Oscar Fallout 2014
Did the Academy Screw it Up Again?
By Lawrence Napoli
Oh Academy, it would truly be a wonderful thing if the only annoying thing about Oscar Night was an inordinate amount of screen time for America’s favorite metro sexual garden gnome, Ryan Seacrest. It will not be an evening without moments of frustration and lip-biting for those in attendance as well as those watching at home. Tonight’s show is supposed to have a “heroic” theme, so hopefully Ellen Degeneres is up to the task to the hosting duties of getting the show started on the right note and keeping things going when the show seems to drag for the less interesting categories. This past year has been pretty good for Hollywood, and it’s a great night to celebrate so let’s buckle up and get on with the show!
Ellen’s Opening: Yes, Ellen’s brand of comedy is what we call perfectly vanilla enough to keep things as pleasant as possible for middle America – which is interesting seeing how the middle class is disappearing – and it isn’t for everyone. I particularly enjoyed the part where she ribbed on Jennifer Lawrence at length for hitting the pavement as she accepted her award and once again ate it as she arrived at the red carpet tonight. Otherwise, it was a perfectly acceptable monologue, but nothing spectacular.
Best Supporting Actor – Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club): Is anyone shocked by this pick right here? Few categories had as much buzz concerning the certainty of Leto’s win in this category, and sure enough, the man won for a powerful performance. I liked his acceptance speech that somehow combined a lovely anecdote about his mother with global awareness about Ukraine along with AIDS awareness along with the prerequisite thanks to the ABCs of producers, etc. I still would have liked to see Bradley Cooper go home with the Oscar for this one.
Jim Carrey Presents “Animated Heroes”– An interesting little segment that seemed like a brief review at how awesome Pixar and Dreamworks are. This was a little disappointing in its brevity and blandness, and I could have done without it, but would have preferred a greater selection and a more impressive juxtaposition.
Farrell Williams Performs “Happy” from Despicable Me 2– Child friendly hip hop and R&B? Oh yes, it exists and his performance was very cool - less because of the standard fare choreography on stage and more because he gets down into the front row of the audience and gets a little interactive dance with Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams as he continued to sing and walk on by.
Best Costume Design – The Great Gatsby: Let’s face facts, the costume design was one of the few redeeming features of Gatsby, and if this film didn’t win an opportunity to go wild with the Roaring 20’s (and a super fat budget), then that costume designer probably doesn’t belong in the business.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Dallas Buyers Club: Another very gracious acceptance speech and another nod to AIDs awareness.
Harrison Ford is still a really old man – And he presents American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf of Wall Street. In what appears to be an effort to streamline the show and cut as much as possible, groups of films will be recognized rather than individually. Harrison Ford was painful to watch and he needs to develop some interest or just stay in his seat.
Channing Tatum presents the voices of future filmmakers – He states their names and that’s it. Thanks Duke. When we need someone to die onstage again; we’ll know who to call.
Kim Novak and Matthew McConaughey present Best Animated Short Film – Mr. Hublot: Once again, I’d like to voice my frustration in this category because it’s one where the American audience has no real opportunity to check any of these shorts out. I couldn’t tell which was more awkward, the acceptance speech for this category or Kim Novak struggling with her teleprompter lines.
Best Animated Feature Film – Frozen: I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that a Disney picture won for best animated feature. Moving on.
Sally Field presents “Ordinary Heroes” –This was an excellent combination of clips featuring the roles that regular people play in some of the best dramas in Hollywood history and actually worthy of having a presence on this show. I can’t wait to see super-heroes.
Best Visual Effects – Gravity: Yes. If you haven’t seen this film, get yourself to an IMAX which may still be playing it in limited runs because it really is more than just the one trick pony we all thought it to be in its trailers. This film’s visual effects were much more impressive and relevant than its more fantastic competitors in this category.
Best Live Action Short Film – Helium: Again, it would have been nice to see any of these without having to book a trip to Europe in order to do so.
Best Documentary Short Film – The Lady in Number 6: The Academy Awards really need to make the “Short” segment block a presentation that specifically outlines venues for the western community to experience these obscure films because they are all slowly melding into the “foreign award” segment of the show.
