Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Oscar Postmortem Pt. 3: The show

Properly reviewing an Oscar ceremony can be tedious business, so I'm not gonna do it. Not properly, at least. The whole never quite amounts to the sum of its parts (although the Condon/Mark production from 2009 comes awfully close), so it's easiest just to look back and assess those parts at face value. Let's take a look at some moments that stood out (for me anyway) at the 86th Academy Awards

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.
Get down, Lupita!

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”.
Calm down, Indy. You're too much excitement for me.

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.

After Gravity won its first of the night for visual effects, Karen O took the stage to croon her nominated ditty "The Moon Song" from Her.
A million miles away.

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?
And just look how happy Alexander Payne is. At least Roger Deakins appears to be enjoying himself.

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.
Gotta love Love.

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.
The ovation following their performance of the dreary Best Original Song nominee "Ordinary Love" had me worried that maybe Weinstein's crafty campaigning might have swiped this award away from Frozen, but my worrying was quickly forgotten when this happened...

I'll wax philosophic about this now iconic moment a bit later [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.

In my opinion, Lupita's win is the highlight of the night, and the only truly moving moment to boot. Her speech had many in tears, herself included, and yet the obvious emotion never disrupted her eloquence. Few people could tell their director, "the dead are among you" in their speech and not make it sound creepy, but everything about Lupita just exudes class and sincerity. I couldn't be happier for her success this year.

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.
Now, I'm not saying that the world should ever be deprived of the sight of Brad Pitt helping to pass out paper plates, and I'm sure it played great if you were sitting in the first few rows, but for everyone past row F (and watching on TV) it dragged on far too long.

When it was time for Best Cinematography, it was the first time in the evening I had noticed that all the 'less famous' nominees in the same categories were being seated in the same boxes. Certainly no love lost here between Deakins and Chivo, but I can imagine how it might be awkward in some instances. But not this one. An obviously pleasing moment for fans of Children of Men and The Tree of Life: Chivo finally claiming the Oscar he should already have won twice over.

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.
And it wasn't just Moore's vocals that were gorgeous, but whoever the orchestrator was came up with the loveliest arrangement I've ever heard for this song. Alright, Zadan and Meron, I'll give you a pass on this, but only because it sounded so damn good. In concept, I still object to the idea.

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...
...Yeah, I'm not gonna pretend that didn't make my ears hemorrhage a little bit. No offense to the Divine Miss M., but that was not your best go at “Wind Beneath My Winds” (give me Roger Whitaker any day). I think they have to take these song performances out of the memorium segments. It's run its course. No one's gonna top Babs' tear-jerking rendition of “The Way We Were” last year.

Oh boy, then THIS thing.
"...Adele Dazeem"

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.

The Lopezes (Lopi?) prepared a bit for when they won Best Original Song. Seems a tad presumptuous given that they could certainly have been upset by Pharrell or U2, but whatever. They're a totally cute couple.

John Ridley gave Steve McQueen the cold shoulder en route to his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.
Some love lost between these two. Script credit disputes apparently, but I have absolutely zero interest in digging into that. Let's just be grateful that Fox Searchlight was able to keep the rift between Ridely and McQueen under wraps until after the Oscars.

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.
Cuaron thanked “the wise guys at Warner Bros...” before correcting himself, “the wise people at Warner Bros!”, but you know he totally did that on purpose! Funny guy.

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.
"Alright, alright, alright."

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?


  1. My Favorite moment of the entire night was Bill Murray's Shout out to Harold Ramis when he was presenting, great to hear their working relationship didn't fully destroy their outside relationship...

  2. Remember when they brought Streisand out for best director in 2010? It was great to see her give the first award to a woman, but I kept thinking how disappointed she would be if she ended up having to give it to Tarantino or Cameron instead.

    Well, when Poitier stalled and let Jolie read the name this year I think that is what happened. I'm sure if McQueen had won he would have read the name.