2014 Academy Awards: The Aftermath
This ceremony was nice. Not only was it an excellent year in film, The Academy for the most part "got it right" and managed to give out awards to those who rightfully deserved them. American Hustle came back down to earth when it was forced to play with everyone else (The Globes artificially inflated its momentum due to its classification as a "comedy"), and Gravity got to make sure no one had to give out a statue to a movie with a dragon or superhero in it, while Dallas Buyers Club confirmed that Jackass would not be presented with an Oscar, no matter how deserving it may have been. I'm lucky, because there's an alternate universe out there where Saving Mr. Banks wins five Oscars and I don't survive the night. But this isn't the darkest timeline.
It's an odd experience watching an Oscars in which everything you expected to happen happens. I was 22 for 24 on my predictions, and the two categories I missed (Animated Short and Live Action Short) were essentially crap shoots on my part. And yet, despite this, the ceremony still felt exciting. That might be due to some of those predictions being super close calls (namely Nyong'o over Lawrence for Supporting Actress, Her for screenplay and 12 Years a Slave winning the big one), which led to legitimately tense moments as the envelopes were opened. It also dulled the sting of the two most egregious losses of the night; if I weren't confident that the safe and snuggly documentary 20 Feet from Stardom would pretty easily outpace the difficult and daring The Act of Killing, or that worldwide phenomenon Frozen would handily defeat Hayao Miyazaki's swan song (maybe) The Wind Rises (which was a revelatory film experience for me after having seen it Saturday night; review coming soon this week), I could have seen myself getting pretty angry at those announcements. Still, it's not like I didn't like 20 Feet from Stardom or Frozen. Quite the contrary. They're wonderful. So good on them for winning. Am I upset that Steve McQueen didn't take down the prize for Directing? Sure. Can I be mad that the man who directed the best Harry Potter film (by a country mile) and Children of Men (one of the true greats of last decade) has an Oscar even if I was a tad underwhelmed by the film that got him there? Hell no! The same can be said in regards to Emmanuel Lubezki over Bruno Delbonnel or "Let it Go" over "The Moon Song" or McConaughey over Ejiofor. You can hiss and spit and gnash your teeth over Leo or Chiwetel or J-Law or whoever you want, but the person that beat him or her or them was deserving of the win. Makes for a wonderfully satisfying experience.
I also appreciate that Ellen Degeneres was much better than I thought she would be. Her first turn as host was a stale affair; she was in full daytime show mode and the vibe didn't cut it. I was concerned that she opened the show with a series of Jay Leno-level super stale jokes that had me spooked, but her transition into ragging on Jennifer Lawrence for her penchant for falling while wearing dresses felt fresh and unrehearsed (and I hadn't even realized at the time that Lawrence fell on the red carpet before the show that very evening), giving her a sort of spark that she managed to keep up for most of the night. I can see how people would be bored by her bits in the crowd; the self-aggrandizement of celebrities is always at its highest point during the Oscar ceremony, but there's something undeniable about getting them out of their seats and interacting and buying into the bits that makes them approach something resembling humanity. It's certainly better than reciting jokes on stage and cutting to random reaction shots in the crowd like we're used to. Ellen seems like the perfect sort of host to break things up after an off year; I'm not sure how well her shtick would work in back to back years, but it's a nice change after a more traditional song-and-dance host like Seth MacFarlane gave us last year. The flip side of the coin, though, appears to be that all of the writers' efforts went into Ellen's bits, leaving the copy for the presenters extra dry and platitude-y. We really needed more than Jim Carrey to break up the monotony. Tapping the leads from Anchorman 2 would have been a good start.
To wrap things up and finally put a bow on 2013 in film (until my The Wind Rises review, that is), I'll drop a quick list of my three personal highlights from the night:
1. Karen O. and Ezra Koenig perform "The Moon Song"
I have a deep and passionate love for Karen O, indie darling and incendiary lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Seeing her on the ceremony performing the marvelously precious "The Moon Song" from Her, with that whisper-sing that feels like the slightest breeze would shatter it into a million pieces, was the sort of Oscar-disconnect moment that happens when the rock world sneaks its way in among the pomp and circumstance (think Trent Reznor winning an Oscar for The Social Network). My only regret is how normal Karen's dress was; I'm aware that "The Moon Song" doesn't exactly lead itself to the ostentatious, but if anyone was going to pull a Bjork and show up in a goose-dress, it would have been Karen. Ah well.
2. It's Lupita Nyong'o's world. We're just living in it
I was going back and forth on whether I thought the Academy would choose star power over performance merit when it came to the award for Supporting Actress. It's inconceivable to me that anyone could not choose Nyong'o after seeing her spotlight scene ("I stink so much I make myself gag!") but Lawrence won the Globe (not surprising) and the BAFTA (very surprising), so it was not remotely a lock. But the correct woman got the statue and regaled us with a touching, emotional and affecting speech (she even thanked the editor, which doesn't happen enough).
3. Steve McQueen jumps for joy
When 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture, it was a little odd seeing Brad Pitt up there, front and center with the statue in hand. He was, of course, one of the main producers of the film and possibly its most ardent supporter, but he was also the worst thing about the movie itself, so it presents a bit of an odd disconnect seeing him right in the middle of it all. But of course, Brad said a few very quick words and ceded the floor to McQueen, clearly overcome with emotion and nervous as hell, doing all he could to keep it together while occasionally stumbling over the words on his paper. But he got through it. Right after finishing up, he turned back to his cast and crew and jumped up and down, an undeniable and barely contained explosion of emotion. We can grouse all we want about the silliness of awards ceremonies and the often sanctimonious nature of the Hollywood elite, but at their core these are still people, and every now and then they show it. This was something special.
There were other moments, both good and bad (thanks, John Travolta), and there are plenty of other places to read about them and watch a parade of animated GIFs of Pharrell dancing with Amy Adams or Brad Pitt handing out pizza and paper plates to other ludicrously famous people. Rest assured, it was indeed a night to remember, and probably the best Oscar telecast in some time.