Liz Smith: Oscar Night 2013

“I THINK it’s a terrible shame that politics has become like show business,” said director Sydney Pollack.

WHILE First Lady Michelle Obama lent herself to the opening of the Oscar envelope for best picture, betting was that she’d be hoping the winner would turn out to be — “Lincoln.” But Mrs. Obama didn’t flinch and “Argo” was the winner, to my personal delight. (Mrs. Obama’s “helper” onstage in Los Angeles was, of course, the legend Jack Nicholson who behaved as if he’d never been on a stage before.)

Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton, who had given the Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” such heft when he appeared at the Golden Globes back in January, was busy abroad. My sighters in North Africa say he was seen last Saturday at the Souk in Marrakech and on Sunday, he attended a conference in Casablanca.

“WE SAW Your Boobs!”

So sang Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars Sunday night, accompanied by the Gay Men’s Chorus. This — one of seemingly hundreds of musical numbers jammed into the three-hour show — has been pointed out as one of the night’s low points. Well, I thought it was very funny. (The irritated reaction shot of Charlize Theron — and other stars — was from another Oscar night, by the way. It was part of Seth’s skit. But even CNN keeps reporting, “You can see she wasn’t pleased!”)

In fact, I thought this entire Academy Awards telecast was appealing and glamorous. And Seth was a revelation, to me, anyway. Did his young fans, who roll on the floor over his raunchy animated series’ “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” know that this cherubic-looking fellow is into channeling Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire — or that he has a good singing voice?

I certainly didn’t and he was as charming a host as can be expected in the year 2013. Some of his jokes — like the one about Abraham Lincoln — went too far, but even when they did, he had a quick comeback. (Kudos also to Sally Field for being such a great sport in her skit with him.) He moved the mammoth production along as quickly as possible, through his fast delivery.

Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron seemed to forget at times that this was an Oscar show. A friend of mine texted, “Wow, the Tony Awards are great this year!” during Jennifer Hudson’s Hollywood-please-pay-attention-to-me-again rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” If they were going to utilize the talents of Jennifer and Catherine Zeta-Jones, it would have been more fitting to have performed numbers from classic Hollywood musicals of the past — really the past. Like the 1940s/’50s. There was a bit of this at the start, with Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum dancing to Seth warbling “Just the Way You Look Tonight.” That was great, but not enough.

And I certainly didn’t need the “Les Miserables” medley. But others are mad for this epic tale of misfortune. Oh, before I forget — Charlize. The woman is a goddess. She has the advantage of being almost six feet tall. That could lend itself to awkwardness. But Miss Theron has stunning composure and grace. She is beyond compare on the red carpet, and now we know she is pretty damn good on her twinkle toes. (Well, she did study ballet in her homeland, South Africa.)

BUT LISTEN, nobody can say the producers didn’t drag in the stars. They did, and the stars acquitted themselves magnificently, each and every one.

I think everybody pretty much agrees that Dame Shirley Bassey stole the night, and nobody else quite won it back. You could have cut the tension, nostalgia and emotion with a knife as Miss Bassey built up to her famous final crescendo on “Goldfinger.” She reached it, held it, hit it right out of the ballpark.

Adele was lovely, but her rendition of “Skyfall” seemed oddly muted, muffled by the orchestra. Her manner was laid back and jazzy, not moving the audience to leap to their feet.

As for Barbra Streisand, she looked great, in something rather exotic — a Donna Karan, natch. She tenderly sang “The Way We Were” in tribute to her friend, the late Marvin Hamlisch.

Like Miss Bassey, Barbra carefully worked her way through the song. The great voice is huskier now, but still “buttah.” She was effectively glamorous and clearly sincere.

I adored Jennifer Lawrence’s dying swan stumble on her way to the podium, just because it is such a dramatic image, and she recovered herself so well — “Oh, you’re all standing only because I fell and you feel bad for me!”

And I am very happy about “Argo” and Ben Affleck. He might as well have been nominated for and won best director, with all the emotion gushing for him. However, I think we’ve gone overboard on Ben’s “redemption” — even Ben himself.

Look, he dated Jennifer Lopez, left her practically at the altar and made a few bad movies. He didn’t kill anybody, become an addict, hit women or scream racial slurs. He had a slump. It happens to everybody. He didn’t go to hell in a hand basket. He just starred in “Gigli.”

It was encouraging that a great and beautiful film, “The Life of Pi,” won four Oscars, including Ang Lee as best director. It restores one’s faith in magic, beauty and competition.

SETH MacFarlane says he won’t be back again to host Oscar. He’s had his fun. Too bad. Seth could really develop into a young, 21st century Bob Hope, if he wanted that, becoming a perennial at this annual show biz orgy of self-congratulation.

I hadn’t much of a clue about Seth before this. Now I do. Why do I think I’ll eventually see him on Broadway, or crooning at Feinstein’s or Café Carlyle?

This column originally appeared on on 2/26/13

6 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Well without doubt there has never been a year that produced as much controversy as this year’s has and about the only thing that hasn’t produced any controversy is Shirley Bassey’s truly magnificent performance.  She put them all to shame. Including all the Bonds who got their noses out of joint and didn’t show. It’s a shame they didn’t split the “tribute” into two and have her sing “Diamonds Are Forever” for the second part.

  2. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    Liz, are you smoking weed? Seth McFarland is what happens when a person with the mentality of a 14-year old boy is selected to host the Oscars. “We Saw Your Boobs” was appalling, and very disrespectful for women who STILL fight for equality in movies. Satire is supposted to be funny. Their efforts comes down to “we sas your boobs.” The Mel Gibson joke….the Lincoln joke…just lame and childish.

    • avatar Liz Smith says:

      Dear Jay…I never smoke weed while I write the column.

      I stand by my opinion. And you are free to stand by yours. That’s what makes the world go around.

      Oh, wait–the bell is ringing. It must be my pot connection.

      Best to you.

      • avatar JERILYN says:

        Liz that is why we love you! “I never smoke weed when I write the column.” LOL I can see why our Dame Elizabeth was your friend. You tell it like it is. Enjoy your evening and light up for me! Will be drinking a toast to our Dame Elizabeth Taylor as today would have been her 81st birthday! We sure do miss her spirit but we carry on her legacy by donating to ETAF!

  3. avatar JERILYN says:

    Adored Dame Shirley BASSEY such a class act! Sure wish she had sung ‘Diamonds are Forever” as a tribute to her friend Dame Elizabeth Taylor last year when the Academy dropped the ball and never gave Dame Elizabeth the tribute she so richly deserved. Seth McFarland has a good voice but should stick to singing because some of his jokes were crude and classless. Brava to Dame Shirley for the greatest performance of the night even though I love Barbra Streisand it was Dame Shirley’s night to shine!

  4. avatar central coast cabin home says:

    Am I getting older, smarter or just plain boring? The Oscar crap does not do it for me anymore. Who cares about the gowns and boobs? People are starving and undereducated. Ok, I am very boring! But…. I LOVE THE MOVIES; I WATCH THE OLD AND NEW WITH GREAT PASSION. For me it is about the art. I am a 30+ year veteran of community theatre actor. Now that is art and commitment. We do it all and we do it for the love of true theatre. Our red carpet is tattered and torn and we make our own gowns but we are very real and live. Many of us are highly educated but no one shoves a microphone in our mouth for an opinion about how to save the world and God forbid any of us should ever run for office. Who the hell would clean the lobby or toilets in our wee theater?!