Oscar host Ellen Degeneres and the tweet seen ’round the world (clockwise from top and center): Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o’s brother Peter, Bradley Cooper, DeGeneres, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Jared Leto, Channing Tatum, and Julia Roberts.
How about that Ellen? I’m glad the producers had the good sense to ask her back. I loved her the first time, but that was back in 2006/07, far too long especially considering some of the weak-ass hosts we’ve been subjected to in the years since then. Ellen’s monologue was not side-splittingly hilarious, but she did a great job of connecting with her audience, especially those actually attending the ceremony, and putting them at ease, and she did so without being mean-spirited as is often the case. It’s just not Ellen’s style. Oh, okay, she might have crossed the line by cracking wise that Liza Minnelli–in person for the Wizard of Oz tribute–was being played by a female impersonator, but it’s still a good gag simply because, well, it’s so true in that Minnelli, like her mother before her, has a huge gay following with plenty of impersonators in the mix.
Still Ellen was on much more solid footing when she went out into the audience and yucked it up with the nominees, offering Bradley Cooper a lottery scratch-off ticket as a consolation prize, taking and tweeting pictures of her self with Cooper, Streep, et al, ordering pizza for the hungry crowd–and then turning that into yet another joke by passing around singer Pharrell Willams’s much buzzed about hat in hopes of collecting a sizable tip for the pizza delivery guy and making a special note of putting the squeeze on high rollers Harvey Weinstein, Sandra Bullock, and Brad Pitt. This is pure Ellen, and in spite of all the frivolity, she still managed to keep the show moving and brought it to a close in right at three and a half hours. Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen, and the rest of the producers of the Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave were finishing their acceptance speeches 11:00, our time, and that was that. Good job, Ellen! (Oh, and that Glinda the Good Witch costume was a hoot!)
For years, the Saturday before the Oscars has been marked as the day independent filmmakers gather to celebrate their own. Of course, there are always highly acclaimed, low budget indie offerings that somehow escape the Academy’s attention, so it’s nice when those “little” films get noticed after all. On the other hand, as more and more independent film companies get co-opted by mainstream Hollywood, it’s hard to determine what qualifies as “independent.” After all, many of this year’s Spirit award winners (formerly the Independent Spirit awards) are/were also major Oscar contenders: Best Picture -12 Years a Slave; Best Actor Matthew McConaughey; Best Actress – Cate Blanchett; Best Director: Steve McQueen; Best Supporting Actor- Jared Leto, and Best Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o. Sound familiar? Other winners include: Best First Feature – Ryan Coogler (Frutivale Station)
Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave – I’m glad director and co-producer Steve McQueen remarked that even today millions of people around the world are forced into slavery and are suffering as a result. I also like that McQueen, who made history as the first black filmmaker to helm a Best Picture winner, prevailed in one of the tightest races ever. So while he lost to Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuarón in one category, he did not walk away empty handed–far from it. Again, this was a close one.
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) – I have to say I started getting goose bumps when Leto and his mom held hands in anticipation of the announcement in his category. Then, I was overwhelmed when his name was called, and the audience erupted into applause. Oh, and that speech, everything from telling about his single mom raising him and his brother in Bossier City, LA, then segueing to human rights and still managing to thank the cast and crew of Dallas Buyers Club–not bad. Plus, he wisely avoided grandstanding about LGBT rights, as this has angered as many advocates as it has delighted, though he was absolutely correct to acknowledge the struggle of LGBT people in the elegant way he did when concluding his speech: “This is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world for you. Thank you so much and goodnight.” No, I haven’t just contradicted myself. In other words, rather than go overboard, he played it just right. Thank god he wasn’t played off by an over-eager music conductor.
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) – As incredible as Leto’s speech was, Nyongo’s speech was also especially powerful and moving. She began by acknowledging that every good or wonderful thing that has happened in her life has come at the cost of someone else’s suffering, such as the real-life Patsey, the much abused slave in Solomon Northrup’s autobiography (the basis for her award winning role); moreover, the actress appeared as genuinely humbled by all the hoopla as she claimed. And that’s a beautiful thing. Plus, her beauty is transfixing. Her magnificent face just captured the camera, and it (or the person operating it) could not pull in tight enough. Gosh what a moment. Plus, her dress, and the graceful way she moved in it, made her look positively like a princess.
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) – This is the second consecutive year in which Best Picture and Best Director have been split. Of course, last year’s split was easy to explain since Ben Affleck, the director and co-producer of top dog Argo, was MIA on the Best Director ballot, but Argo was clearly the populist pick (an incredible true story that also had the feel of a classic Hollywood suspense flick), and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was a technical marvel, a product of a visionary. The same with Cuarón. That he was able to get his vision on the screen in such a seamless manner is an incredible achievement. Plus, there’s something else at work: a Mexican born director with a film shot in England (mostly), financed by an American studio. Yep, Cuarón’s victory plays into all of that “Film is the international language” hype the Academy trots out time after time. Still, I grew up in an era in which Best Picture and Best Director were rarely split, but that is clearly no longer necessarily the case. Oscar voters are more inclined to share the wealth.
