The Affleck Effect redirects the Oscar playbook
And the winner is ... Seth MacFarlane.
Or was it?
The 85th annual Academy Awards Sunday night (Feb. 24) attracted 36.967 million viewers and earned a 12.1 adults 18 to 49 rating, according to initial Nielsen ratings.
That means the show hosted by MacFarlane improved a skosh from last year’s 11.7 adults 18 to 49 tally, when Billy Crystal was emcee.
But was MacFarlane, of “Family Guy” and “Ted” fame, solely the reason for the slight bump up?
First off, the Affleck Effect — will Ben Affleck win, even without a Best Director nomination? — had a undeniable impact in the golden Oscars playbook.
And surely, the expansive Broadway-to-film feast kept the viewers fixated. After all, the tuneful segments from “Dreamgirls” with Jennifer Hudson, “Chicago” with Catherine Zeta-Jones, and all the heavyhitters from “Les Miserables” (meaning: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barnes, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter – whew!”) were inspired spectacles, individually and collectively. The “Les Miz” biz was even historic, too — first, and likely only — time the ensemble sang “One Day More” live on live TV. An Oscar moment, n’est-ce pas?
Toss in a rare appearance of Barbra Streisand singing “The Way We Were” and she was an exclamation point in the tribute to those film folks who died during the year, with her link with composer Marvin Hamlisch. And the flashback return of Shirley Bassey reviving “Goldfinger” as part of a salute to James Bond and that film franchise, was golden and genius. Plus: Adele not surprisingly rendered her first public performance of “Skyfall,” from the latest 007 blockbuster, picking up a Best Song Oscar statue for her night’s work.
Or was the divisive mood, prevailing in the last few weeks, a factor? After all, the snubbing of Affleck — he was not among the Best Director nominees this year — was the resulting wild card since he corralled a trove of honors and support leading up to Oscar night. When “Argo” won, it clearly became an evening of the Affleck Effect. His win as a producer, including colleague George Clooney, upset the cart, was arguably another Oscar moment. Ang Lee, who directed “Life of Pi,” then became the piece de resistance over expected winner Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln,” whose historical drama became the unfortunate victim of the circumstands. Another Oscar moment, sort of.
Clearly, the tide shifted because of the Afflect Effect.
The actor-director-producer, humbled by the laurels, rushed through his thank-yous, but demonstrated humility and decorum without ever mentioning the early snub. Winning Best Picture was redemption, not only for some of his box office duds (“Gigli,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Surviving Christmas”), but for Affleck’s mounting savvy — when he’s right, he’s right on. Remember the Oscar he picked up early on, with Matt Damon, for scripting “Good Will Hunting”?
The surprises made guesstimating the Academy Awards risky business. Of the seven audience-relevant categories, I struck out in two races: supporting actor, won by Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”), and director, Lee (“Life of Pi”). But got it right for film (“Argo”), actress (Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”), supporting actress (Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”), actor (Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”), and song (“Skyfall,” Adele).
So how, really, was MacFarlane?
That opening segment, pondering his effectiveness as a host, with William Shatner (“Star Trek”) as the messiah, was overlong, wrought with lulls but evoking some laughter and chatter. MacFarlane’s wrapup song about Oscar losers, with Kristin Chenoweth, was wickedly inappropriate and unfunny, for the most part. Methinks MacFarlane will grow into the role as Oscar host, if he could get two or three ops to find his pace and his primetime worthiness. For now, his was an explorational journey, before a TV crowd still uncertain about the fit.
MacFarlane also uncorked a couple of uncomfortable bards, one including President Lincoln, linked to his assassination; another naming critic Rex Reed and Adele, inferring his dumb comments about size and girth earlier heaped upon Melissa McCarthy, who wasn’t as funny as she normally is, in an intro sketch that was also overlong.
Speaking of long: The show ran overtime, with enough lapsing minutes between the first acting award (supporting actor) to the next (supporting actress), with far too much time devoted to technical awards certainly vital to the industry, but laden with thank-yous that go on interminably. Maybe it’s time for the Oscars to do what the Grammys and Tonys already do: retain primetime minutes to key categories, and cut back on airtime for technie awards but still honor the artistry.
Keep the entertainment quotient high — after all, productions smartly mounted will be water cooler fodder the next morning — and the salutes can be filmed montages or live sharing. But it’s gotta be relevant, and at least nearly everyone spoke from the heart, not from a printed sheet of notes.
It was unfair, in retrospect, for Affleck to streak through his acceptance speech as if it was a marathon; he was the evening’s golden boy and the audiences, live and at home, was ready and eager to hear his reaction.