Here are some of my thoughts on the biggest surprises and most interesting results of the night:
1. They Really Don't Like Steven Very Much, Do They? Steven Spielberg's Lincoln was the big loser of the night, coming in with 12 nominations and only winning 2, for Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Best Production Design, which really must be considered something of a fluke. It was clear that there was no groundswell for Lincoln from the very first award of the night when a very shocked Christoph Walz won his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Django Unchained, surprising almost everyone, denying Lincoln's Tommy Lee Jones. When Life of Pi (which came in with 11 nominations and went home with 4 Oscars) continued to pick up wins in the important technical categories like Best Cinematography and Best Score where it was competing against both Argo and Lincoln one really started to wonder about the message the Academy was sending to America's most talented filmmaker. Once Ang Lee won his 2nd Best Director Oscar instead of Spielberg, the message became clear: We Like Your Movies And The Profit You Generate, But Not You So Much! Spielberg's first nomination came in 1978 for Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (he wasn't even nominated for Jaws, despite the fact that movie invented the notion of a summer blockbuster film). He has since been nominated for Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Lincoln. A total of 8 times with only two wins. And he has been snubbed (not nominated) for such classic films as Jaws, Empire of the Sun and Minority Report. Now Ang Lee, Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone have as many Best Director Oscars as Spielberg! It should be noted that only one other person has been nominated more times for Best Director: William Wyler. And only Wyler (3), Frank Capra (3) and John Ford (4) have more wins. I think he is developing a Meryl Streep problem where in order for him to win, it is going to have to be something outstanding compared to his already excellent body of work.
2. Michelle Obama Announces Best Picture Oscar for Argo from the White House. This was a truly surreal moment when just a handful of minutes before midnight 3-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson introduced First Lady Michelle Obama who gave a (somewhat trite but inclusive) speech about the importance of the arts to all Americans and then cut back for the announcement of the nine Best Picture nominees. They then amazingly cut back to Obama holding an envelope who then opened it and announced Argo had won. Nicholson was also holding an envelope which he gave to the producers of the winning film: Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.
3. The Tarantino Effect. For the second time in as many films Quentin Tarantino wrote an amazing part for Christoph Walz and the multi-lingual actor won an Oscar for animating Tarantino's words. The surprising strength of Django Unchained in the big categories was one of the highlights of the night for me with wins in Best Original Screenplay for Tarantino (only his second after his 1995 win for Pulp Fiction) and the 2nd win for Walz. This was another example of the out-of-control Directors' branch snubs (of Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, Ben Affleck for Argo and Tarantino for Django) resulted in surprising wins as the rest of the Academy tried to ameliorate the damage.
4. It's All About Editing) In the end with 3 wins Argo joins the dubious club of Rocky and Crash of winning Best Picture without a director's nomination and only three wins overall. Interestingly, the unbroken string that every Best Picture winner has always had a Best Editing nomination and that almost every film that has won Best Picture has won Best Editing (including Argo, Rocky and Crash) continues. (Quiz: Which Best Picture winner(s) did not win Best Film Editing?)
5. (Almost) Everybody Gets A Prize! The really big story of the night was the even distribution of the wins throughout the 24 categories. The totals were
4 Wins: Life of Pi (Director, Score, Cinematography and Visual Effects);Films with multiple nominations that went home empty-handed (0 Wins) were Beasts of the Southern Wild (4), The Hobbit (3), The Master (3), Flight (2), Snow White and the Huntsman (2).
3 Wins: Argo (Picture, Editing, Adapted Screenplay), Les Miserables (Supporting Actress, Makeup, Sound Mixing)
2 Wins: Skyfall (Song, Sound Editing), Lincoln (Actor, Production Design), Django Unchained (Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay)
1 Win: Zero Drak Thirty (Sound Editing), Anna Karenina (Costume Design), Amour (Foreign Language), Silver Linings Playbook (Actress)
It will be interesting to see how the Academy reacts to the fact that it changed it's nomination deadline to before many of the Guilds had weighed in so that this led to surprising (some would say, uninformed) nominations that in turn led to surprising wins.
As for the show itself, I thought Seth McFarlane did a very good job, although there was too much singing for my taste, but it was part of the show's theme of a tribute to musicals. For the most part Seth's humor was on point, with some notable exceptions. (Making a joke about the assassination of a President is not edgy or funny, it's just dumb.) Openly gay producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron did an amazing job with the Obama surprise and Dame Shirley Bassey belting out Goldfinger at age 76 was breathtaking.
Other highlights of the show for me: Meryl Streep announcing the Best Actor winner instantly by opening the envelope off camera while the nominations video was playing; Jennifer Hudson and Adele (Adkins) singing; the Best Documentary Short Subject winners for Inocente and Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron (two of the most beautiful people in Hollywood) dancing with McFarlane to open the broadcast; for the first time since the Best Actress tie of 1968 (between Barbra Streisand and Kathleen Hepburn) there was another tie, this time in Sound Editing between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall--Mark Wahlberg was the announcer and he handled the moment well.
Let the race for the 2014 Oscars begin! (August, Osage County anyone?)