Academy’s hat-tip to movies centred on U.S. political-military triumphalism

It had all the ingredients of good, old-fashioned soap opera. Beautiful maidens tumbled in dramatic fashion. The wives of powerful political leaders swooped in with surprise appearances. And viewers were treated to profanity so tasteless that the Twitter-verse was ignited by sentiments ranging from shock to angry recrimination. Welcome to Oscars Night, 2013.

There were few surprises in the actual prize-winners at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Argo, director-actor Ben Affleck’s one-sided take on the Central Intelligence Agency rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis picked up the Best Film Oscar. This outcome had been foretold days ago by statistician, election-prediction guru and New York Times blogger Nate Silver.

Mr. Affleck was however denied the Best Director crown, which instead went to Ang Lee for his adaptation of the India-related novel, ‘Life of Pi’. On stage Mr. Lee said “My Indian crew, I love you... Namaste.” Sadly viewers in India faced disappointment when musician Bombay Jayashri, who performed soundtrack for Mr. Lee’s magical film, lost out in the Best Score category, albeit to a worthy rival, English singer Adele Adkins.

Britain also scored big when Daniel Day-Lewis won the coveted Best Actor prize for his towering performance in ‘Lincoln’. In doing so the Hollywood veteran set a new record for winning the most titles in this category – three.

Oscar-winning Director Kathryn Bigelow’s gritty, true-to-life portrayal of the CIA’s hunt for 9/11 terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, particularly her perspective on the role of water-boarding in obtaining intelligence for that strike, clearly failed to impress the judges. The film, 'Zero Dark Thirty’, was largely ignored, only sharing an Oscar in a tied vote for sound editing.

The upsets began slowly initially, with the first being merely a surprise victory for ‘Django Unchained’ star Christoph Waltz, whose comedic-heroic performance beat out much more renowned names such as Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones – all previous Oscar winners.

Then, when Jennifer Lawrence went up to the stage to collect her Best Actress award the unthinkable happened: she slipped on her billowy white dress and fell on stairs as she was approaching the stage. But she recovered nicely, making a joke about at her clumsiness, even going on to praise her competitors.

Anne Hathaway, contrarily, appeared tearful and spoke in a quivering voice after she dashed up to the stage to collect her Best Actress in a Supporting Role prize. As in the case of a few others who held the microphone on Sunday evening, she was not entirely coherent in parts of her speech.

While the old adage ‘The show must go on’ prevailed, it indeed went on – to get worse. The host for the evening, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, drew groans of disapproval from the audience when he made a crass joke about Lincoln’s assassination. Then, his creation in a recent movie, a fictitious, foul-mouthed stuffed-toy bear named Ted, went on to make jokes that bordered on anti-Semitism. The last straw came when Mr. MacFarlane proceeded to insult a nine-year-old star from the movie ‘Beasts Of The Southern Wild’, associating her lewdly with actor George Clooney even as she sat in the audience.

A semblance of dignity was restored to the proceedings when the First Lady of the U.S., Michelle Obama, appeared on stage in a giant screen suspended above presenter Jack Nicholson’s head, live from the White House, from where she proceeded to announce the nominees and winners for the Best Movie. Her presence may have well reflected the Motion Picture Academy’s hat-tip to movies centred on U.S. political-military triumphalism.

At the end of the day it was the stars themselves – in their “sequined chiffon, rouge, and ringlets,” as Mr. Nicholson put it, that kept the event bubbling along. Dazzling outfits and witty aphorisms for media may have well kept the attention of several hundred million global viewers from dwelling too long on the cringe-inducing snipes that peppered the entire event and its aftermath.