Oscar host Seth MacFarlane put a new spin on the traditional announcement of Oscar nominations — can he possibly put a new spin on the show, too?
Oscar show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron now know what they have to work with.
They have five songs, at least four of which could be sung by big stars. They have nine Best Picture nominees, four of which are comfortably past $100 million in domestic box office and one of which will be there soon.
And they have a host who can turn even one of Oscar's most familiar rituals into a standup comedy routine.
Obviously, there was a reason why AMPAS President Hawk Koch abdicated the usual presidential duties and let Seth MacFarlane host Thursday morning's nominations announcement: To send a message that these Oscars will be different.
Before he introduced his co-presenter Emma Stone, MacFarlane made jokes about the early hour and about phony movie-star interviews. When he introduced her, he plugged her new movie, "Gangster Squad," a bit of out-of-character promotion which to some people was as big a shock as the lineup of Best Director nominees.
After all, until recently the Academy banned all movie advertising from the Oscar show on the grounds that it wouldn't be right to mix the awarding of excellence with the promotion of movies – even though, to be honest, the reason studios and filmmakers so desperately want to be awarded for their excellence is because it makes for really good promotion.
So MacFarlane gave "Gangster Squad" a shout-out, and then he and Stone interspersed what is normally a pretty straightforward reading of the names with asides and jibes and even a jab or two at Academy voters: "Breath of fresh air in that category," said MacFarlane after Stone read the Supporting Actor nominees, all of whom had previously won.
They also announced the nominees "in no particular order," which seemed annoying when Tom Sherak and Jennifer Lawrence did it last year in the Best Picture category, but this time around felt playful and in keeping with the tone of this year's presentation.
In fact, MacFarlane and Stone managed to make jokes about Michael Jackson and Hitler and Harvey Weinstein work pretty well at 5:30 in the morning, even though all you really want to do at that point is hear who's been nominated.
It was, to swipe a phrase from MacFarlane, a breath of fresh air.
Can the Oscar show follow suit? Well, it'll have a very engaged and active host, according to the show's director, Don Mischer, who said MacFarlane has been interested in every aspect of the planning.
"He's been coming to lots of production meetings," an amazed Mischer told TheWrap before the announcement. "We had a three-hour meeting about the set and the design concepts, and he was there for the whole thing."
And he'll also be there, presumably, for the performance of at least one of the nominated songs, since MacFarlane wrote the lyrics to the big-band tune "Everybody Needs a Best Friend," which Norah Jones performed in "Ted."
(Just an aside: MacFarlane's co-writer on the song is one Walter Murphy – and holy moley, it appears to be the same Walter Murphy who had a hit by bringing Ludwig van Beethoven to the disco with "A Fifth of Beethoven" back in 1976.)
MacFarlane has done a Sinatra-style act in the past, and "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" is nothing if not Sinatra style, meaning it seems reasonable to expect the co-writer to at least make a cameo appearance.
Then again, "Before My Time" from the documentary "Chasing Ice" is pretty Sinatra-esque, too; if "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" is the big-band Sinatra of "Songs for Swingin' Lovers," "Before My Time" is the torch-song Sinatra of "In the Wee Small Hours."
In the film, the song is performed by actress Scarlett Johansson, who is no stranger to the Oscar stage, though her previous appearances have involved walking and talking, not singing.
Also represented in the nominated songs — which, with two musical-theater vets in charge of the show, seem likely to be performed — is "Suddenly," the new song from the old musical "Les Miserables."
When TheWrap asked him recently if he'd perform the song on the Oscar show if it was nominated, former Oscar host Jackman was emphatic. "I would love to," he said.
Indian singer Bombay Jayarhi performs the fourth nominated song, the gentle and atmospheric "Pi's Lullaby." (MacFarlane might want to stay away from that one.)
And then, potentially, there's Adele doing "Skyfall," only the fourth James Bond song ever to be nominated for an Oscar … and quite possibly the first one to win. The producers have already announced that the show will contain a tribute to the Bond series, and the nomination means that they've probably got a pretty killer way to wrap up that tribute.
Of course, Zadan and Meron don't have to rush to decide everything quite yet: The 85th Oscars don't take place until six-and-a-half weeks from now, which gives MacFarlane plenty of time to figure out new ways to mess with an old institution.