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Neil Patrick Harris hosted the Oscars for the first time on Sunday night, showcasing his previous experience emceeing the Tony Awards five times and the Emmys twice with a musical number featuring Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, an ounce of magic, a chat with seat-fillers, a briefcase of predictions, and nothing but his underpants in a spoof of Birdman.
The awards show — produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, and directed by Hamish Hamilton — was also sprinkled with performances by Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, Tim McGraw, Adam Levine, Common, John Legend, Rita Ora, and Tegan and Sara with The Lonely Island, plus statement-making speeches by Patricia Arquette, Graham Moore, Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne.
Read what top critics are saying about Harris’ first turn as Oscars host, as well as the telecast overall:
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney writes that Harris was “shrewd” to address the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in his first joke of the night, and his opening number “deftly balanced irreverence with inspiration. … The song wasn’t quite up there with the splashiest of Harris’ Tony musical numbers, even with a clever interlude in which Jack Black borrowed ‘The Witch’s Rap’ from Meryl Streep, but it set the right tone. … Harris mastered the challenge of commanding the room, chumming up to folks in the front rows throughout the show, while speaking directly to movie-lovers at home. And along with scripted, occasionally clunky one-liners, he managed to make some gags seem convincingly off-the-cuff — notably, riffing on J.K. Simmons’ ad for Farmers Insurance after the actor’s Whiplash win. While awards show hosts frequently vanish for long stretches of the telecast, Harris was present throughout, serving as the glue that kept everything together. If anyone still had doubts that he had the right stuff to be the Oscarcast’s MVP, a choice bit with a continuous-take backstage underwear-clad Birdman walk (accompanied by Miles Teller on drums) likely put those fears to rest.”
Additionally, “among the musical performers, Levine, McGraw and Ora put in elegant if unsurprising appearances, while for sheer, controlled-chaos exuberance, it was hard to top ‘Everything Is Awesome’ from animated feature shutout The Lego Movie. … At the other end of the spectrum, Common and Legend reduced many in the audience to tears with a stirring rendition of Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ from Selma.” The In Memoriam segment was “beautifully presented as a series of watercolor- and pencil sketch-enhanced photo portraits. But while Hudson bellowed with feeling on ‘I Can’t Let You Go,’ a somewhat generic song from NBC’s defunct series Smash, clips from the films of Hollywood notables lost in the past year would have upped the emotional impact. And the absence of Joan Rivers among those honored seemed an uncalled-for snub to someone who, like it or not, became an essential part of Oscar lore with her acerbic red-carpet commentary over the years.”
The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley says, “Oscar nights almost always drag on too long, but this one was a slog almost from the very beginning.” She calls Harris’ hosting “bland,” besides the Birdman bit, “but because Harris is in good physical shape, there wasn’t much humor or bravery to the sketch, just bravado.” And “Oscar nights usually do have their share of political posturing, but this was a particularly passionate evening. … The political speeches were somber, but they turned out to be more lively and bracing than any of Harris’ skits.”
The Los Angeles Times‘ Mary McNamara notes that Harris was “reduced at times to a small figure on a big stage making ‘good job’ remarks to performers and attempting to carry a long-running joke about a box,” while the Birdman bit was “just as embarrassing as you might assume it would be.” And “as if trying to make up for Selma being overlooked in many categories, the camera sought out and lingered on nonwhite members of the audience whenever Selma or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was mentioned. It happened at a rate that was at first laughable and then irritating — memo to the academy: Black people are not the only ones who liked Selma; they like other films too. On the other hand, the academy’s defensiveness over being mostly white and male may well have been the reason for the higher than normal proportion of black female presenters, though the fact that the telecast was on ABC probably didn’t hurt either.”
Time‘s Daniel D’Addario explains, “Whether it was his stumbling repeatedly over names or his truly uncomfortable segues, Harris seemed to violate the awards ceremony host’s mandate: first, do no harm. A star who had in every other setting appeared gleefully eager was, at the Oscars, glum and low energy.” Of the speeches, Arquette’s “would likely have stolen the show in the first place, with its earnest, meaningful, read-off-a-computer-printout call for equal pay across genders; that the speech was punctuated with a cutaway to a meaningful look between Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez made it all the better,” and appearances by John Travolta and Terrence Howard “goes into the ‘future legend’ file, while Sean Penn‘s crass immigration joke “was a significant mistake.” He says, “It was nice that these moments existed, since they broke up a ceremony that otherwise felt dull and chummy.”
USA Today‘s Robert Bianco comments of the musical opener, “The number was sometimes amusing and melodic, but we’re used to that. The surprise was that it was also an earnest, even sweet, salute to the magic of the movies. … Most opening numbers have encouraged us to laugh at the movies; this one tried to remind us that most of us love them.” Yet “for all Harris’ skill and charm, the show too often pushed him past his abilities. He’s not a comedian capable of making something out of nothing, which is what the script too often gave him, or of getting audience members to save a joke for him in the way that Ellen DeGeneres could. Given those limits, odds are falling in ‘like’ was more likely — an accomplishment, given that so many people seem to watch the Oscars expecting to hate the host, but not a triumph. … For the most part, the show’s main accomplishment was avoiding embarrassing low points.”
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