Best Documentary Feature Film – Twenty Feet from Stardom: Would it be wrong of me to say that I only picked this film to win because it was the only documentary I saw being sold at various retailers weeks ago? Nope, because getting that kind of distribution for a documentary feature is reward enough. This will go down as the most interesting acceptance speech this category will ever see. That is what happens when you give a career backup singer a mic, a spotlight and a moment of singularity.
Kevin Spacey presents the Honorary Oscars – Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, Pierro Tosey and the Humanitarian Award to Angelina Jolie: The only thing that would have made this moment more awesome was if Spacey did the entire presentation as America’s favorite evil politician: Frank Underwood. More House of Cards please.
Best Foreign Language Film – The Great Beauty: Italy has taken home 11 of these awards? Who knew? I’ll tell you what I do know: a very token, by the books and uninteresting acceptance speech and that’s what we had here. Pass.
Tyler Perry presents Nebraska, Her and Gravity: Tyler Perry knows how to speak and read a teleprompter with regal dignity. Harrison Ford should’ve taken notes.
Brad Pitt presents U2 performing “Ordinary Love” for Mandela: I saw Bono in the audience earlier in the show, and I’m like, “Well I guess Bono goes wherever Bono wants to go.” I totally dug U2’s unplugged performance of this song as it was deserving of the standing ovation it got. I wonder who’s going to win best song?
Ellen’s commercial break tie-ins are getting pretty bland, and then she had an awesome comedic moment trying to organize a group “selfie” with a bunch of stars … and Channing Tatum.
The Human Torch and Veronica Mars present the Scientific and Technical Awards: Michael B. Jordan and Kristen Bell tell us that the technology behind contemporary filmmaking continues to be a scientific endeavor requiring constant experimentation to turn silver and plastic into dreams according to Chris Nolan.
Best Sound Mixing – Gravity: Uh, no duh! It’s amazing how much sound makes films set in space such an essential part of the experience. But the effects, ambient noise and background score give the visual story a soul-stirring feel.
Best Sound Editing – Gravity: Again, there was never any doubt as Gravity continues to soak up the victories. Could this mean the grand prize is a possibility for this humble space drama?
Best Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave): Another very touching acceptance speech and a shout out to the Yale Drama School. There’s no way 12 Years a Slave was going home empty handed tonight – not for a dialogue driven, heavy handed drama that’s about slavery in American history.
Ellen hands out the take-out pizza she promised earlier in the show as Brad Pitt hands out paper plates, and the stars actually partake in the pizza. She’s obviously going for awkward spontaneity for her commercial break tie-ins. I like the comfort level she displays as she bobs and weaves around all the stars, but she’s getting back on the stage after commercial break far too late to be funny anymore.
Bill Murray makes a great gesture recognizing Harold Ramis as a cinematographer, but he does so in earnest. It was a heart-felt moment indeed; let’s hope he really meant it because he is an excellent actor and that falling out from Groundhog Day was real.
Best Cinematography – Gravity: Award #4. A film like this is 100% green screen, and if it is not framed correctly, you have nothing. Gravity has it all from super close-ups to extreme wide-shots and every frame is filled with intrigue.
Best Film Editing – Gravity: Award #5 and Alfonso Cuarón gets shut out of making any kind of speech for editing the film he directed. Ugh! What an embarrassment for the Academy Orchestra, and its conductor. It’s amazing we haven’t had more soul crushing moments like this so far.
Pink performs “Over the Rainbow” – Wow. I really enjoy her voice when she’s singing in a ballad format. I would like to hear her do more of this in future albums instead of being interested in starting fights; vocally, that is. Mark another standing “O” for an epic musical performance. Good for you girlfriend!
Ellen is late again with a costume change to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Meh.
Best Production Design – The Great Gatsby: The essence of Gatsby as a story is emphasizing the importance of style over substance and it took an awful lot of talent to make that fake world from the past as real on the big screen to audiences of today.
Captain America (Chris Evans) presents “popular” heroes [when he should have just called them “super” heroes]. Avengers, Spider-Man, Neo, The Bride, Terminator, Superman, Spartacus, Captain Jack, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Bruce Lee, Helen Ripley, Luke Skywalker, X-Men, Ethan Hunt, Harry Potter, Batman and more were all showcased (watch it here). ‘Nuff said!
