Tonight marks the 85th annual Academy Awards, a ceremony that honors either the highest achievements in the art of cinema or the most rigorous politicking of the Hollywood elite, depending on one's level of cynicism. The host of tonight's event, Seth MacFarlane, seems to appreciate that balance, describing his roll as "part classy Master of Ceremonies and part Friars Club roaster." It's that blend of art and inside baseball that keeps cineasts returning to the Oscars every year, inspiring serious appreciation and drinking games in equal measure.2013 Oscars: The Best Moments from the Academy Awards >>>
This year's nominees feature a fairly commendable mix of Oscar staples and more adventurous fare: frontrunners like Argo and Lincoln play pretty squarely into the Academy's perception of The Importance of Movies, while other contenders like Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour aren't afraid to challenge Hollywood conventions.
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Seth MacFarlane starts out on the right foot by landing a Tommy Lee Jones joke, even getting the famously stoic Texan to laugh at himself a bit. We'll see if smiling Tommy becomes a Reddit meme by morning.
And from there, we get William Shatner -- his revival of Kirk here isn't quite on par with Leonard Nemoy's Spock in the new Star Trek, but that's not really the point; he sets an affably goofy tone by his very existence, so that's nice.
Shatner helps transform MacFarlane into a classically acceptable Oscar host, and if he didn't win many points for his Chris Brown and Mel Gibson jokes, he has the Dolby audience on his side by the end of a couple song and dance routines. From there, we start handing out awards.
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
And the first win of the night is a pretty major surprise: Christoph Waltz wins the same award he won last time he played a charmingly murderous German in a Tarantino movie. Shaking visibly, Waltz seems as shocked as anyone to have beaten De Niro, Hoffman, Arkin and Jones. Though quick repeats like this are rare, I guess that's what happens when literally every contestant has won before. Savor that earlier Tommy Lee Jones smile, he'll be pretty chilly for the rest of the night.
Best Animated Short: Paperman
This one, however, surprises no one. Paired with Wreck-It Ralph, Paperman was frequently earning higher critical praise than its feature counterpart.
Best Animated Feature: Brave
Pixar once again monopolizes the animated feature category, in spite of Brave being a somewhat middling effort from the studio. It is nice to see original director Brenda Chapman thanking her daughter for inspiring the story, as the mother-daughter relationship is where Brave really shines.
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Tough to argue with this one: Pi's most arresting poetry was not in its philosophy but its visuals. I'm a little disappointed to see Roger Deakins lose for the 11th time, though; that man is a legend.
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Another deserved win for a visually spectacular movie. While the film's psychedelic vignettes were an ostentatious triumph for the effects team, I was thoroughly impressed with their ability to convincingly portray an ocean. The team also earns the honor of the night's first play-off music, which is, incidentally, terrifying.
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Also known as: Best Old-Time Period Piece.
Best Makeup: Les Miserables
Along with this award, that is. I'll give them credit: everyone in Les Miserables is very dirty looking and sad, and makeup is where that happens.
From there, we have a tribute to James Bond. While it didn't quite land the Best Picture nom or the cinematography win, Skyfall's Adele-composed theme is a lock for Best Original Song -- more on that later. Dame Shirley Bassey makes an appearance to perform her iconic Goldfinger theme, and while she flubs her first few notes, she finishes strong.
Best Live Action Short: Curfew
With no frame of reference for this category, I'll use this space to exclusively critique writer/director Shawn Christensen's acceptance speech. He seems nice, if a little over-serious. He called his father devilishly handsome, though, so also he's funny.
Best Documentary Short: Inocente
Same with this one. Apparently, one of the participants was homeless a year ago, and her peer makes a plea that no artist should ever be hard up for work. Best of luck with that.
Best Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
It seems like every year there's one documentary that breaks through to the wide release market, and this year it's Searching for Sugar Man. A lot people are cheering its win right now by virtue of the fact it was the only nominee they've seen, but that doesn't detract from the fact that it's a fascinating story.
Best Foreign Film: Amour
Seeing as it's the only contender nominated for Best Picture, Amour's win is hardly a surprise. Except, of course, in the general sense that Michael Haneke just won an Oscar for a humanist portrait of love.
