After last year's show hosted by Seth McFarlane came under such harsh critical fire, the pressure was on returning producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to atone. They made all the safest possible choices, and it started with the selection of Ellen Degeneres to return as host after her first kick at the can seven years ago.
Ellen assures viewers around the world, "We're fine. Thank you for your prayers" in regards to the rain.
Her monologue, while certainly not as audacious as McFarlane's, was every so slightly more edgy than her status quo. And I do mean 'slightly'. Even her jabs at roast-able celebs in the room were mostly innocuous, whether it be about June Squibb's age or Jennifer Lawrence's red carpet clumsiness. “If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.” (Haha!) Probably the most noteworthy of her one-liners is the one she closed with, in which she outlined two possible outcomes of the night: “Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You're all racists.” Sort of a daring way to conclude the opening monologue, but also brilliant.
The first winner of the night, Jared Leto, gave a touching speech including a shout out to his mom, brother, and dreamers around the world.
Newmarket, Ontario's Jim Carrey was on hand to introduce the first of several arbitrary "heroes" montages, but not before whipping out an amusing Bruce Dern impression. Sounded like inside jokes, but he's hilarious anyway. It's occurred to me a few times before that he would make great host. It wouldn't even have to be in English. Just watching his lips move puts me in stitches.
The first big highlight of the night came when Pharrell (complete with hat and ruby-studded sneakers of awesomeness) brought the house down with one of the cutest, funnest, and... well, 'happiest' Best Original Song performances in a long time, which had stars Lupita Nyong'o, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams dancing in the aisles.
After Great Gatsby costume designer Catherine Martin and Dallas Buyers Club makeup artists Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews were allowed to complete their speeches, it became clear that the directors in the control room were choosing to let the winners speak and not play them off with a trigger-happy orchestra. Classy. I approve of this always.
Harrison Ford showed up to present the first three Best Picture nominees. He looked like he was about to black out while describing The Wolf of Wall Street as a “wild, exhilarating ride”.
Next they carted out Kim Novak with Matthew McConaughey to present the animation prizes. She's had some work done. She needs more. Or less. After announcing Mr. Hublot as the winner for Best Animated Short I could distinctly hear McConaughey say to Novak just before the mic cuts out, “Nice. I liked it.” I'm going to Matthew McConaughey for all my Best Animated Short predictions from now on.
Look how animated those faces are.
The cheers for Frozen were palpable as the filmmakers took the stage. They gave an emotional shout out their "guardian angel", Chris Buck's son Rider.
Sally Field introduced the clip reel for “everyday heroes”, which seemed to be channeling biopics and true stories, but that wouldn't explain the inclusion of To Kill a Mockingbird. Yeah, these montage packages and the slipshod "heroes" theme seemed even more unnecessary and extraneous than usual this year.
Good thing they kept this under two minutes, otherwise it might have put Bruce Dern or June Squibb to sleep. (I kid!) The song is quite lovely and it was great to see Karen O have an Oscar moment since I'm of the opinion that she should have won something for what she brought to Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are are in 2009.
Time for the shorts, and my God... They stuck John Williams further in the back than the guys who won for Helium. Where's the reverence?
Hurray for Lady in Number 6, as its Montreal based filmmakers represent the only Canadian connection in this year's winners circle.
The acceptance of the Best Documentary prize brought a delightful little moment as Darlene Love sung a snippet of gospel standard “His Eye is on the Sparrow” on behalf of the ladies of 20 Feet from Stardom. I merely liked the movie, but I luuuuv this.
Kevin Spacey introduced the Governors Awards clips, opening in his House of Cards voice. I watched the full acceptance speeches by Steve Martin and Angela Lansbury months ago, and they were wonderful. We gotta get these back on the main show, guys.
Next winner was The Great Beauty... the less said about that, the better, although it was neat to hear Paolo Sorrentino thank Martin Scorsese as one of his inspirations.
Next was another musical performance, this time from legendary alt-rockers U2.
