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They came, they dazzled, they stumbled, and … they dragged on. Yes, all was as it should be at Oscars 2014, which celebrated an unusually great year in cinema with the Hollywood glamour, pomposity, and misfires we just love to hate. Let’s take a look at this year's recipe.
One (1) self-obsessed host.
Or should we say selfie-obsessed? Trotting out in a Little Lord Fauntleroy getup, the normally toothless Ellen DeGeneres bared a few fangs in her opening monologue – mocking the advanced age of supporting actress nominee June Squibb, making a weirdly transphobic joke at Liza Minnelli’s expense, and pronouncing “Possibility No. 1: ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture. Possibility No. 2: You’re all racists.” Once she strapped on her trademark sneakers, though, she reverted to her old shtick, even ordering up pizzas and forcing the likes of Brad Pitt and Harvey Weinstein to pay the delivery guy. (A gag that was worth it to see Meryl Streep maw a slice.) And let’s not forget: Ellen broke Twitter! In a crazily meta moment even for Hollywood, she stopped the ceremony to take a selfie with every A-Lister at hand – including Lupita Nyong'o’s gorgeous brother – and outstripped President Obama’s previously held record for retweets.
One (1) pratfalling starlet.
If Jennifer Lawrence had won last night, she might have worn out her welcome, Anne Hathaway style. Instead, decked out in stunning scarlet Dior, the twenty-three-year-old contained her antics to the red carpet, where she tripped in such a perfect pratfall that she could have been channeling the ghost of the late Lucille Ball.
One (1) shimmying Streep.
Bono’s pompous fist pump aside, last night’s musical numbers were a terrific highlight, including Karen O and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig’s sweet rendition of “Moon Song” and Idina Menzel’s (or “Adele Dazeem” as John Travolta called her) performance of “Let It Go.” (Alas, most young Frozenites had already been tucked into bed by the time she sang.) But it was Pharrell Williams singing “Happy” in sparkly red hightops and a ginourmous fedora who got everyone to shake their booty – including Dame Streep herself. Guess she had to earn that slice of pizza.
Two (2) in memoriams.
The crowd was silent during the In Memoriam sequence, maybe because they were floored by how many heavy hitters passed last year, but Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings” didn’t help. “I was the one with all the glory, while you were the one with all the strength” are some awfully passive-aggressive lyrics! Best memoriam of the night came from Bill Murray, who, clad in nutty professor hair and an askew green bowtie, gave a touching shout-out to his longtime collaborator actor/director/writer Harold Ramis during the presentation for best cinematography.
One (1) handful of addled presenters.
Harrison Ford spoke so lifelessly that his outdated gold earring seemed more with-it than its wearer. Many young stars (we’re looking at you, Zac Efron) fumbled their lines so badly that either the teleprompter was in twelve-point type or their on-set tutors hadn’t earned their salaries. But most devastating was Kim Novak, who muddled her presentation for best animation badly enough that co-presenter Mathew McConaughey had to labor mightily to keep the presentation on track.
Three million (3,000,000) unnecessary montages.
Okay, maybe not three million, but didn’t it seem we were bombarded with an endless slew of montages of anything that could be remotely described as heroic? Of course, most of those heroes were men (quel retrogressive, Academy!) and, of course, those sequences supplanted the Humanitarian Award acceptance speech from Angelina Jolie as well as Honorary Oscar speech from Steve Martin. Being a wild and crazy guy and all, he would have been so much more fun.
Two (2) discernible feuds.
Feathers already ruffled from Ellen’s slight, Liza Minnelli looked askance when pop singer Pink reprised her mother’s signature song “Over the Rainbow,” though she dutifully joined in the standing ovation. And what was with the unspoken tension between “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley? Neither acknowledged the other in their acceptance speeches nor during their walks to the stage.
One (1) dash of sizzling acceptance speeches.
Decked out like a 1980s magician in a white suit, flowing locks and a red bowtie, Jared Leto proved gracious and moving as he thanked his mom and paid tribute to the millions who’ve died of AIDS. (It would have been cool if he had gone ahead and quoted magician Doug Henning: “Anything’s possible, kids.”). “20 Feet From Stardom’s” Darlene Love and the Lopez husband and wife team from “Frozen” showed they got it (or, in the Lopez’s case, EGOT it) by accepting their awards in big, beautiful song. Cate Blanchett subverted all the “Blue Jasmine” backlash by reminding everyone in her acceptance speech that films with women at their center are not “niche experiences” and that “in fact, they earn money.” Matthew McConaughey delivered the speech equivalent of nude bongo playing, complete with finger-pointing, winks, rambling personal philosophy, a conflation of science and religion, and his now-classic “All right, all right, all right.” (Notably missing was a nod to the AIDS community or to the late Ron Woodruff.)
But it was the “12 Years a Slave” winners that really brought the house down. Adapted Screenplay winner John Ridley upended De Niro’s weird dig on writers by thanking his partner for saving him from “that soul-crushing inadequacy.” Radiant as a Grecian heroine in flowing Prada and a tiny gold headband, Lupita Nyong'o spoke stirringly and without notes: “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid.” (Only Jonah Hill, seemingly miffed he didn’t win best supporting actor, was dry-eyed.) And Steve McQueen solemnly thanked all the “powerful” women in his life, as well as the people “who still endure slavery today” before turning to jump up and down with his cast and crew.
It was a moment that nailed the triumph of last night’s ceremony, which mostly soared because of that final ingredient 2014 provided:
One (1) happy marriage of art and industry.
From the awards granted to “12 Years” and “Gravity” to the best original screenplay nabbed by Spike Jonze for his groundbreaking “Her,” last night’s ceremony conferred few surprises but many satisfactions. The movie industry may indeed be flailing but last night – and last year! – proves there’s plenty of good work still afoot. Lucky for all, the Academy was smart enough to notice.