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Oscars go to ‘Argo,’ diverse actors at Academy Awards heavy on 007

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Updated: March 26, 2013 9:52AM



What an “Argo” moment.

More than 30 years after one of the most improbable true-life rescue operations in modern times, the movie about that mission took home the best picture Oscar.

It was almost like a deleted scene from the movie itself: the first lady of the United States opening the envelope and announcing “Argo” as the winner of the night.

So to recap: the movie about the fake movie that was originally intended as an actual movie won the Oscar.

Despite being snubbed in the director category — a slight that turned “Argo” into a lovable underdog — Ben Affleck still had his Oscar moment, accepting the the prize as one of the film’s primary producers. So Affleck got to hold an Oscar, after all. Argo, bleep yourself, Hollywood!

The 85th annual Academy Awards spread the love Sunday, with “Life of Pi” winning the most, four, and “Argo” and “Les Miserables” each taking three.

For once, there were several legit surprises when the envelopes were opened, including the appearance of first lady Michelle Obama, who joined Jack Nicholson via satellite and actually announced “Argo” as the best picture winner.

Maybe they should have had Jimmy Carter make the announcement.

Even as a huge fan of Ms. Obama, I wish she had turned down the invitation. Shifting the focus from the awards to the White House for the biggest announcement of the night seemed inappropriate and self-aggrandizing. Do we really need a lecture about the inspirational qualities of the nominated films from the first lady, with decorated, uniformed personnel behind her? Why would she want to steal the headlines and invite an inevitable wave of criticism for bigfooting the Oscars?

Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence’s ascension to best actress history included a little hiccup when she stumbled on the stairs, but so what? It’s a wonder more actresses don’t fall, given that they’re wearing those ridiculous Cinderella dresses, and they’ve been wearing them for hours and hours.

To the surprise of no one in the universe, Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor for his astonishing transformation in “Lincoln.” He was more authentic than an American penny. “Before we agreed to do a straight swap, I had agreed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl [Streep] was Steven’s [Spielberg] first choice to play Lincoln,” quipped Day-Lewis.

Oh, great. He’s funny, too.

I still say Jessica Chastain gave the performance of the year in “Zero Dark Thirty,” but Lawrence kept winning in all the major lead-ups to the Oscars, so her win seemed pre-ordained.

More surprises:

Ang Lee over Steven Spielberg for best director. Quentin Tarantino with another win. Christoph Waltz besting legends Tommy Lee Jones and Robert De Niro for supporting actor.

Other winners were Anne Hathaway, as expected, for supporting actress in “Les Miserables”; the heavily favored “Amour” for best foreign film; “Les Miserables” for makeup/hairstyling and sound mixing; Disney/Pixar’s “Brave” for animated feature, and “Life of Pi” deservedly picking up trophies for cinematography and visual effects. It is one of the most visually lush and gorgeous movies of the 21st century.

There were two surprises in the writing categories, with “Argo” besting the heavily favored Tony Kushner and “Lincoln” for best adapted screenplay, and Tarantino shocking the #!%!$ out of the audience by winning best original screenplay. Clearly the academy membership — or at least a sizable percentage — was not swayed by the controversy over the seemingly endless use of the n-word in Tarantino’s terrific script.

And for once the winner for animated short wasn’t a total unknown to the audience. “Paperman” played before “Wreck-It Ralph” in theaters, delighting viewers with its melancholy but ultimately romantic and uplifting story.

The first Oscar of the night went to Waltz for for “Django Unchained,” solidifying Waltz’s standing as one of the best character actors in the world — and ensuring Tommy Lee Jones would be in a particularly glum mood for the remaining three hours.

All five supporting actor nominees already had trophies so there really wasn’t a sentimental favorite, but I thought the ad campaign for Robert De Niro (“He hasn’t won in 30 years”) might have given him the edge over Jones, aka “The Crabbiest Man in Hollywood.”

It was a mild upset when Waltz’s name was called, though he did in “Django Unchained” deliver the most impressive performance of the five. Waltz is the Euro-Walken: a consistently interesting and quirky genius who puts a unique spin on every line reading.

And now he’s a two-time Oscar winner.

For a half-century the academy has largely ignored the James Bond franchise, right up to the exclusion of “Skyfall” from the list of nine best picture nominees. (If action movies and comedies are so hard to make and they’re such an important part of the industry, why does the academy almost never recognize those genres?)

Thankfully, Oscar gave the Bond franchise the full Cary Grant/Alfred Hitchcock treatment, with Adele singing the “Skyfall” theme (and later picking up an Oscar for the song) and a big spanking tribute introduced by Halle Berry, who played Jinx, one of the most boring Bond girls in one of the lesser Bond movies (“Die Another Day”). But at least we got the great Shirley Bassey belting out “Golddddfinnnnngah!” Awesome.

As for the host, you wanted edgy, academy? You got it.

The Twitterverse consensus seemed to be against Seth MacFarlane’s performance as host, but I thought MacFarlane acquitted himself well in his multimedia opening monologue and his sometimes groan-inducing jokes throughout the first half.

MacFarlane cracked jokes about Affleck, the already-forgotten Jean Dujardin from “The Artist,” Mel Gibson and the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga in his opening monologue — and then he was interrupted by William Shatner in his Captain Kirk guise via remote, who told MacFarlane he was ruining the ceremony, and he should have done an offensive musical number about seeing the boobs of nominated actresses. (“We saw your boobs, we saw your boobs … Jodie Foster in ‘The Accused,’ Hilary Swank in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’... ”)

Tasteless! Meta! Epic! Brilliant.

This was followed by a lovely and graceful Channing Tatum/Charlize Theron dance number to “The Way You Look Tonight” (with MacFarlane singing) — and a skit in which sock puppets re-enact “Flight.”

Who could ask for anything more?

But boo and hissssss to the academy for choosing “Brave” as best aminated film over the darker and more creatively challenging “Frankenweenie,” and the sunny, sheer fun of “Wreck-It Ralph.” When was the last time you heard anyone say anything about “Brave”?

We also saw a rare tie, when “Skyfall” and “Zero Dark Thirty” wound up with an equal number of votes in the sound editing category. Given that there are more than 5,600 voting members, the odds against two entrants getting the exact same number of votes are pretty huge.

As always, the ceremony ran too long. Until the academy surrenders its insistence that 24 categories get equal time, we’re going to spend half the night watching people we’ve never heard of accepting trophies for work we’ve never seen.

It’s impossible to turn that into compelling TV.



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