In some ways, this year's Oscars were the antithesis to last year's. Instead of Seth MacFarlane alienating the crowd with his chorus of "We Saw Your Boobs" we had Ellen DeGeneres posing everyone for a Samsung-sponsored selfie. The musical numbers we didn't need—Bette, Pink—seemed subdued when compared to the Catherine Zeta-Jones lip-synching we were subjected to at last year's event. Pink didn't even fly through the air when singing "Over the Rainbow."
Yet the consensus seems to be that, once again, the Oscars sucked, which begs the question: what do we actually want out of an Oscar ceremony? As Vulture's Matt Zoller Seitz wrote on Twitter: "The Oscar telecast was too long, the time wasn't well-spent, the stars seemed full of themselves and....when was any of this not true?" Is the only solution just to hire Amy Poehler and Tina Fey?
One of the common threads from critics this morning is that DeGeneres was "oddly mean spirited," in the words of The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman. Yes, Ellen took an easy shot at easy target Liza Minnelli, who seemed to search for the cameras all night long but for the most part was her quasi-bumbling, genial self.
Most of Ellen's bits throughout the night were along the lines of "stars, they're just like us!" Ellen did this sort of thing the last time she hosted, asking Steven Spielberg to snap a shot of her and Clint Eastwood. It was easy to predict that this year she'd aim for the selfie. And isn't that what we like most about the Oscars? It's both a night when we feel like we're invited to the party, and the one night a year when all celebrities don't emerge winners. We have to look hard, but there's a chance we could see small human moments from our movie gods and goddess. That is perhaps why we're all so enamored with Jennifer Lawrence, our klutz in a ball gown. It's also the reason why it's entertaining to see Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts honestly eager to get a slice of pizza, or Jared Leto rush over to be in a selfie full of stars and Lupita Nyong'o's brother.
Aside from Ellen's antics, the rest of the ceremony was neither particularly exciting nor particularly dreadful. The "heroes"-related montages gave audiences time to zone out and/or refill their drinks. They weren't necessary, but they weren't offensive. (Might it have been different if Andrew Garfield had actually showed up? We'll never know.) Nor were the performances from Pink and Bette Midler. How can you really argue with "Wind Beneath My Wings"?
Last year, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron's ceremony was intentionally bold, a weird mix of bro-appeal and musical theater nerd pomp. This year the ceremony seemed content to exist as a fairly generic—at times enjoyable—affair. And, you know what? That's fine.