First off, the category on everyone's mind, Best Picture. I can't even entertain the notion of being disappointed that Gravity failed to win the big prize after winning seven categories including Best Director (although I will grant producer David Heyman the right to be disappointed. Ouch, man. Just... ouch.). How can I be disappointed when the film that barely edged it out is such a vital and artistically engaging work? 12 Years a Slave is probably the best Best Picture winner since No Country for Old Men (the last time my favourite of the year took top honours), and as equally great as it would have been to see the Academy crown Gravity, in some ways, a win for 12 Years a Slave just feels more appropriate. This was the only way that both Cuaron and McQueen could both go home with Oscars, and both mean clearly deserved to. And hey! Now Brad Pitt has an Oscar to put on the mantle beside Anjie's. Star symmetry! Seriously though, in a year as insanely close as this one was, and between two films of such stratospheric quality, the Academy couldn't have divvied it up better.
Of course, not everybody may agree with that assessment. American Hustle joins the ranks of The Turning Point, The Color Purple, Gangs of New York, and more recently True Grit as the most nominated films to go home empty-handed (I can just hear Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn shouting, "Empty, just like your deals! Empty! Empty!"). My belief that the Academy would probably choose to award it in Original Screenplay thankfully turned out to be wrong, as they made the right decision by handing it to Spike Jonze instead for his profound poetry in Her. Also blanked were Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena, and Captain Phillips, whose one shot at a token victory in Film Editing was usurped by the craft juggernaut that was Gravity.
I imagine it was tight in many of these categories, which, exciting though it was, did have the somewhat deflating consequence that there were absolutely zero surprises this year. The closest thing to an upset was Mr. Hublot snatching the Best Animated Short Oscar from Get a Horse's mouth, and that's hardly an unqualified shocker. After only two years of opening the shorts up to the whole Academy, it's hard to glean any patterns, but one theory I have is that emotional appeal, rather than broad exposure, seems to be winning the day in these categories the last couple of seasons. It would conveniently explains how Paperman could win last year, perhaps not because of its campaign but because of its content. That would sure be an encouraging sign if it suggests that voters are actually watching their screeners, but let's give it a couple more years before drawing any conclusions.
I will go so far as to conclude this: High profiles may not be a hugely beneficial for the shorts, which can be easily screened within a couple of hours, but for the Documentary and Foreign Films, it has now become a major (practically necessary) advantage. I was able to call the 20 Feet from Stardom victory but foolishly did not apply the same logic to The Great Beauty, the only winner of the night with whom I take deep issue. This was clearly a triumph of marketing, publicity, perception, and buzz. I am almost 100% convinced that had all 6,028 members of the Academy sat down and actually watched this film, there's no way it would have won over something as refined as The Hunt, or as emotionally raw as Broken Circle Breakdown.
But one rotten win out of 24 is not likely to dominate my memory for long. On the whole, what strikes me most about this class of winners is just how damn good they all are. I agreed with the Academy's choices more than I have in years. Virtually every Oscar ended up going to one of my top two preferences in that category. The four acting champs: Superb. The directing and writing winners: Exemplary. The craft category victors: Sensational. And best of all, I can actually count on two hands the number of overdue artists who finally earned Academy Awards: Emmanuel Lubezki, Alfonso Cuaron, Spike Jonze, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Skip Lievsay, Tim Webber... These, along with most of the other richly deserving award recipients last night, may stand as my favourite list of Oscar winners for a long time to come.
Chivo has an Oscar. Justice = done.
I don't wanna waste too much space lavishing more superlatives on these talented storytellers (now that they, y'know, they've all just won a bunch of Oscars), so I'll wrap this portmortem up. Stay tuned later this week for a more detailed critique of the show.