85th Annual Academy Awards balance humor, sophistication

There’s just something about the Oscars.

Once a year, there is a three-hour-long snapshot in time — okay, three and a half, though I can’t even be mad about host Seth MacFarlane’s 17-minute opening this year — during which the moviegoing public unites for one cause: critiquing films they most likely haven’t even seen yet. Or, in some extreme cases, films they’ve never heard of before (see: the entire Foreign Language Film category). 

It’s an interesting time in the world of cinema, a time when even the most passive pop culture consumer becomes a sudden expert on cinematography, costume design and sound mixing. We host viewing parties with our friends and fill out fake Oscar ballots; we start heated debates about the merits of Jessica Chastain’s performance in “Zero Dark Thirty” versus that of Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook.” We overanalyze each acceptance speech down to the last syllable, and for one night only, we are all World’s Most Insightful Movie Critic.

But why?

The answer seems simple. It isn’t just the slight adrenaline rush that comes from correctly predicting the most winners (though it doesn’t hurt to earn bragging rights for the next 24 hours). It isn’t just the hilarity of a newly named Best Actress tripping on her way to the stage (nice save, Jennifer!). And it probably isn’t the newfound crush that even the most begrudging “Family Guy” fan must have developed on Seth MacFarlane last night. That voice! Those jokes! The lack of a wedding ring!

It’s because, despite our differing opinions on the movies themselves, the Oscars have an innate ability to bring us together in our enjoyment of cinema.

Last night’s telecast was no different, featuring a little something for everyone. Well, okay, if you’re not a fan of show tunes or dancing, the ceremony probably had a little too much of a certain something. But it was still a ceremony that tied generations together.

For those of us huddled in dorm rooms and apartments, putting off homework for this once-a-year event, the enjoyment came from seeing the voice of Peter Griffin dance alongside Harry Potter. For the viewers who’ve been watching the Oscars for decades, similar enjoyment came from Barbra Streisand’s stunning performance of “The Way We Were” during the In Memoriam segment, as well as Daniel Day-Lewis’ ability to crack a genuinely funny joke while accepting his award. Who knew Abraham Lincoln had such a quick wit?

It was a hybrid ceremony, one that could easily have been mistaken for the Grammys or Tonys at certain points along the way. Let’s make that an Oscars tradition, if it means Adele and Jennifer Hudson can come back and steal the show every year.

But for an awards show that has struggled to combine humor, youth, prestige and elegance for the last several years, the 85th annual Academy Awards were a resounding success.

At the very least — even if Ang Lee’s Best Director win infuriated you and “Argo”‘s Best Picture victory made you see red — we all got a nice laugh out of hearing Russell Crowe sing.

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