Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was a big step up from last year’s. Of course, everyone knew Ellen Degeneres would do a better job than Seth MacFarlane, but she really knocked it out of the park last night. While I wouldn’t want her to host every year (because it would get stale), I would fully support bring her back every other year to host, until she doesn’t want to do it anymore. As for the winners, the very deserving 12 Years A Slave won best picture, as the major categories went to the frontrunners. As for my predictions, I only went 16/24 (the same as last year), as most of my predicted upsets never panned out. I feel sorry for the person who was linked to my blog yesterday searching for “86th academy awards expert picks,” because they probably lost their Oscar pool if they used me as a guide.
Ellen started things off in her usual style, making some killer jokes while also keeping things light and fun. Her joke about Barkhad Abdi being a Sommelier was great, as was her line to Jonah Hill that he had shown her something in The Wolf of Wall Street that she hadn’t seen in a long time (his penis). She could be somewhat biting about the industry but without ever being individually cruel, joking that the nominees had been in a combined 1,400 films but had only gone to a total of 6 years of college. Her extended bit about how she wasn’t going to dwell on Jennifer Lawrence tripping when she won Best Actress last year was made all the funnier by the fact that she really did trip on the red carpet just a little while before last night’s show. As for her final line of her opening, it was perfect: “We should get started. It’s going to be an exciting night. Anything can happen, so many different possibilities. Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”
She kept things moving throughout the ceremony, often popping up among the audience to take pictures or simply surprise people. Her epic selfie with Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep and many others has broken the record for most retweets (including one retweet by me), and even brought Twitter to its knees briefly. Her pizza ordering bit initially seemed a little silly and unoriginal, but once the pizza arrived it really showed how clever Ellen is, particularly when it comes to interacting with celebrities. Watching Brad Pitt follow her around with paper plates and napkins was worth it alone, but seeing big stars actually eager for some pizza was genuinely funny. I loved Ellen’s insistence that Kerry Washington, who is pregnant, get a slice, as well as her call for Harvey Weinstein to cough up some money for the pizzas. The hilarity continued later when she went around with Pharell’s hat collecting donations, including $200 from Harvey and $60 or so from Pitt, which she pocketed, plus Lupita Nyong’o’s lip balm. Ellen’s biggest talent is her ability to relate to people, and that talent is one of the biggest reasons that last night was such a success.
The rest of the show had its ups and downs. As always, I’m thrilled when they make time for performances of all of the Best Song nominees. Pharrell’s “Happy,” from Despicable Me 2, was a lot of fun, especially when he went out and danced with the audience. As for eventual winner, “Let It Go,” things didn’t go as smoothly. Firstly, John Travolta, who was introducing Idina Menzel, crashed and burned when it came to her name, calling her something that sounded like “Adela Dazeem.” Her performance wasn’t as good as it could have been either. They cut a verse from the song (something that I doubt happened to U2), and she seemed extremely nervous. I doubt there was a lot of rehearsal time for the show, and “Let It Go” is a very difficult song to sing. Clearly she has the pipes for it, and is a fantastic live performer, I just think a variety of factors contributed to things not going as well as everyone had hoped. (I can attest to her abilities, having seen her on Broadway in Aida.)
The rest of the presenters did better, though some were still it or miss. I love Kim Novak and Sidney Poitier, and they’re both super classy, but it was a little painful watching them struggle with the teleprompter. Though Charlize Theron’s teleprompter fail was more amusing. Jamie Foxx’s random singing of the Chariots of Fire theme song was funny; I guess he watched a lot of the Olympics. Having the Best Picture nominees presented in groups of 3 was a great move, as it streamlined things immensely, even if some of the groupings had an odd mix of tone. (And Tyler Perry’s presentation was so monotone that it was hard to distinguish when he went from talking about one film to a different film.) The best moment of all, however, was Bill Murray’s surprise tribute to Harold Ramis, during the presentation of the Cinematography award.
The In Memoriam segment was moving as always, as was Bette Midler’s performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” although I wish she had sung during the segment instead of afterwards. As it was, it felt like her performance was more about her than about those being remembered. I can’t fault her singing, though, which is always great. The tribute to “heroes” was a little more hit or miss, with some successful montages and some poor ones. The “real life heroes” segment was great, highlighting a diverse range of films and characters, from Atticus Finch to Erin Brockovich to Solomon Northup. The animated heroes section was good, but even better was Ellen’s response that it didn’t contain enough Finding Nemo. The action/superhero segment was pretty horrible, however. Sure, it had the Avengers and Harry Potter, but it was far too white and male for my tastes. They even made time for robots, but there were very few women or non-white heroes in the mix on that one, which I don’t really understand. The tribute to The Wizard of Oz was nice, and Pink sounded fantastic, although it was a little random. Still, if any movie is deserving of a 75th anniversary celebration, it’s The Wizard of Oz. (Ellen’s Glinda costume was another highlight.)
As for the winners, the real reason for the show, there was very little that was controversial. Gravity came away with the most awards at 7, followed by Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave with 3. I think the Academy felt that Gravity was a fantastic creation, and a real feat of technical skill and tight storytelling, but that 12 Years a Slave was the more important and meaningful film. I was thrilled with the two wins for Frozen and was pleased that The Great Gatsby was recognized for its fantastic Production Design and Costumes. The internet is up in arms, as usual, over the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio lost again, but I’m not bothered by that. I think DiCaprio is a great actor, but I’ve never felt he deserved to win in any of the races in which he was nominated. And, obviously, many great actors never won a competitive Oscar, including Peter O’Toole.
The best acceptance speech award has to go to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who won Best Original Song for “Let It Go” from Frozen. Rhyming the names of people they wanted to thank was brilliant and funny, as was their singing of “Happy Birthday” with the line “Let’s make Frozen 2,” and they rounded the whole thing off with a moving tribute to their children. Moving tributes were the popular thing tonight, from Jared Leto’s to his mother and brother to Matthew McConaughey’s to his parents. McConaughey also worked the show’s “hero” theme into his speech, talking about how his hero has always been an imagined version of himself in ten years. (He also managed to work his signature “Alright, alright alright” into his speech in a way that was surprisingly endearing.) Lupita Nyong’o gave the most emotional speech, and seemed particularly overwhelmed. She thanked the Yale School of Drama (guess she was part of those collective 6 years of college), before saying of her Oscar, “may it remind me, and every little child, that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Cate Blanchett’s speech was one of the most interesting. She thanked Woody Allen while managing to mostly pass over him to avoid the controversy of the recent allegations against him. She told fellow nominee Julia Roberts to “hastag: suck it!” And then she gave some important words about female-centric films, saying “Audiences want to see them. And, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people!”
In all, it was a fun, funny, and entertaining night. Some Oscars leave you feeling defeated, either depressed by the state of the industry and the films it chooses to award or sickened by the narcissism of Hollywood. Last night left me energized, however. Ellen’s brilliant hosting job humanized the big stars, reminding us that in the end they’re just people trying to make art. The awards themselves were presented to movies that were either truly spectacular feats or deeply human stories about important issues, or both. In all, I was left invigorated, eager to see what 2014 has in store at the theater, and with a list of movies from 2013 that I missed but definitely need to see.
What did you think? Were you happy with the winners? How did they line up with your predictions? Did you enjoy the ceremony? How did Ellen do as host? Do you want her to come back and do it again? Who gave the best speech? Who gave the worst speech? What movie from 2013 will be the most well remembered, and what film do you want to be the most well remembered? Let me know in the comments!