — there were a couple of little mistakes and excesses that could become lore — or, at today’s pace, micro-lore. We saw Jennifer Lopez slip while leaving the stage, which means there were GIFs of it online before she completed her exit. We saw Channing Tatum’s odd facial- and neck-scaping, which means there are probably tweets with #ChinningTatum. We saw Terrence Howard deal extremely awkwardly with what looked like a Teleprompter fail while introducing clips from “Whiplash,” “Selma,” and “The Imitation Game.” We saw John Travolta clumsily get up in Idina Menzel’s face to apologize for bungling her name last year.
And we watched Oprah not get the joke — or pretend not to get the joke — equating her with the booming box office of “American Sniper,” forcing Harris to spell out the punch line, “Because you’re rich,” which means there are probably going to be late-night jokes about Oprah in the coming days.
The “In Memorium” segments on awards shows often stir controversy for their omissions. This year, the Oscars’ memorial segment — warmly introduced by Streep — did not feature Joan Rivers, or should I say the legendary Joan Rivers. You could say that Rivers did not make her name in movies, even though she was in many; but she is largely responsible for making the red carpet into the lucrative industry and promotional tool that Hollywood currently enjoys. She deserved a nod.
Speaking of the red carpet: It was raining during the pre-show festivities, which was terribly hard on all the beautiful people. There was a lot of “Hollywood love” in the air, as Ryan Seacrest explained, but there was also a lot of Hollywood fear and anxiety. Thank God for umbrellas and the people who hold them over the stars. Thank God for hairspray, which, when applied in bulk in the limo on the way to an event, can provide steel-helmet-like protection.
And thank God those Hollywood kids don’t live in the Northeast. Nope, they’re not tough enough.
There has been a lot of talk this past year about the objectification of women on the red carpet, driven by the Representation Project’s #AskHerMore campaign. Cate Blanchett called out an E! camera at last year’s SAG Awards as it caressed her body, asking, “Do you do this to the guys?” Ever-mindful of the zeitgeist, E! actually canceled the mani-cam this year, so we didn’t even get to scrutinize celebrity cuticles. That hurt, I’m not gonna lie.
Still, “Who are you wearing?” remained the question of the night. What else is there to talk about when you’re talking to Lupita Nyong’o trying to look blithe while wearing a gown made of 6,000 pearls, or when you’re talking to Gaga in a Heidi-in-wrapping-paper type thing and oven mitts? “What are you wearing?” is probably the least offensive question that would come to mind.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.