It’s all part of the ritual. First we spend months predicting the nominations, then we complain about the nominations, then we predict the winners to the point where there are no surprises during the ceremony itself, so we then complain about the show. Yes, folks, Oscar season came to a close last night, with trophies going to The Artist, Hugo, Meryl, Octavia, and Plummer over the course of the 193-minute ceremony hosted by Alan Shemper Billy Crystal.
Were there great moments? Sure: the legitimately emotional acceptance speeches by Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer, the candid charm of Meryl Streep, the terrific byplay of Emma Stone and Ben Stiller, some good old-fashioned slapstick from Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and a Chris Rock monologue that made us wonder why the hell he wasn’t hosting again. But overall, the night was indisputably awkward — possibly even more awkward than last year’s James Franco art-installation fiasco. After the jump, we’ll run down a few of the evening’s more uncomfortable moments.
1. Billy Crystal’s Song Medley. When Mr. Crystal was announced as the replacement host for Eddie Murphy (who departed after the tossing of original producer Brett Ratner), we pretty much assumed he wasn’t going to break his brain coming up with any new bits; true to prediction, we got the opening segment in which Mr. Crystal gallivanted around in several nominated films, the wheezy “here’s what these celebrities are thinking” gag, and, most painfully of all, the medley in which old pop songs are rewritten into odes to the year’s Best Picture nominees. (The politely frozen smiling faces in the crowd said it all.) After the ceremony, the Internet was quick to make fun of the “Who is Paul McCartney”-style Twitter reactions from the youth, but let’s be fair — Crystal hasn’t been relevant for years to anyone but the aged Academy members, and there was nothing in his performance last night to indicate they’d been missing anything.
2. J-Lo and Diaz’s Booty Presentation. This one was so peculiar, we’re only marginally certain we got what actually happened. But it appeared to have gone something like this: Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz were presenting an award, and when the cameras returned to them after the presentation of the nominees, they were suddenly back-to-camera, “presenting” their posteriors as if they were posing for a MySpace profile picture and not appearing on television in front of roughly a billion people. What the hell were they doing? Was it because Cameron was in Charlie’s Angels? A jab at J-Lo’s ownership of what was, at one time, the world’s most famous posterior? Whatever the case, they giggled like teenage girls, and when the room didn’t explode with appreciative laughter and applause, the pair seemed genuinely shocked, and Lopez advised us all to “loosen up.” Um, okay?
3. Robert Downey Jr. & Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Bit.” We’re used to Gwyneth Paltrow being insufferable — but not when she’s with Downey, her Iron Man co-star. But they were both shooting blanks in their introduction to the Best Documentary award, in which the mildly amusing “concept” — that Downey was, at that moment, starring in a documentary called The Presenter — was dragged out to an interminable length, and done no favors by the duo’s shockingly bad “acting.” An Oscar winner and nominee, ladies and gentlemen!
4. Angelina Jolie’s Leg Thing. Somebody — her stylist, her assistant, her Brad — apparently alerted Angelina Jolie that if she stood just so, her leg would peek out of her dress sexily. The problem was, standing just so once she landed at center stage looked deliberate, orchestrated, and clumsy — in other words, not sexy at all. The saving grace? Best Adapted Screenplay co-winner Jim Rash (aka Dean Pelton on Community) adopting the same stance when he hit the stage immediately after, thus winning the night.
5. The Popcorn Girls. All night long, the show was bathed in nostalgia, awash with fond memories of the past, from the big wins of The Artist and Hugo to the old-school design to the comedy stylings of Mr. Crystal. The most inexplicable shout-out to the old came about two-thirds of the way through the show, on the way to a commercial break, when the cameras caught several lovely young ladies, dressed as Depression-era ushers, distributing boxes of popcorn to the audience without explanation or payoff. Cute, we guess? But what the hell was that?
6. Cirque du Soleil. For reasons I can’t even begin to wrap my head around, there were only two Best Song nominees this year, even though there were five great songs in The Muppets alone. Even worse, the show’s producers decided not include performances of those two songs. When people realized that meant no Muppets appearance, the producers threw Kermit and Miss Piggy a bone, letting them introduce what the show dumped the songs to make time for: a Cirque du Soleil performance that encapsulated the experience of going to the movies, if you get thrown around by a bunch of acrobats every time you go to the movies.
7. The Best Editing Acceptance Speech. Look, everyone likes to say “I’m so surprised!” when they win, even if they knew full well they were going to; they then proceed to take their speech notes of their pocket and thank their agents and wives and mistresses. But when Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter won the Best Editing award for their work on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, they clearly were surprised, and hadn’t expected to win (understandably — they were up against The Artist and Hugo). And when they went on stage, they showed us all why you should go ahead and prepare a speech anyway, even when you’re a long shot: they stammered, talked over each other, weren’t sure what to say, and finally ended the awkwardness by announcing “Let’s get out of here!”
8. Billy Crystal’s “Hug a Black Woman” Joke. Mr. Crystal: “After I saw The Help I just wanted to hug the first black woman I saw, which from Beverly Hills is about a 45 minute drive.” Ghettoization is funny, you guys! Oh, Billy, you card.
9. Bieber and Blackface. Crystal’s joke about the difficulty of embracing people of color in the face of his wealthy environs might not have gone over quite so poorly if, earlier in the show, he hadn’t appeared in blackface. In 2012. It came during the aforementioned pre-taped Billy’s-in-the-nominees movie, during the Midnight in Paris shout-out, for which Crystal did the Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonation he used to do on Saturday Night Live, oh, 25 years ago. It might be time to retire that one, Billy, both because that was a quarter of a century ago, and because it’s blackface. Also appearing in that spoof was Justin Bieber, who shouldn’t be allowed to come within 500 yards of an Oscar ceremony, even if Crystal was only using him to lure “the 18-to-24 demographic.” Wait, since when is that Bieber’s demographic? When the entire reason for his appearance is for one joke, shouldn’t they at least bother to get the joke right?
And those are our picks for the night’s most awkward moments — what are yours? Let us know in the comments!