As far as my predictions went – I went 18 for 21 (remember, I don’t pick the shorts) – only missing Production Design, Documentary and Foreign Language Film. I missed those because either I overthought (on Production, I didn’t think 12 Years a Slave could win Best Picture without a tech award, and this seemed most likely – I was wrong), wishful thinking (The Act of Killing was far and away my favorite doc nominated, and it won more than anything, but I should have known it was too dark for the Academy, who went with the excellent, feel good doc 20 Feet From Stardom) and an impossibly close race (I thought The Broken Circle Breakdown would win Foreign – but wasn’t shocked that The Great Beauty took it – just like I wouldn’t have been shocked if The Hunt had won – it was a three-way coin toss – I tossed wrong). I think 18-for-21 is very good – but I’m not bragging. For the most part, this was an evening full of the expected winners, winning. I cannot say that any award surprised me in the least. We all knew Gravity would dominate the “below the line” winners – which it did winning Cinematography, Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Score and Visual Effects – losing only Production Design of its “tech” nominations – to go along with Cuaron’s all but locked Director win. We all knew that unless an upset was coming that McConaughey, Blanchatt, Leto and Nyong’o were winning the acting prizes, that 12 Years a Slave would win Adapted Screenplay with ease, that Frozen was locked for Animation and Song Dallas Buyers Club was the only film nominated for Makeup that the Academy wouldn’t be embarrassed to vote for, and The Great Gatsby was mostly locked for Costumes. The only two that were really that were really up for grabs were Original Screenplay – where all the wins for Her should have made it an obvious choice over American Hustle – and Best Picture itself. I stuck with 12 Years a Slave, but right up until Will Smith read the title out, I wasn’t sure I was right on that one.
I am mostly fine with the winners. The year really does recall 1972 – were Cabaret dominated the tech categories, and won Bob Fosse the Best Director Oscar (in total, it won 7), but The Godfather won just three Oscars – Screenplay, Actor and the big one Best Picture. Like that year, I think the Academy picked the big prize correctly – and think that the Best Picture winner deserved a few of those below the line Oscars as well – although I find it impossible to complain about Gravity winning everything it did. As many have pointed out, 12 Years a Slave winning Best Picture doesn’t really change anything – it doesn’t solve racism, or even the Academy’s issue with race. It was possible to not like 12 Years a Slave – or think that any other Best Picture nominee was better – without being a racist. No, winning this award doesn’t mean all that much – and the Oscars shouldn’t be a platform just for politics. But it does mean something. This is the first film directed by a black filmmaker to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It is the first film to center on a sole black protagonist to win the Best Picture Oscar. The Academy has only awarded three films about race in America with the Oscar before this – In the Heat of the Night, Driving Miss Daisy and Crash. Those three films are comforting looks at race – 12 Years a Slave is not. 12 Years a Slave has got to be one of the darkest films ever to win the Best Picture Oscar. As I have said before, Steve McQueen is more Stanley Kubrick than Steven Spielberg – and the Academy prefers Spielberg. I think 12 Years a Slave is a great Best Picture winner. Good for the Academy for awarding it for reasons that go well beyond the politics of the film - but also because of the artistry of it.
For Cuaron’s Director Prize, although I would have preferred McQueen to take that prize as well, I cannot complain about Cuaron. His work on Gravity is truly dazzling and a technical breakthrough. He is also a great filmmaker, who probably deserves an Oscar – even if I would have preferred him winning for Children of Men – but it’s still a fine choice. I would have preferred different male acting winners – The Wolf of Wall Street duo instead of the Dallas Buyers Club duo for instance – for Fassbender or even Abdi for Supporting Actor. I think both McConaughey and Leto were fine – and the movie they’re in is quite good – I just think others were better. The female acting winners – Blanchatt and Nyong’o – were perfect though – and gave two of the best speeches. I’m happy for Ridley’s win for 12 Years a Slave – and even happier to Jonze winning screenplay for Her. It’s impossible to complain about Gravity winning all the tech prizes it did – although I wish it didn’t feel like the Academy simply checked off the box next to Gravity without thinking. Oh well. I do wish that the Academy would show slightly more daring in its pick for Animated Feature (as much as I like Frozen), documentary (as much as I like 20 Feet From Stardom) and Foreign (as much as I like Paolo Sorrentino, even if I didn’t really like The Great Beauty). But the Academy are who they are and that’s not likely to change.
As for the show – I’ve seen it twice now (my wife was stuck in the hospital without TV on Oscar night, so we watched it again and when she came home). I think Ellen did a fine job as Oscar host. She is the definition of a “safe” choice – but I think that suits the Academy better than trying to attract an “edgier” host like Rock, Stewart or Macfarlane and then pretty much neutering them or stunt hosting like Hathaway and Franco, and then not letting them be themselves. Ellen is pretty much what you expect an Oscar host to be – she is easy going, funny but inoffensive – she gets along easily with the celebrities. All these things make her a perfect daytime talk show host – and make her a fairly good choice for the Oscars. I’ve felt for the past few years that the Oscars should try for some continuity – let someone be the host for a few years in a row. The great Oscar hosts – Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal – got that way because they were brought back year after year. By constantly switching the Oscar hosts, you have to resell them every year – and they have to prove themselves year after year. I would love to see Ellen back for a few years in a row. No, she’s not the least bit daring – the only jokes that were the least bit “edgy” were calling Liza Minnelli a man, a veiled reference to Jonah Hill’s penis and calling the Academy racist if they didn’t give 12 Years a Slave an Oscar. But Ellen fits in with what the Oscars are – and I’d like to see her given a chance to run with it for a few years. I doubt she will. They seem to like mixing it up every year.
What about the rest of the show? The heroes theme was lame – as were the montages that really added nothing to the show. Dump it for next year. The Wizard of Oz tribute was also unnecessary, and while Pink can sing she was still an odd choice to do this was she not? It wasn’t needed. The In Memorium reel seems only to create controversy every year about who gets in and where – really not sure they still need it to be honest. Stop inviting Harrison Ford to do anything – I don’t think he’s cared about anything in the past decade, and it shows every time he’s onscreen. I’ve never seen someone I felt was about to fall asleep while describing something as exhilarating before. The rest of the presenters ranged from awkward – I’ll never figured out how they decide who goes with who and what award they’ll present – to kind of funny. It’s not easy to be witty when discussing Sound Editing or Costume Design – the best moments are the unscripted ones – like Bill Murray’s quick tribute to Harold Ramis. I cannot think of too many other memorable moments. The speeches were good – especially the acting ones, where Nyong’o and Blanchatt were the highlights, although Leto’s speech was heartfelt. McConaughey’s was crazed in a way that only he could make the least bit charming,
The four nominated song performances were all good –particularly Pharrell doing happy, which injected some much needed energy in the show, and Idina Menzel doing it Let it Go brilliantly. Karen O’s wonderful The Moon Song isn’t really suited to this type of show, but it was lovely. U2 always puts on a fine show – I just wish the song was better,
So that’s basically it. Next week, I’ll post my all-time ranking of Best Actor winners – I have to figure out where McConaughey fits in (hint – it’s lower than recent winners like Day-Lewis, Dujardin, Firth – probably around the Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart level). Other things coming up on this blog? Reviews of all the Coen Brother movies – maybe a look back at some of Wes Anderson’s films and other stuff. This is uncharted territory for the blog, so we’ll just have to see how things go.