If there is one thing we all know about Neil Patrick Harris, it is that he can command a room. This was absolutely the case as he hosted the 87th Academy Awards with charm, performance, comedy, and class. Even when the clock was ticking faster and faster and the acceptance speech cut-off music began to play sooner and sooner, NPH stuck with the program and kept the show moving right along.
The Opening Number
Neil Patrick Harris showcased his musical background with none other than a grand opening number at the Oscars. He sang his way through Oscar tropes such as stars enjoying a little too much drinking throughout the night of which he stated, "no one's drunk and bitter yet 'cause no one has lost." Of course the camera cut to a dapper Benedict Cumberbatch glugging away at his own flask.
NPH then went into a tribute of many classics in cinema history and glamorous stars, such as Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, with a wonderfully choreographed dance with his own shadow. Anna Kendrick joined him in a beautiful duet about moving pictures and their happy endings, except in Gone Girl where NPH meets a nasty fate.
The laughs continue as Jack Black essentially pulled a "Kanye" (however this one was clearly planned and excellently rehearsed) and rants about the film industry and how now we only watch "the screen in our jeans" (a terrific term for our cellphones). Black was soon chased away by Kendrick's shoe being thrown across the stage at him and then the number can come to an end with the same high energy as the beginning. The number was met with a huge round applause, clearly a success.
It has become a very common element during award shows for the hosts to walk up and down the aisles while telling their jokes and making sure to include some of the big names of evening. NPH continued with the tradition and was very active in the aisles.
As he addressed seat-fillers for presenters who had to run backstage, he asked the name of each, as well as an unsuspecting Steve Carell. Carell however, is always a good sport and played along with the charade and even gave an answer to who was the celebrity he was most excited to meet: "Oh, Edward Norton, he's right over there!" This seemingly simple act was a huge hit with the crowd and got big laughs.
The Birdman Tribute
Returning from a commercial break, the showrunners seemed to have lost sight of their host and snaked the camera backstage through all of the hustle and bustle to find a stripped NPH. Wearing only tighty whities, black socks, and black shoes, he made his way through the crowds, people heckling and trying to take pictures. This was a hilarious throw to the iconic scene in Birdman where Michael Keaton's character must run through Times Square in that same state after being locked out of a theater.
On the way out to the stage, NPH passed Whiplash star Miles Teller on the drums and tells him, "Not my tempo," referencing to J.K. Simmons. The crowd laughed and cheered on through the entire act and even more so when he carried on hosting as if everything was normal on stage... still in those tighty whities, stating, "Acting is a noble profession."
NPH did well with one-liners and jokes that poked fun at some sore issues. Here are some of the best of the evening.
"Benedict Cumberbatch: It's not only the most awesome name in show business, it's also the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck."
“If you're at the Oscar party with the guys who directed 'The Lego Movie,' now would be a great time to distract them." (This is of course in reference to the heated response after the nominees were announced and The Lego Movie did not receive a nomination for Best Animated Feature.)
"This year the nominated actors will receive gift bags containing $160,000 worth of merchandise, including two vacations, makeup, clothes, shoes and an armored-car ride to safety when the revolution comes."
When introducing Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain, "In 'Long Walk to Freedom' he liberated South Africa. In 'Zero Dark Thirty,' she brought down Osama bin Laden. In 'A Million Ways to Die in the West,' I pooped in a hat."
The Predictions Gag
Now on to the recurring joke of the evening that did not have a satisfying payoff. There was a huge setup of locking away NPH's Oscar predictions and checking in every few commercial breaks with Octavia Spencer, who was put in charge of making sure no one tampered with the locked box. Each time there were laughs, fewer and fewer as the night went on, and by the time every award had been announced except for Best Picture, the audience was over it.
The second half of the show was clearly being rushed for time, but the Oscar show-runners decided to go through and finish the big joke (which wasn't really wanted at this point). The predictions were one-liners referencing the events of the show that could have worked if they were opened earlier in the evening. NPH had to power through line after line, joke after joke, and the response was just not there. If all of the energy and attention spent on this locked prediction box had been cut from the show, there would have been a little extra time for more successful jokes and entertainment rather than this flop.