And while we’re at it, please note that Gravity claimed Oscars in 7 of its 10 categories. Besides Best Director, the rest of the bunch includes: Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Editing (Cuarón again with Mark Sanger), Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing (Glenn Freemantle), and Best Score (Steven Price). That’s a grand total of 7 Oscars, second it would appear to Cabaret in the category of films that have won the most Oscars–including Best Director–without actually claiming Best Picture as well. In Cabaret‘s case, the final take was 8. Coincidentally, Cabaret lost to The Godfather, which won a total of 3 Oscars, in the same way that Gravity lost to 12 Years a Slave, which also won three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley); meanwhile, not a great night for American Hustle. Despite all the early hoopla, and the SAG award for Best Ensemble, the movie ended up 0 for 10, not a record, but…OUCH!!! Btw: The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985) both went 0 for 11. Double Ouch!!! Furthermore, out of nine nominees for Best Picture, five of them went home without any awards: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, Philomena, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Triple ouch? That has to be a little embarrassing. Maybe it’s time for the Academy to “let it go” and return to the traditional slate of five Best Picture candidates.
Backing up a bit: I have to say I’m thrilled for Lubezki at long last. I’ve been a huge fan since 1995’s A Little Princess and A Walk in the Clouds, and I thought after he lost for 2011’s amazing The Tree of Life, he’d never win. Still, a friend of mine with some filmmaking experience–and insight into cinematography particularly–has made the observation that the last 3 or 4 Best Cinematography winners are as much about CGI as they are about actual cinematography, and that’s a legitimate concern too. Have we now turned a corner from which there is no return? Also, regarding those award winning visual effects, Michael and I had the discussion that while the effects in the Star Trek movie were certainly fabulous, they did not have that same power to transport viewers as did the effects in Gravity; the trick, the thrill, of Gravity is that it sweeps up audiences in its excitement without leaving too much time/room to contemplate the mechanics of what it’s doing while it’s doing it.
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – I did not hate Blanchett in Jasmine, and her victory is certainly no surprise, but I’m still not convinced that her performance was a singular achievement, worthy of the industry’s highest award–and almost every other award along the way. Still, she looked great, and her speech was full of witty asides. Plus, I like that she spoke to the success of films powered by women. Btw: when she mentioned that 79 year old Judi Dench was in India filming a sequel, she was likely referring to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—not Philomena 2. Blanchett now joins the ranks of Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep as actresses who won their first Oscars as supporting players and their second statuettes in the leading actress category; Blanchett’s first, to clarify, was for 2004’s The Aviator, in which she portrayed Katharine Hepburn. To further clarify, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes, and Maggie Smith have Oscars in both categories, but they first won honors as leading players.
That noted, I think Bullock’s performance in Gravity was the worthier achievement. How did she pack such emotion into a filmmaking process that did not seem especially, well, actor-friendly? By that, I mean, director Alfonso Cuarón had a clear vision of what he wanted, and it involved a lot of technical apparatus, and Bullock was often asked to act in a vacuum, more or less, but she still delivered–and delivered in a way that doesn’t even seem like acting until AFTER the movie ends. [Per the recently released DVD, Bullock shot significant chunks of her footage on “proxy” sets and/or in an LED powered “light box,” which the crew christened “Sandy’s Cage.”) On the other hand, I guess the upside is that her nomination for Gravity shows that all those honors for 2009’s The Blindside were far from a fluke. Plus, Bullock’s a savvy business woman, and she stands to earn quite a chunk of Gravity‘s astronomical box office take. A year from now, more and more people will bemoan her loss once the luster of Blanchett’s victory fades.
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) – I’m glad the Texas guy made good, the crowning touch on a comeback 2-3 years in the making. Oh, and the audience ate it up, so it’s all good. McConaughey’s speech wasn’t particularly eloquent–not to the same degree as Leto’s and Nyong’o’s, but it was heartfelt–and it was true to who he is. Plus, even though it took awhile to get to the point, I liked his story about chasing his best vision of himself, a story that goes back decades in his development, so, again, good for him. McConaughey put a lot of himself on the line for Dallas Buyers Club, and even if his goal was to win an Oscar (which should never be anyone’s goal…it’s tacky), the performance doesn’t necessarily play as pure Oscar bait, which can often backfire. No, I’m willing to give McConaughey the benefit of the doubt, and I do think this was the right role in the right vehicle for him to fully flex his acting prowess. Anybody who has been following his career for lo these 20 or so years has never doubted his talent. We were just waiting for him to sort through the all the drama and the noise of stardom and find greatness.