IN MEMORIAM SEQUENCE: James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Anette Funicello, Peter O’Toole, Sid Caesar, Roger Ebert, Shirley Temple Black, Harold Ramis and Philip Seymour Hoffman highlight a number of Hollywood’s fallen stars. Bette Midler cherishes their memories with her signature “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Did you ever know that you’re my hero? Standing “O” – yes indeed.
Ellen crashes Twitter (momentarily) with the most re-tweets ever regarding that group “selfie” she took earlier in the show. Lovely. On with the show.
Goldie Hawn presents Philomena, Captain Phillips, and 12 Years a Slave.
John Travolta presents Idina Menzel performing “Let it Go” from Frozen. Yet another wonderful live performance, another standing “O,” and I’m sure the audience is getting tired at all the standing and sitting at this point.
Best Original Score – Gravity: Oscar #6. Stephen Price gets his first Oscar for coordinating an immensely powerful musical score for a film that grabs your heart, shakes your bowels and electrifies your soul; if you let it in. Did I mention how incredible the audible portion of Gravity is?
Best Song – Let it Go (Frozen): I’m a little shocked here to see Bono shut out, but it truly is a great song and I’m sure it does wonders for the film Frozen as the story plays out. I really enjoyed their well rehearsed acceptance speech. It was perfectly timed, comical, musical and quaint.
Best Adapted Screenplay – 12 Years a Slave: John Ridley makes a very moving, incredibly composed and poignant acceptance speech.
Best Original Screenplay – Her: Spike Jonze finally wins an Oscar! It’s an incredible story with an equally incredible hook about relationships and intimacy with a computer. Do you think social commentary about the degenerating ability of humans to connect with each other is important? You bet!
Best Director – Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity): This is absolutely the number one SHOCKER of the evening, and I’m not going to lie, as soon as I saw Sydney Poitier accompany Angelina Jolie I had already written down Steve McQueen’s name for 12 Years a Slave. It truly is looking like Gravity is the unstoppable juggernaut this evening with victory #7 in the books.
Best Actress – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine): I bought this blu-ray without having previously seen it in the theatres for 2 reasons: Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett. The movie is fully centered on her character whereas I feel the other films’ leading women had much stronger supporting casts to carry the performing load.
Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club): Allright, allright, allright. The men of Dallas Buyers Club have dominated tonight. Curiously he somehow identified a perpetual ten year older version of himself as “his hero,” without coming off as too self involved. He admits he’ll “never be a hero,” but it gives him something worth chasing as one of his “3 needs in life.” Whatever. The man won, and I’ll give him a bow. If someone wanted to sing “I’m a little tea pot,” for their acceptance speech then who am I to argue? I’ll react to that as I did here: raise an eyebrow and move on.
Best Picture – 12 Years a Slave: Who would have thought Brad Pitt would have won his first Oscar as a producer? Congrats to Steve McQueen and the entire cast and crew of 12 Years. There was some genuine excitement there, and despite Gravity almost having run away with the entire evening, this film came out the victor of the grand prize.
Conclusion: Yes, the Academy Awards is a lengthy television program, but it seemed to move along quite well, and that’s thanks to the format of the show featuring quicker pacing and Ellen for moving things along – although I felt she lost steam coming towards the end with the growing irrelevancy of her gags. It was a fairly balanced evening for award distribution and while Gravity won the most, 12 Years a Slave took home the top honor. Notable snubs were American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street which combined for an absolute goose egg for Oscar Gold. Despite that, I still don’t think the Academy screwed the pooch this evening, and I was a HUGE fan of American Hustle.
My final thoughts for this evening are hope and concern for the rest of the world. I hope for those who are privileged to watch this show and these films to never give in to the despair of life’s grind. There are so many things that can make life a living hell that fleeting moments of faith, hope and love are the only things that keep us from the brink. Jim Valvano was right: “Don’t give up … don’t ever give up.” I’m also concerned with Russia marching on the Ukraine and completely pissing away whatever international good will it gained from the Olympics. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who are always the first casualties of armed aggression. If we ever needed a hero, now would certainly qualify as a necessary time. President Obama, you are on the clock.