Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thoughts on the 86th Academy Awards

Now that I've had a few hours of sleep (the 2014 Oscar telecast ended somewhere around 7.10am South African time), I can try to offer some (hopefully) coherent impressions and reflections.

1. The acting-nominees clips (long my favorite thing about Oscar night) were, as usual, hit and miss. Of course, they showed Jennifer Lawrence's American Hustle bathroom showdown with Amy Adams for Lawrence's category (Best Supporting Actress), but I'm not sure why they didn't go with Adams' comeback for Best Actress instead of her dismissal of Christian Bale on the tarmac, which was good mostly for her punchline ("You're nothing until you're everything")....

Matthew McConaughey had far better scenes than his post-AIDS diagnosis hospital confrontation with Jennifer Garner, but it was nice to have some acknowledgement that she was in the film, too. (Shame on Jared Leto for not mentioning her in what was an otherwise flawless acceptance speech.)...

Bruce Dern's quiet Nebraska turn was more effective for the cumulative effect of all his scenes rather than for individual ones, so his clip never stood a chance against his showy fellow nominees....

Taken out of context of Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto's clip moved me more than the performance did overall. I still contend that he was playing Rayon more as an effeminate and very theatrical gay man than as a convincing transgender woman....

Sally Hawkins' Best Supporting Actress Blue Jasmine clip provided more ammunition for Cate Blanchett's eventual Best Actress win, and Meryl Streep's just highlighted everything I hated about her performance in August: Osage County as well as her previous two Oscar-nominated performances. Not even the Oscar queen can make hammy overacting work.

2. Can we just get Ellen Degeneres to host the damn thing every year? I love how she approaches the Oscars like she approaches her daytime talk show, with an effortless, self-deprecating congeniality that can be biting but never insulting. The whole pizza gag (when she first mentioned pizza, I knew she was going to follow through on the joke) and the selfie bit were better than any of the elaborate skits that other recent Oscar hosts have employed because we got to see a lot of the stars in unrehearsed settings, acting like normal people. In fact, cranky Harrison Ford aside, they actually came across as pretty nice people. No one even seemed to care that Lupita Nyong'o's brother was hogging the right side of the photo? But who was the guy between Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts?

3. Three dreams on my Oscar wish lift came true: No "In Memoriam" popularity-contest applause, a Cate Blanchett triumph, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o remembering to acknowledge 12 Years a Slave costar Sarah Paulson -- who was like the Jennifer Garner of that movie -- in her acceptance speech. (Fun fact: Paulson also appeared in another 2013 McConaughey film, Mud.) I don't believe I saw Paulson there, though. Did she go up on the stage for 12 Years' Best Picture win? Although I wasn't rooting for 12 Years, I'm secretly glad it won because now producer Brad Pitt can call himself "Oscar winner Brad Pitt," and a few years from now the Academy won't have to feel obligated to give him one of those he's-due awards. Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp deserve it more.

4. I loved that Christoph Waltz presented Nyong'o's Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Not just because he says her name so appealingly but also because Nyong'o was to 12 Years a Slave what Kerry Washington was to Django Unchained, the 2012 film for which Waltz won his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar last year. I don't think any woman at the Oscars looked better than Nyong'o and Washington, who was a presenter. Although Washington has Scandal and a baby on the way, I still feel bad that she's always an Oscar presenter (well, for the second time), never a nominee.

5. My favorite acceptance-speech line of the night: "The world is round, people." -- Cate Blanchett. She had more of an edge than I usually associate with her. I'd like to be in on that inside " hashtag suck it" joke between her and Julia Roberts, who seemed to get it and take it in stride.

6. As I told a friend on Facebook, I could spend all day looking at Spike Jonze and/or watching his movies. He's that adorable. I had my issues with Her, but Best Original Screenplay couldn't have gone to a more deserving guy. I normally hate it when directors try to act, but I even liked what he did in The Wolf of Wall Street. If only Jonze swung the way his character did.

7. I've never really understood the appeal of the random montages. Did we really need two tributes to heroes (animated and real-life ones)? Why not cut one, or both, or condense them into one, and then expand "In Memorian" to include recently departed TV icons Ralph Waite and Jean Stapeleton, both of whom also appeared in films (The Bodyguard and You've Got Mail, to name two, respectively). Oh, well. There's always the Emmys, and for Waite, who most recently appeared on Days of Our Lives as Father Matt, the Daytime Emmys, too.

8. I'm still not sure what to make of some of the presenters. Goldie Hawn seemed random, but she's a legend. Ditto, Kim Novak. Kate Hudson, who has not made a significant contribution to film in years, is not....

Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but he still doesn't feel Best Picture presenter-caliber. Smith and Poitier would have made more sense, but the Academy probably didn't want to be too obvious. By pairing Poitier with Angelina Jolie to present Best Director, a win for Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) over Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) seemed almost possible, if not quite probable. Since Bette Midler and Hawn were already there, why didn't they invite Diane Keaton and make the Best Picture announcement a First Wives Club reunion?...

I appreciated the inclusion of previous nominees like Gabourey Sidibe and Anna Kendrick, but Chris Evans, who has never appeared in anything resembling an Oscar-caliber film, is so MTV Movie Awards, and Jessica Biel's Best Original Score/Best Original Song co-presenting spot should have gone to her husband Justin Timberlake, who's both an actor and a singer, sort of like Biel's co-presenter, Jamie Foxx.

9. I'm still not a fan of all the facial hair on men. When did grooming go out of style in Hollywood. Memo to Ewan McGregor, Jason Sudeikis, Jared Leto, Bradley Cooper and Michael Fassbender: Shave! Please see Matthew McConaughey. He'll show you how it's done.

10. For the first time ever, Sidney Poitier, 87, looks frail. He's like the still-living Nelson Mandela of Hollywood, the epitome of legendary screen greatness. Angela Lansbury, 88, who appeared in the pre-taped lifetime-achievement presentation section, is still looking at least a decade and a half younger than she is. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt, who turned 50 in November, appears to have discovered Benjamin Button's -- or Jared Leto's -- secret to aging backwards. Ditto Jim Carrey. He and Brad kind of have me looking foward to 50, which since all of the major categories were, as usual, utterly predictable, was perhaps the biggest surprise of Oscar night 2014.
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