Funny Thing About Oscar

Even amid another year of serious movies, there are signs of laughter coming from inside and outside the big show.

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There hasn't been much (intentionally) funny about the Oscars in the last few years.

Sure, Billy Crystal earned some laughs as a late-in-the game replacement last year for Eddie Murphy (“Just call me ‘War Horse,’” he cracked). Even if Crystal didn't match his great late 1980s-early 1990s run, he certainly outdid recent hosts Hugh Jackman and disaster duo Anne Hathaway and James Franco in the humor department. And sure, last year's big winner, silent film homage "The Artist," was the closest thing to a comedy to win any major awards in years.

Sunday's Academy Awards lineup reverts to a typically largely serious slate of films up for the big prizes. But there are promising signs from inside and outside the ceremony that Oscar is ready to laugh again.

The bold selection of "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator Seth MacFarlane as host suggests a willingness to chance offending the old guard in search of irreverence and relevance. MacFarlane, who is using his “Family Guy” writers for the show, said last week he’s aiming for "very much a classic Oscars with a much more current edge" – but he doesn’t expected to be invited back next year.

Another encouraging signal came last week when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released a poster of Oscar playing dress-up in a salute to past Best Picture winners. A statuette decked out as Diane Keaton’s fashionable title character in “Annie Hall” and one bound like Hannibal Lecter of “Silence of the Lambs” proved highlights.

The Academy Awards producers are wise to get back to the jokes. The Golden Globes stole buzz as an awards season bellwether not as much as through its picks of the best films as through comedy – courtesy of three years of Ricky Gervais skewering stars, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's triumphant team act last month. The Globes reminded viewers and Hollywood that award shows should be about entertaining the audience at home, not the folks in the expensive seats.

Whether or not the Academy Awards producers produce laughs, Oscar is fair game for satire. Zach Galifianakis is back on Funny or Die doing the “Oscar edition” of his (NSFW) “Between Two Ferns” celebrity interview-driven parody of Barbara Walter's old pre-awards specials. He bickers with guests (when he asked Jennifer Lawrence about “The Hunger Games,” she quipped, “Isn’t that your life story?”) and poses inane questions (“Do you look at a penny differently now?” he asked “Lincoln” star Sally Field). Hathaway, pretending to be drunk, sang, “Sucks to be You” to Galifianakis.

Meanwhile, a recent YouTube video turns Hathaway's instantly iconic "I Dreamed a Dream" number from "Les Miserables" into a plea for an Oscar (“I already have my speech – ‘Oh, God is this really happening?’”). The spoof, with more than 1 million hits, quickly made actress Emma Fitzpatrick an online star.

As we wait to see whether MacFarlane’s star rises higher at the 85th annual awards, check out the Hathaway takeoff, which provides some Oscar-worthy chuckles:



Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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