Oscar host Seth MacFarlane speaks on stage at the 85th
Academy Awards in Hollywood, California. REUTERS/Mario
Rookie Oscar host Seth MacFarlane casually slung a string
of zingers at some of Hollywood's biggest names, including a
musical tribute to female frontal nudity in the movies, as he
launched the Academy Awards show on a decisively edgy note.
First-time Oscar producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan
recruited MacFarlane in a bid to inject a greater sense of
the unexpected, and hopefully bigger television ratings, a
year after veteran host Billy Crystal performed his ninth
stint at the helm of the live broadcast.
And MacFarlane fully embraced his role as
In an opening monologue and package of song-and-dance numbers
obviously calculated to live up to, and even lampoon, his own
reputation for pushing the boundaries of taste, MacFarlane
put his biting, sardonic brand of humor front and center.
He started off joking that Best Picture front-runner and
eventual winner, "Argo," about a real-life clandestine CIA
operation to rescue American hostages from Iran, was "so top
secret that the film's director is unknown to the Academy."
The barb was a not-so-subtle jab at members of the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for failing to nominate Ben
Affleck as best director for the critically acclaimed film.
"They know they screwed up," MacFarlane added, as the camera
panned to a shot of Affleck, looking somewhat uncomfortable
in his seat. "Ben, it's not your fault."
The edgy quotient quickly escalated as MacFarlane described
another best-film candidate, "Django Unchained," as the
slavery-era "story of a man fighting to get back his woman
who has been subjected to unthinkable violence - or as Chris
Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie."
The punch line reference to the physical abuse involved in
the relationship between the two R&B singers - Brown
pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna in 2009 - drew an
audible groan from the star-studded Dolby Theatre audience.
"Oh, no, that's what we were afraid he would do," MacFarlane
Lustier groans came later in the evening when MacFarlane,
talking about the portrait of the 16th president of the
United States in the Oscar-nominated film "Lincoln," quipped
that "the actor who really got into Lincoln's head was John
"One-hundred and fifty years (since Lincoln's assassination)
and it's still too soon, huh?", MacFarlane laughed, seemingly
taken aback at the response.
MacFarlane's performance should not have come as too big a
surprise. The comedian, actor and singer made his mark as
creator of the animated TV series, "Family Guy," a show known
for its ribald satire, much of it aimed at Hollywood
And MacFarlane, 39, wasted no time in sending up his own
risqué persona, in a comedy bit with actor William Shatner,
who joined the host on stage via a video screen in the
character of Captain Kirk from the sci-fi TV and film series
In his fictional drop-in visit from the future, Shatner warns
MacFarlane he is "destroying the Academy Awards" with jokes
that are "tasteless and inappropriate."
But the interlude segued into a song-and-dance number by
MacFarlane showcasing his vocal chops to a tune called "We
Saw Your Boobs," in which he rhapsodically ticked off the
names of various A-list Hollywood actresses who have bared
their breasts in films over the years.
Admonished by Shatner to sing songs that celebrate the movies
rather than mock them, MacFarlane proceeded to deliver a more
respectful rendering of the showbiz standard, "The Way You
Look Tonight," joined on stage in elegant dance by actress
Charlize Theron ("Snow White and the Huntsman") and actor
Channing Tatum ("Magic Mike").
In the way that many cartoons, including MacFarlane's own
"Family Guy" series, operate on different levels for kids and
their parents, this year's Oscar telecast seemed especially
designed to play to more than one TV audience.
Early reviews of MacFarlane's maiden performance were mixed.
The Washington Post called it "a fairly middle-of-the-road
job as host," while USA Today said it appeared to be an
"audition for his own variety show."
The Los Angeles Times was more upbeat, saying he "alternated
between making hamburgers out of Hollywood's sacred cows and
showing fealty to good old-fashioned showbiz spectacle."
MacFarlane's more provocative turns were offset by some of
the more traditional pomp typical of Hollywood's biggest
night, including a 50th-anniversary montage salute to James
Bond films, capped by veteran singer Shirley Bassey, now 76,
reprising her title song from the 1964 film "Goldfinger."
In another highlight of the evening, songstress, actress and
director Barbara Streisand, 70, took the stage to perform her
signature hit "The Way We Were," from her 1973 film of the
same name, in a tribute to the song's Oscar-winning composer,
Marvin Hamlisch, who died last year.
In addition to hosting, MacFarlane was a best-song nominee
himself this year for writing the lyrics to the song
"Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from his R-rated comedy hit
film "Ted," about a pot-smoking, foul-mouthed teddy bear.
The award went to "Skyfall," the title song from the latest
Bond film, performed at the Oscars by British vocalist Adele.