"I THINK it's a terrible shame that politics has become show business," said director Sydney Pollack.
WHILE first lady Michelle Obama lent herself to the opening of the Oscar envelope for best picture, bets were that she hoped the winner would turn out to be -- "Lincoln." But Mrs. Obama didn't flinch when "Argo" won, to my personal delight. (Mrs. Obama's "helper" onstage in Los Angeles was, of course, the legendary Jack Nicholson, who behaved as if he'd never been on a stage before.)
Bill Clinton, who had given the Steven Spielberg movie "Lincoln" such heft when he appeared at the Golden Globe Awards last month, was busy abroad. My sighters in North Africa say he was seen last Saturday at the Souk in Marrakech and on Sunday he attended a conference in Casablanca.
"WE SAW Your Boobs!"
So sang Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars Sunday night, accompanied by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. This -- one of seemingly hundreds of musical numbers jammed into the 3-1/2-hour show -- has been pointed out as one of the night's low points. Well, I thought it was very funny. (The irritated reaction shot of Charlize Theron -- and other stars -- was from another Oscar Night, by the way. It was part of Seth's skit. But even CNN keeps reporting, "You can see she wasn't pleased!")
In fact, I thought this entire Academy Awards telecast was appealing and glamorous. And Seth was a revelation, to me, anyway. Did his young fans, who roll on the floor over his raunchy animated series "Family Guy" and "American Dad," know that this cherubic-looking fellow is into channeling Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire -- or that he has a good singing voice? I certainly didn't and he was as charming a host as can be expected in the year 2013. Some of his jokes -- like the one about Abraham Lincoln -- went too far, but even when they did, he had a quick comeback. (Kudos also to Sally Field for being such a great sport in her skit with him.) He moved the mammoth production along as quickly as possible, through his fast delivery.
Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron seemed to forget at times that this was an Oscar show. A friend of mine texted, "Wow, the Tony Awards are great this year!" during Jennifer Hudson's Hollywood-please-pay-attention-to-me-again rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." If they were going to utilize the talents of Jennifer and Catherine Zeta-Jones, it would have been more fitting to have performed numbers from Hollywood musicals of the past -- really the past. Like the '40s and '50s. There was a bit of this at the start with Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum dancing to Seth warbling "Just the Way You Look Tonight." That was great, but not enough.
And I certainly didn't need the "Les Miserables" medley. But others are mad for this epic tale of misfortune. Oh, before I forget -- Charlize. The woman is a goddess. She has the advantage of being almost six feet tall. That could lend itself to awkwardness. But Miss Theron has stunning composure and grace. She is beyond compare on the red carpet, and now we know she is pretty good on her twinkle toes. (Well, she did study ballet in her homeland, South Africa.)
BUT LISTEN, nobody can say the producers didn't drag in the stars. They did, and the stars acquitted themselves magnificently, each and every one.
I think everybody pretty much agrees that Dame Shirley Bassey stole the night, and nobody else quite won it back. You could have cut the tension, nostalgia and emotion with a knife as Miss Bassey built up to her famous final crescendo on "Goldfinger." She reached it, held it and then hit it right out of the ballpark.
Adele was lovely, but her rendition of "Skyfall" seemed oddly muted and muffled by the orchestra. Her manner was laid-back and jazzy, not moving the audience to leap to their feet.
As for Barbra Streisand, she looked great, in something rather exotic -- Donna Karan, natch. She tenderly sang "The Way We Were" in tribute to her friend, the late Marvin Hamlisch. Like Miss Bassey, Barbra carefully worked her way through the song. The great voice is huskier now, but still "buttah." She was effectively glamorous and clearly sincere.
I adored Jennifer Lawrence's dying swan stumble on her way to the podium, just because it is such a dramatic image, and she recovered herself so well. The audience gave her a standing ovation, but Lawrence said, "You guys are just standing up because I fell and you feel bad. That was embarrassing."
And I am very happy about "Argo" and Ben Affleck. He might as well have been nominated for and won best director, with all the emotion gushing for him. However, I think we've gone overboard on Ben's "redemption" -- even Ben himself. Look, he dated Jennifer Lopez, left her practically at the altar and made a few bad movies. He didn't kill anybody, become an addict, hit women or scream racial slurs. He had a slump. It happens to everybody. He didn't go to hell in a hand basket. He just starred in "Gigli."
It was encouraging that a great and beautiful film, "The Life of Pi," won four Oscars, including the best director award for Ang Lee. It restores one's faith in magic, beauty and competition.
SETH MacFarlane says he won't be back again to host Oscar. He's had his fun. Too bad. Seth could really develop into a young, 21st-century Bob Hope, if he wanted that, becoming a perennial at this annual show biz orgy of self-congratulation.
I hadn't much of a clue about Seth before this. Now I do. Why do I think I'll eventually see him on Broadway, or crooning at Feinstein's or Cafe Carlyle?
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)