[Spoiler alert: it makes an appearance on my upcoming Sunday Top Ten], but for now I'll just let ruminate what an interesting record it is of pop culture in this day and age.
Gravity won both sound categories in the lead up to this:
Lupita's probably experiencing a weird blend of elation and confusion as to why Liza Minnelli, of all people, has grabbed and hugged her. Just go with it.
Then came this novel but overdrawn gag. This is the point at which Ellen's cozy house-party shtick got stretched to annoyingly literal extremes.
Gravity next won for Editing. This was the only time all evening that the orchestra cut anybody off, and it was the eventual Best Director winner Alfonso Cuaron! They must've known he was gonna get his own moment at the mic, but still, no excuse for that!
Alicia Moore's (aka: Pink's) rendition of “Over the Rainbow” in tribute to The Wizard of Oz was -- at best -- a half-baked, superfluous, and completely irrelevant idea... Oh, and it was also ab-sol-ute-ly BEAUTIFUL.
Interesting tidbit. Only two people walked away with multiple trophies: Alfonso Cuaron and Catherine Martin, who took home Best Production Design. They should make a movie together. It would win ALL the Oscars.
Captain America (Chris Evans, that is) showed up to introduce yet another pointless clip reel, this time for loud special effects movies... plus The Searchers, Footloose, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. 'Cause Hushpuppy's a more super (superer?) hero than all the Avengers combined.
The memorium reel was tactfully simple this year, and they wisely muted the house mics so you couldn't hear which deceased celebs were getting the most applause. But then this happened...
Oh boy, then THIS thing.
This has quickly become the most mocked aspect of Sunday's show. How can it not be? You can even generate your own "Travolta-fied" name over at Slate. I could watch this bizarre mispronunciation on loop and split my sides every time. Every. Single. Time.
Unfortunately, Ms. Dazeem's performance was no laughing matter. Poor thing. They gave her an ovation anyway. I would too, because, y'know, it's Idina freakin' Menzel. I've already written about my heartbreak and subsequent closure surrounding this moment, so I won't repeat myself.
With the all the song performances out of the way, it was time to present the music awards (but not before Jamie Foxx made an ass of himself humming the Chariots of Fire theme while poor Jessica Biel tried to read her teleprompter). Steven Price won for Gravity, and that's when I had a REVELATION: They're actually moving the nominees into the boxes just before their category is announced. Clever. Certainly much better than the in-aisle presentations they tried in 2005.
John Ridley gave Steve McQueen the cold shoulder en route to his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.
Next up was Best Original Screenplay. Robert De Niro didn't even say the title of the film. He just said, “And the Oscar goes to Spike Jonze.” That's all the crowd needed to hear. Dude is beloved. Rightly so.
Here are Cuaron and “Senor Poitier”, as Alfonso addressed him. This was actually a pretty cool little moment.
What I loved most about the Best Actress presentation was that Meryl Streep's Oscar clip was literally her screaming to the rafters. How befitting her performance.
Huge thumbs up for Cate Blanchett's promotion of women-driven films:
“... they do make money. The world is round, people!”
Then it was time for Matthew McConaughey's speech. A few people were rubbed the wrong way by its somewhat spiritual slant and with him talking about his future self being his own hero, but I thought I all made perfect sense. Sorta profound, actually. The Internet has largely pounced on it, but I definitely dug it.
And then it all came to a climax. Which film would take Best Picture? I must reiterate again how happy I am that 12 Years a Slave won, even though my personal preference was Gravity (not by much, mind you). Also, how cool is it that Brad Pitt now has an Oscar, and it's for this kind of movie? Awesome.
And that, really, is about the most honest take I can give you of my reaction to the Oscar telecast. Was it especially innovative or surprising? No. Was it adequately exciting or entertaining? I'd say so, yes. It's true that you can credit the way the season played out, rather than the production of the show, with that sense of excitement regarding who would win. Still, on the whole I guess it gets a B/B- from me. If they have the balls to try shaking things up a bit next year then I'd be eager for that. I know their last few attempts have been mixed, but surely they're due for another Condon/Mark-level hit eventually, right?