Well, this year's Oscars was certainly full of surprises and one of the biggest was just how uneven Neil Patrick Harris's gig as emcee went. At first it seemed like the actor, who starred in last year's Oscar-nominated box office smash "Gone Girl," would translate his boisterous, Broadway-honed song-and-dance routine into one of the more memorable hosting gigs of recent memory (in a good way). But the high highs also complemented by some incredibly low lows (like the overlong gag about his predictions, which culminated in a reveal that had us asking, Oh he likes magic right?) Still, NPH did more bad than good last night – and here are our seven favorite moments from the show.
1. Acknowledging the Race Discrepancy Right Away
Despite a number of films that tackled racially diverse issues (and just as many ace performances by nonwhite actors), this year's Oscars was one of the whitest in recent memory (at least as far as the acting categories went). NPH acknowledged this early, saying that the show honored Hollywood's "Best and whitest -- sorry, brightest." It wasn't just a great joke but it allowed for some of the tension in the room to be released, establishing his mostly easygoing hosting style.
2. The Opening Number, 'Moving Pictures'
Following a couple of spoken word gags, Harris went into the night's big opening musical number, a jaunty tune penned by the Oscar-winning "Frozen" team of Bobby and Kristen Lopez entitled "Moving Pictures." And this really was a showstopper, featuring some incredible projection-display technology, cameos from Anna Kendrick and Jack Black (who had us saying "Screens in your jeans" for the rest of the night) and Harris interacting with famous movies in a way that didn't feel derivative or overly indebted to the similar shtick that Billy Crystal trots out every time he hosts. When the Lopezes involvement was originally announced, it was mentioned that they had written multiple songs. This never came to pass. But the one song we did get certainly brought down the house.
3. The Awkward Joke About How Much Money 'American Sniper' Made
Early on there was a poorly worded and equally poorly delivered joke about how successful "American Sniper" was, when Harris equated half of the room to the other nominees and "American Sniper" to Oprah. Even Oprah looked a little dumbfounded as to what the joke meant and it certainly didn't land the way the writers (or Harris) intended. So at the close of the joke, Harris sold it with an irrepressibly charming button when he addressed a visibly confused Oprah by saying, simply, "It's because you're rich." And like that a potential bomb because a mini-triumph.
4. The Farmers Insurance Joke
It was short, it was simple, it was right after J.K. Simmons took home the award for Best Supporting Actor, it was Harris looking into the camera and saying, to the tune of the Farmers Insurance jingle, "He won an Oscar, bom bom bom bom bom bom bom." Perfection.
5. Seat Filler Interaction
At one point Harris was set into the crowd, for a bit that was clearly supposed to be built around his casual interaction with some very famous and well-dressed people. But, for whatever reason, when Harris was supposed to mingle was also the moment that those famous people were using the toilet, since instead of giant stars he exclusively found himself confronted by everyday seat fillers. This could have been deathly, but instead it was an opportunity for Harris to expose one of the lesser-known oddities of the Oscars, the fact that nobodies in eveningwear fill in for celebrities if they have to go somewhere, so that when the cameras pan to the crowd, it always looks bursting at the seams. Harris salvaged the bit, too, when he came upon a more-than-game Steve Carell, who said that he was really looking forward to running into Edward Norton. "He's right over there!" Carell exclaimed with impish glee. End scene.
6. Everything Sounds Better With a British Accent
There were a number of famous Brits at the Oscars last night, including but certainly not limited to the Oscar-nominated likes of Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Felicity Jones. But for a bit where Harris had a British person recite the punch line to a really bad joke, the honor of "Brit being singled out by jolly American awards show host" went to David Oyelowo from "Selma." Wearing a wine-colored three-piece suit (bold but lovable), the actor, who was not nominated but still an audience favorite (leading to one of Harris' more pointed jokes, as the said, "Oh now you like him"), gamely played along with NPH. Harris started the gag by setting up the joke, saying: "This year, we said goodbye to some beloved movie franchises ..." To which Oyelowo, reading from a note card clutched by Harris, uncomfortably finished by saying: "We saw the last ever 'Hobbit' movie, the last ever 'Night at the Museum' movie and the last ever attempt to remake 'Annie.'" Even though the joke didn't totally work, the combined charm of their interaction was pretty fantastic.
7. The Birdman Bit
Of course "Birdman" had to be parodied, even before it came away as the big winner of the night. In one of the evening's more memorable moments, Harris restaged the famous centerpiece scene from the film (where Michael Keaton gets locked out of the theater in his underwear and has to parade through Times Square nearly nude), with Harris ducking and diving through the auditorium's backstage area in his skivvies. Not only did it end with a surprisingly fit Harris, onstage, in his tighty whities, but it also had a nifty gag with Miles Teller playing the drums, a tip of the hat to the movie's unconventional score that was only slightly less funny because they did the same joke a night earlier at the Independent Spirit Awards (which had the added benefit of Bill Hader impersonating Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu). Hey, a good joke is still a good joke, even when it is two days in a row.