Seth MacFarlane brought unshakable self-confidence to the Academy Awards Sunday night, singing, dancing, making out (in a taped bit) with Sally Field and drawing occasional scowls and boos from the Hollywood A-list.
The creator of TV's "Family Guy" and writer-director of the movie "Ted" turned in a solid performance in an opening that hit as often as it missed.
MacFarlane seemed completely in command from the first moments, when he said, "And the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh starts now." Jones, who had looked grim at the Golden Globes, laughed.
Talking about the nominated movies, MacFarlane quizzed Daniel Day-Lewis about his preparation. "If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the studio lot, did you try to free him?" he asked. "How deep is your method?"
That drew laughter, from Day-Lewis and the crowd. But a reference to Chris Brown, Rihanna and violence prompted shocked "oohs." MacFarlane read the audience's mind: "Oh, no, that's what we were afraid he would do." Actually, he said, "That's as bad as it gets, if it makes you feel better," before adding, "It's not as bad as it gets."
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After joking that Jennifer Lawrence "told me backstage that whether she wins or not, it's just an honor that Meryl Streep wasn't nominated," MacFarlane was interrupted by William Shatner as "Star Trek" Capt. Kirk, coming back from "the future."
"I'm here to stop you," he said. "The show's a disaster. ... Your jokes are tasteless and inappropriate, and everyone ends up hating you. Why couldn't they just get Tina and Amy to host?" That would be Fey and Poehler, who teamed as Golden Globes hosts. "They'll host next year," MacFarlane said.
"Kirk" then showed examples of where MacFarlane had supposedly gone wrong, first by singing "an incredibly offensive song that upsets a lot of actresses in the audience."
The song, by MacFarlane and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles: "We Saw Your Boobs," listing actresses who'd appeared topless and in which movies." (Kate Winslet made the list for pretty much every one of her movies, plus "whatever you're shooting right now.") The actresses in question didn't seem offended, and the song was not only funny but proved that MacFarlane has quite a nice singing voice.
He used it again, singing "The Way You Look Tonight" while Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum (in white spats) performed an only slightly awkward Fred-and-Ginger dance number.
Other taped bits included a re-enactment of "Flight" with sock puppets, after which a mock headline rated MacFarlane as a "mediocre" Oscars host. "That's actually the best review I've ever gotten," he said.
Field did some fine acting opposite MacFarlane, dressed as "The Flying Nun" and suspended from the ceiling, when he came onto her. "There's something about the nun. So ridiculously hot," he said, luring her with "a bottle of wine and some Boniva."
With the Oscars saluting music in the movies this year, it was appropriate and entertaining that the lengthy opening continued with "High Hopes," with Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt joining MacFarlane for some song and dance, and wrapped up with "Be Our Guest," from "Beauty and the Beast."
An Academy Awards host sinks or swims in the opening, but MacFarlane didn't completely disappear after the first 15 minutes.
Talking about 9-year-old nominee Quvenzhane Wallace, he quoted her as saying, "I hope I don't lose to that old lady Jennifer Lawrence," and added, "To give you an idea how young she is, it will be 16 years before she's too old for Clooney." Clooney took that in stride, as he always does.
On the other hand, MacFarlane fell flat (and drew complaints on social media) when he addressed the "beautiful women" in the audience and said, "And those of you who gave yourselves the flu two weeks ago to 'get there'?" (He jiggled his waist.) "It paid off."
He got shocked "oohs" again when he said, "The actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth." He responded: "150 years and still too soon?"
The most painful moment, though, may have come when MacFarlane brought out Mark Wahlberg and the bear from "Ted" to present two awards. A low point: The bear demanded directions to the post-Oscars orgy. A lower point: The bear claimed at length to be Jewish.
Halle Berry introduced a tribute to the music and look of five decades of James Bond movies, but the clip package was overshadowed by a memorable performance of "Goldfinger" by original singer Shirley Bassey.
More highlights were performances from "Chicago" (Catherine Zeta Jones) and "Dreamgirls" (Jennifer Hudson), plus "Les Misérables." Adele brought down the house with the nominated song from "Skyfall," and Barbra Streisand wowed with a tearful "The Way We Were" in honor of the late composer, Marvin Hamlisch.
And speaking of music — the orchestra cut winners' speeches off appropriately, if cruelly, with the theme from "Jaws."