The Dallas Buyers Club also won Oscars for its makeup team, Adruitha Lee and Robin Matthews. All in all, not a bad haul for a movie about Dallas that was actually filmed in Louisiana. I know, right? Still, Dallas Buyers Club tells an important story, one that deserves–like 12 Years a Slave–to be remembered. I know some LGBT and/or Queer activists and their allies carp about one discrepancy or another, but they might be missing the point. I saw dozens of people, including gay men and transwomen, die of AIDS back in the 80s and 90s, and I know what I know. Those people were allowed to die, and the reasons why are worth documenting. I’ll now get off my soapbox.
Oh, and speaking of being remembered. We must also never forget people like Alice Sommer, the subject of the winner for Best Documentary Short-Subject, The Lady in Number 6. Holocaust survivor Sommer died barely a week ago at the remarkable age of 110, reportedly the oldest known Holocaust survivor. Now, let that sink in for a moment.
Best Animated Feature Film: Frozen – Wow! What an amazing weekend for the producers of Frozen. Not only has their film become the first offering from Disney proper to win in this category, hard to believe as that might be, but it has also now become only the 18th movie to earn a billion dollars worldwide. Nice. Yeah, yeah, I know I usually give Disney a hard time for being evil and greedy, but that doesn’t mean they only want to take over the world and produce dreck. Well, maybe they do want to take over the world, but Frozen, even as it “borrows” liberally from one source (“The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen) and Wicked (that is, the Wizard of Oz inspired book by Gregory Maguire; later the smash Broadway musical institution), is by no means dreck.
Best Song: “Let It Go” (from Frozen) – Give credit to couple Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for giving the evening’s most entertaining speech, in rhyme, no less. Oh, and props to Robert Lopez, specifically, for now being a member of the so-called EGOT club, that is, as a winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. His Emmys are for the The Wonder Pets while his Tony awards are for both Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon; his Grammy is for the latter’s cast album.
I have to say that I’m a huge fan of “Let It Go,” especially the Idina Menzel version that appears in the film (rather than the Demi Lovato version that plays during the credits). I think the song works as powerful character development for Menzel’s Elsa, but it’s also insanely catchy and works on its own terms as ear candy as well. And I’m fascinated that so many little girls have taken it to heart the way they have. I enjoyed Menzel’s live rendition even though it was a wee bit shaky at times. Still, she cranked it up for a rousing finish–I mean, the song just builds and builds and builds. By the end, it’s like a wipeout and a rebirth. Was that a standing ovation I saw? Meanwhile, a pox on John Travolta for butchering Menzel’s name as he introduced her. John, you only had one thing to do in your brief time onstage. What’s up with that? Thank goodness, Ellen knew how to go back on stage and set everyone right by correctly saying, “Idina Menzel.” While we’re at it, how about a shout out to some of the other musical highlights: Pink, all decked out in a glittery ruby dress, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” during the Wizard of Oz tribute (again, to me a shaky start, but a rousing, expectation defying finish), Pharrell Williams working his own brand of showbiz magic during the performance of “Happy” from Despicable Me 2; Bette Midler, sublime, singing her evergreen hit “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” and Karen O singing the thoughtful “Moon Song” from Her.
Best Documentary Feature: 20 Feet from Stardom – Wow! What a concept! Michael and I so enjoyed watching this documentary about the highs and lows of being a female backup singer (back in the 1960s and 70s mostly) in a male dominated field. Many of these women, such as Darlene Love and Merry Clayton, sing because music informs who they are, but they don’t always get the big breaks for one reason or another, or maybe they do get their breaks, but they lack the killer business instinct it takes to succeed as a “brand.” Normally, the winners in this category don’t often work as entertainment; they tend to be weightier and/or more hard hitting, but what is hard hitting or weighty anyway? After all, 20 Feet from Stardom makes a strong point about gender, class, and color. I’m sure for the women involved, as they revisit the stories of their lives, the movie is very hard hitting. Wow, what a thrill, and then to see and hear Darlene Love–without the assist of Autotune–onstage with the rest of the winning team makes all of it even better. A definite high point.
Some of the other highlights include:
Best Original Screenplay: Her by Spike Jonze
Best Costume Design: Catherine Martin (Great Gatsby) & Best Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverly Dunn (The Great Gatsby)
Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty (Italy)
So, the final tally looks like this:
- Gravity – 7 Oscars;
- 12 Years a Slave – 3 Oscars, including Best Picture
- Dallas Buyers Club – 3 Oscars
- Frozen – 2 Oscars
- The Great Gatsby – 2 Oscars;
- Blue Jasmine – 1
- Her – 1
- 20 Feet from Stardom – 1
- The Great Beauty – 1
That will have to do for now. I’ll get back to the fashions later in the week as I did last year.
Thanks for your consideration…