It's probably time to admit that the Oscars don't have much capacity to surprise us anymore. How can they, after weeks and weeks of anticipation, over-analysis (hey, guys), predictions, precursors, even just playing devil's advocate ... at this point, either an Oscar win is so foretold by the guilds and the Globes and the informal surveys of Academy members at the Marina Del Rey Film Festival that it can't possibly be deterred, or else we've had enough time on our hands to make a case for every likely winner that all of them seem vaguely plausible and thus not a surprise.
This happened quite a lot this year, actually. Christoph Waltz didn't win the SAG and was probably not the betting leader in Vegas or wherever allows you to bet serious money on the Oscars (Grand Cayman? The casino beneath Clooney's house?), but you couldn't really call him a "surprise." Trust me, I predicted his win, I'd LOVE to claim credit for calling a shocker, but it just wasn't. Same thing with both Screenplay prizes. "Django Unchained" was in a tight three-way scrap with "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Amour." "Argo" was similarly head-to-head-to-head with "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook." Not the most universally predicted wins, but by no means surprises.
So was this a surprise-less Oscars? Well, yes and no. It's not surprising that "Life of Pi" ended up winning the most trophies -- many people even expected it. But it's still quite notable that it scored more gold than Best Picture-winner Argo. So much so that, despite every rational thought in my brain telling me that nothing had changed and that Argo was as solid to win Best Picture as it had ever been, when Jack Nicholson opened that envelope, half of me felt like it was going to be Life of Pi.
"Argo": Only three wins for the Best Picture winner, the fewest since "Crash." But Team "Argo" made the most of them, with Ben Affleck delivering easily the most emotional speech and creating a emotional crescendo that doesn't happen in years when the Best Picture winner has spent the past few hours winning every trophy in sight.
Jennifer Lawrence: Not the Best Actress win, of course. But that stumble up the stairs -- for one thing, I basically brace myself for this to happen EVERY TIME an actress takes the stage at an awards show in a dress that's any lower than her ankle, to say nothing of the small European country Jennifer was dragging behind her all night. But more importantly, the tumble actually led to a moment of actual spontaneity at the podium, where Lawrence laughed off the fall and subsequent standing ovation (really, guys?), saying, "You guys are just standing up cause you feel bad that I fell, and that's really embarrassing, but thank you." With speeches ever more scrutinized for levels of pre-meditation and picked apart for any minute sign of ego or ugliness, it was a moment where Lawrence's natural magnetic personality to shine through and make any of the chattering Twitter naysayers look pretty foolish.
Dame Shirley Bassey: Both the tribute to the James Bond franchise as well as the evenings musical bent were well publicized, but I somehow didn't expect to see Shirley Bassey show up to sing "Goldfinger." Kudos to the producers for not lining up someone more "current" to perform the song in order to chase ratings. Good thing, too, because Shirley has still got it, man.
Charlize and Channing: That opening monologue/clip show/William Shatner cameo vehicle was an endless car wreck (more on Seth MacFarlane's performance as host later today), but the one unquestioned delight was watching Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron got all Fred-and-Ginger with complete sincerity and probably a little bit of fear that they might mess up, which only gave the moment an extra spark. If Seth had ended it there, he could've left on a high note.
Barbra: Again with the "surprise un-surprise" thing, because it does seem like every other year Barbra shows up and sings "The Way We Were" over the In Memoriam photos, but this one felt more personal. With good reason, considering she was paying tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. It felt like Barbra was putting more of herself into the performance this time, doing that talk-up-until-the-moment-you-start-singing thing that only she can do (and no one else should even attempt).
Michelle Obama: Stilted though her video-screen contribution may have been, the First Lady presenting Best Picture to Argo managed to jazz up what was a fait accompli. I guess if anyone's going to get Jack Nicholson to share the spotlight.
"Les Miserables": It really had seemed like "Les Mis" had bottomed out, its critics having worn down the film's beleaguered fanbase. But in addition to Anne Hathaway's expected win for Best Supporting Actress, "Les Mis" picked up Best Makeup (a first for a musical) and Best Sound Mixing, to finish tied with Argo for second-most wins.
The "Skyfall" Three: I got my hopes up each time, but for naught. Thomas Newman, Roger Deakins, and Greg P. Russell all went home empty-handed and are now officially 0-for-37 at the Oscars all-time.
Beyonce: The queen of the Super Bowl was left out of the tribute to "Dreamgirls," which may well have been for the best (as dominant as Bey has been in the music industry over the last several years, she's never seemed as fallible as when she had to shoulder the lead in that film), but which left Jennifer Hudson giving the impression that the film was a one-woman show. Catherine Zeta-Jones performed solo, too, but at least she was joined later in the show by her "Chicago" castmates to present the Song/Score awards. Which, okay, speaking of: what is with it with celebrities who recoil from reading the envelope while presenting in groups? RENEE?
As for the musical performances themselves, they were ... a mixed bag. All the credit in the world to every performer who got up there, even the ones like Helena Bonham-Carter who looked like it was the last thing in the world that they wanted to do. I was happy to see young stage stars like Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit get their Oscar moments, but the whole "Les Mis" performance - and CJZ's "All That Jazz" too - had me wondering about the point of it all. "This isn't the Tonys" sounds reductive, but I mean it in its most strict terms: movie musicals are an entire different breed than stage musicals, and the transfer back to the stage does not serve them well. Zeta-Jones won a well-deserved Oscar for "Chicago" because she was working within the confines of her chosen medium: film. I had this terrible feeling of watching someone being exposed when she performed.
"Lincoln": Only two victories for the overall nominations leader: Daniel Day-Lewis in Best Actor and a rather unexpected pickup in Best Production Design. But all other categories where it was expected to contend: Best Supporting Actor didn't happen for Tommy Lee Jones; Tony Kushner's lauded script got axed by "Argo"; and the enthusiasm indeed just was not there for Steven Spielberg to win his third trophy. Any way you slice it: they liked "Lincoln" but didn't love it.
"Silver Linings Playbook": Well, it looks like that Independent Spirits curse is back on. One day after cleaning up in Santa Monica, David O. Russell went home empty handed, with losses in Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. Jennifer Lawrence won, as expected, but Harvey Weinstein couldn't pull off the big upsets. Time to start planning for next year, I suppose.