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Miller: No clear winner in Oscar contest

Makes David Letterman’s Uma-Oprah-Uma routine look like a classic
Seth MacFarlane’s opener proved to be one of the most bewildering Oscar openers in recent memory. With a cameo appearance by William Shatner squeezed into his old “Star Trek” uniform, a tribute to film nudity called “We Saw Your Boobs” with the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus and finally a song and dance with Channing Tatum, Charlize Theron, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe, some people were probably numb by the time they got to the sock-puppet re-creation of “Flight” or MacFarlane’s monologue jokes that seemed cribbed from Bob Hope circa 1965.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

For some in Newport-Mesa, the 85th annual Academy Awards telecast may have prompted a three-word response: “Oh, hey, guys.”

Within minutes of the show’s beginning, William Shatner, who recently brought his one-man show to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, appeared on a massive screen in a sketch with host Seth MacFarlane. “Inocente,” which played last month at the Irvine International Film Festival, won for Best Documentary Short. And somewhere in that crowd was Gene Allen, the former Academy president who lives in Newport Beach.

Some of those local ties were expected; Allen has been a regular face at the show since the 1950s, and at least one pundit predicted “Inocente’s” victory. On the other hand, Shatner’s appearance — in which he beamed himself in from the future to prevent MacFarlane from bombing as host — came as a surprise.

So, for that matter, did a number of the winners. Christoph Waltz, who won Best Supporting Actor several years ago for a Quentin Tarantino movie, pulled off the same feat in an upset over Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones. “Brave,” which earned lukewarm reviews, toppled the beloved “Wreck-It Ralph” for Best Animated Feature.


And few probably expected Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”) to edge Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”) for Best Director. So how did our readers do in Times Community News’ annual Oscar guessing contest? The answer is, not very well — and neither did I. Of the top six categories, I guessed only Best Picture, Actor and Supporting Actress correctly, while our most accurate readers tied with two apiece.

As any grade-school teacher can testify, 50% is not a passing grade. So rather than anoint myself the winner of this year’s contest, I’m just going to declare no winner at all. But if our contest had a victor, I hope he or she would be as eloquent and funny as Daniel Day-Lewis was in his Best Actor acceptance speech. Disabled artist, iconic president, stand-up comedian — is there any role this man can’t play to perfection?

Other assorted thoughts on the show:

Bring it on: It seems like every year, people complain about the length of the Oscars. I’m not in that camp; the show only takes place once a year, so an extra 20 or 30 minutes doesn’t hurt. That said, if I had to make it shorter, I would start by cutting the tributes and montages — 50 years of James Bond, 10 years of musicals, etc. The memorial montage toward the end is always reverence enough. Less mist and more merriment!


Too soon?: Charges of misogyny aside, MacFarlane seems to have gotten the most attention for his quip about Lincoln’s assassination. Was it “too soon,” as he asked the groaning audience? I don’t know — Mel Brooks wrote “Springtime for Hitler” just two decades after World War II ended. But I was reminded of an old theory of Roger Ebert: to paraphrase, the more tasteless a joke is, the funnier it has to be to get away with it. The John Wilkes Booth line, I think, didn’t quite get away with it.

Most esoteric gag: The “Sound of Music” allusion before introducing Christopher Plummer. No matter how much the Oscars try to play to a younger demographic, their best moments are often the nods to erudite viewers.

Versatility award: Ever wondered why no one’s coined an adjective to describe Lee’s filmmaking style, like Hitchcockian or Spielbergian? Because, well, look at his resume: “Life of Pi” (CGI-heavy religious parable), “Brokeback Mountain” (cowboy romance), “Sense and Sensibility” (Jane Austen adaptation), “Hulk” (Marvel superhero) and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (gravity-defying martial arts), among others. Actually, come to think of it, “Life of Pi” did have a crouching tiger. He finally repeated himself!

Wrong first lady: It was a neat touch, sure, to have Michelle Obama open the envelope for Best Picture. But since the clear front-runner was “Argo,” about the U.S. government rescuing citizens from Iran in 1980, wouldn’t it have fit the bill even more to have Rosalynn Carter do it?

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB