Dear Troy and Dan,
I promise to spare you a long-form exegesis of Seth MacFarlane’s opening number “We Saw Your Boobs,” which name-checked various actresses in attendance and enumerated the movies in which they had bared their breasts as the camera cut to the women in question squirming and shielding their faces. These appeared to be staged reactions meant to jokingly dramatize MacFarlane’s inevitable failure as an Oscar host, but the actresses’ mortified faces, put-on or not, expressed the audience’s own discomfort with this high-concept kickoff. (The Internet in its wisdom has provided GIFs of the best reactions to the song, including Naomi Watts’, perhaps best described as “the death of a smile,” and Charlize Theron’s, perhaps best described as “ice-cold daggers hurled directly from the eyeballs.”)
I’ll limit my discussion of “We Saw Your Boobs” to noting how, um, nakedly it put into relief a recurring theme in last night’s ceremony: A defensive anxiety about the ascendant power of women (emblematized, later on, by the pairing of the statuesque Theron with the wee Dustin Hoffman as awards presenters.) In spite of MacFarlane’s steady stream of lady-diminishing wisecracks (about Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty being a typical grudge-holding woman, Quvenzhané Wallis soon being old enough to date George Clooney, etc.) it was a night dominated by a trio of powerful, glittering, seemingly indomitable women: 76-year-old Shirley Bassey in a bronze column dress, belting the Bond theme “Goldfinger” with old-time showbiz bravura; Adele in sparkly silver, bringing down the house with a magnificently simple (if poorly sound-mixed) rendition of her own 007 song, “Skyfall,” which went on to win Best Song; and, in the only real gasp-worthy surprise of the night, Michelle Obama in severer, more armor-like silver, appearing live from what appeared to be a West Point dress ball to announce the award for Best Picture.
When the FLOTUS first appeared, didn’t you guys think for a second that the Best Picture award must be going to Lincoln after all? I know I did, and I saw a few other people on my Twitter feed speculating the same. In the end, associating the office of the presidency with that movie would probably have felt just as cheapening, but the presidential subject matter would have at least dignified the crossover attempt with some claim to relevance. Hearing the wan, expected title of Argo on the first lady’s lips made that film’s victory—already the apparent result of a complex set of compromises and industry alliances—seem somehow more paltry and random. For a moment there was a sense of two-worlds-meet vertigo, followed by one of deflation: Why is Michelle Obama lowering herself—and providing ammo to right-wing Hollywood-haters—by solemnly intoning a lot of vague propagandistic cant about art and freedom, then presenting an Oscar to Ben Affleck for a movie that cheerfully repurposes American history as slick, fast-paced entertainment? Shouldn’t Mrs. Obama spend her time in the public eye working to reduce childhood obesity or mom-dancing delightfully with Jimmy Fallon?
I’m afraid to step into the maelstrom of Anne Hathaway feelings that I know each one of us holds inside, but what did you guys make of her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech, with its breathless opening whisper (addressed to the statuette itself): “It came true”?* I don’t want to ally myself with the Hatha-haters—she’s a tremendously gifted performer, even if the close-range caterwauling of Les Misérables wasn’t my thing. But wasn’t that widdle-girl whisper (and much of the speech that followed) a very generous self-sprinkling of pixie dust? Who did you think did manage to nail that impossible razor’s edge between fake humility and genuine vainglory—other than Daniel Day-Lewis, who seems to be permanently operating on a plane of humanity that makes the rest of us look like grunting cavemen? Oh, and: Has Jennifer Lawrence ever made a savvier career move than tripping over her pale-pink giant-skirted brocade gown on the way to the podium, then making it back to her feet on her own, waving off the proffered help of both Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman? No wonder Seth McFarlane’s worried. We’re one reproductive-technology breakthrough away from not needing men at the Oscars at all.
My eyes are up here,
Correction, Feb. 25, 2013: This post misstated the award Anne Hathaway won. It was Best Supporting Actress, not Best Actress. (Return to the corrected sentence.)