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Neil Patrick Harris’ Best and Most Questionable Moments at the 2015 Oscars

Neil Patrick Harris
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

As stressful as you may consider your job, unless you are Barack Obama or another proponent of the Free World, you’ll probably survive it just fine. But we’ll also give a pass to Neil Patrick Harris, who was gifted with the immense pressure — not to mention impending criticism — that comes along with hosting the most important night that exists in the film industry: the 2015 Oscars.

Opening the show with a direct call-out to the racial disparity so inherent in this year’s nominations and, let’s be real, Hollywood at large, was a ballsy move, and it worked. Neil’s joke, “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — sorry, brightest,” was cheeky, and self-aware — though it didn’t exactly lend a sudden nomination to David Oyelowo, who was famously snubbed despite his formidable performance in Selma. Still, it was something, and for an industry that prefers to sweep racial and gender inequalities so far beneath the rug and straight into Narnia, it’s a start. Hopefully, the very public acknowledgement will be prove to be more than a self-congratulatory pat on the back, but maybe a Twitter awareness campaign won’t be necessary when next year’s Oscars nominations are released.

From there, Neil segued smoothly into a mostly fantastic opening number that showcased the magic of good cinema, while simultaneously demonstrating the pull of a good musical number. The juxtaposition of old, classic movies with newer films that have still managed to make an impact was a moving homage to the past 87 years of the show’s history and of the movies that have come along with it. It was the most visually interesting part of the evening, a welcome departure from a show that is, of course, so heavily focused on monologues and speeches and jokes that often fall flat.

If you felt the show was handing out too many sound engineer awards in a row, causing your eyes to droop as the drool began to collect at the corners of your mouth, you were undoubtedly shocked back into full alert when a nearly-nude Neil meandered across your television screen. Spoofing the Best Picture win, Birdman, Neil played Michael Keaton’s part — running through the backstage area in his tighty-whities, eventually introducing, well, something. At that point we were too distracted to remember what was going on.

And that moment was reminiscent of the old adage (that has never worked, will never work and needs to be permanently erased from the vernacular entirely) intended to calm someone’s nerves, “Picture the audience in their underwear.” That vulnerability, scripted though it may have been, was one of Neil’s shining moments of the evening. Another highlight? The followup grin he delivered after so many of his own jokes.

There’s something endearing about someone who can’t help but laugh at his own jokes, especially when that person is a professional comedian. It is, truthfully, a polarizing thing because some people prefer to suck the fun out of everything and believe professionals can never make mistakes. Look at the amount of flack Jimmy Fallon got during his tenure with Saturday Night Live, totally unable to keep it together. To the show’s credit, it did result in one of the highlights of the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special, but we digress — when Neil’s puns were bad, he knew it. And he let us know that he knew. Have you ever heard a joke worse than the following: “This next presenter is so lovely you could eat her up with a spoon.” Guess who he was talking about. Reese Witherspoon. It was bad, but at least he knew it was bad.

But one of our favorite parts of the show was Neil’s call-out to the unsung heroes of awards shows the world over — the seat fillers. Rather than let seats go empty and risk any imperfection viewed by the plebeians watching at home, awards shows employ seat fillers — typically normal people who are shuffled around the theater for the evening whenever Brad Pitt needs a bathroom break or Jennifer Lawrence needs to photobomb someone. And so Neil shone the spotlight on Heidi and Laura — two seat fillers from wherever they’re from who will forever be immortalized by their three-second-long screen-time. And for that, we are eternally jealous.

It was a relatively safe set, with the odd political joke (“The subject of Citizenfour, Edward Snowden, couldn’t be here tonight for some treason.”), and the one joke we will truly never beat far enough into the ground as a society because, somehow, it’s still funny (“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’”). But it was a valiant effort on Neil’s part, and it’s not like we could’ve done any better.

See Photos from the 2015 Oscars Red Carpet!

Next: See The Best Moments From The 2015 Oscars

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