From there, we've got a tribute to the movie musical. Catherine Zeta-Jones reprises the number "All That Jazz" from Chicago, and she's followed by Jennifer Hudson belting Dreamgirls' "I'm Not Going" -- no idea why either movie is being revisited tonight, but they're a great pair of performances. The segment culminates with the cast of Les Miserables, performing a Broadway-ready medley of songs from the musical and film -- even Russel Crowe returns to sing again, earning supportive "good try" applause from the audience as he enters.
Star Trek stars Zoe Saldana and Chris Pine present a tribute to the technical awards. Half the audience takes a nap, while the other half is raging about how original series Star Trek characters were introduced with Next Generation theme music.
Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
A deserved win. Les Miserables famously recorded its songs live rather than in dubbing, which is enough to make any sound engineer's head spin.
Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall
A rare tie in the sound mixing category, with an audible gasp from the audience. They're reassured by presenter Mark Wahlberg's clarification, "No BS."
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway
She's been rehearsing this list of names for at least as long as she rehearsed her role in Les Miserables. Her brief part really is worth the hype, though: her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" practically rewrites the rules of acting in a musical. My condolences, however, to every high school drama teacher who's going to hear that performance mimicked over and over come audition season.
Best Film Editing: Argo
This is Argo's first win of the night, potentially kicking off that much-predicted sweep I keep hearing about. Winner William Goldenberg tells Ben Affleck that he shares the award with him, which is likely to be repeated over and over if Argo does come through.
After an evening of songs and James Bond tributes, Adele finally performs the James Bond song everybody's been waiting to hear. She looks a little uncomfortable swaying behind a lead singer-style mic rather than her signature piano, but she sounds great.
Best Production Design: Lincoln
Spielberg and his D.P. may be responsible for all those arcs of glowing backlight, but did you ever think of all the brownish period stuff the light was shining on?
After that, we have Salma Hayek presenting the honorary Oscar recipients, and George Clooney presenting the in memoriam. In case you weren't feeling it enough, Barbra Streisand shows up to sing "The Way We Were."
From there, we have the cast of Chicago providing their second reminder of the evening that that movie exists, as they present for the Best Original Score.
Best Original Score: Life of Pi
I'm not sure why The Master's groundbreaking score was snubbed, but I can't help but view this award in that light. There were some poignant moments in Pi's score, but Johnny Greenwood's felt like something far fresher.
Best Original Song: "Skyfall"
The only thing less surprising than "Skyfall" winning is the fact that Adele is crying and being endearingly folksy.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo
Take that, people who criticized the addition of that bizarre, fictional car chase!
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Tarantino is the first contestant of the night to play himself off, first opting for brevity and then returning to praise the other writers after his first round of applause.
Best Director: Ang Lee
Short of Daniel Day-Lewis' inevitable win, Lincoln appears to be coming home relatively light tonight. I don't have any problem with Lee taking the honor over Spielberg, particularly in terms of Pi's gorgeous visuals. I might have preferred the similarly stylish, if slightly edgier, work of Benh Zeitlin, but I didn't really have my hopes up.
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
For all the hype about the oldest and youngest nominees ever, it winds up going to the woman who won all the other awards this year. Jennifer Lawrence instantly trips up the stage, which is the bright side of Emmanuelle Riva not being in her place.
Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis
Remember 2007? I don't think anybody predicted back then that Daniel Plainview of There Will Be Blood could be funnier than the Family Guy dude, but he lands a solid one-liner about playing Margaret Thatcher as well as any of MacFarlane's quips. Seriously, though, another non-surprise.
Best Picture: Argo
In a surprise move, Michelle Obama presents the Best Picture award; somewhat less surprisingly, she presents it to Argo. Argo has been the odds-on favorite for a few weeks now, winning a solid majority of the big awards along the way. I liked Argo well enough, but wouldn't call it the best film of the year, by any stretch. I hereby present my own original Oscars drinking game: slurringly complain about Argo for the rest of the night.
It was, of course, the Hollywood movie with the most Hollywoody Hollywood in it, and Hollywood really responds to that.
(Image courtesy of ABC)