Monday, March 3, 2014

86th Annual Academy Awards: A Review

Ellen DeGeneres, in wrapping up her monologue suggested that if 12 Years A Slave didn’t win, “you’re all racists”— funny, cynical. Well Hollywood is off the hook and can breathe a sigh of relief: 12 Years a Slave won. In my annual defense of the Academy Awards, I always say: look at the whole. On the whole, I think they get it right. I loved Her: it didn’t get a lot of nominations, but it won for screenplay; same with Blue Jasmine: another fav of mine, got just one award, but the one it absolutely had to win: Best Actress. The bottom line is, the Oscars can only deviate so much from the acclaimed movies of the year, and if they weren’t exclusive what good would they be? It’s bad enough they expanded the Best Picture nominees, but it seems no one will be satisfied unless every single movie and performance gets a nomination.

Onto the 86th Annual Oscars. First, kudos to Ellen DeGeneres. The Oscars have become so prognosticated to death that EVERYONE knew what was going to win this year. Everyone I know got 21-22 right out of 24 on their Oscar ballot. The audience seemed downright bored through most of the ceremony. The only bright spot was Ellen’s little moments of mixing things up. She was gracious, she was funny, and she was polite to the stars and didn’t make jokes at their expense (OK, with two exceptions perhaps: June Squibb got the old person-gag; Liza got a good-natured jab). Ellen’s whole monologue was pretty good. Loved the line that people who don’t get the most important things in life: love, friendship, and family— get into show business. Also her gag to Bruce Dern, following a description of his stellar career background, “what went wrong?”

Ellen’s pizza bit was not terribly clever per se, but she pulled it off and made it seem much funnier than it was. The celebs all pitched in well. I liked Harrison Ford’s tapping her for a napkin. Then Ellen asks for a tip for the pizza guy, and later passes the hat around—hilarious (“Your stock just went up, you’ve got some money Lupita.”). Ellen’s most genius off-the-cuff moment was when she surprised Leonardo DiCaprio and Sandra Bullock, popping up between them to do a commercial break. Running out after the Wizard of Oz bit, dressed as Glinda was pretty good too. The Twitter picture, also with the help of some game celebs (especially Bradley Cooper) made for a funny moment (and a great picture). I liked Ellen’s call back to Lupita’s lip balm as well.

The speeches were all good, particularly by the four acting winners. Leto had the audience in the palm of his hand talking about his mother then went off on some weird pseudo-political tangent. Lupita wins the award for rattling off as many names as possible hitting all the right people and hitting all the right notes. I liked that they played that “True Imagination” song from Willy Wonka on her exit. Of the non-actors I liked best the whacky Best Song winners.

Many presenters did well— my favorites: Bill Murray (for his Harold Ramis ad lib and also his apology to the cinematography nominees) and his “Amy, tell ‘em whose up for best shooter”; Whoopi Goldberg’s ruby slippers; Jim Carrey’s very funny, spot-on Bruce Dern impression; Sally Field, for being radiant but not plastic-surgeried-out like a shocking number of older female presenters this year; Jamie Foxx, from his flub (“… your mind.”) to his back-up music for Jessica Biel; Robert DeNiro selling the funny writing award copy.

The set design was pretty spectacular: they outdid themselves this year. Should be an art direction win at the Emmys: everyone at my Oscar party oooed and ahhhed, especially at the typewriters in the background during the writing awards [UPDATE: Yep, it won.]. The death reel, normally a “favorite” part of the show for me (if you can call it that) was just not this year. It was dragged out (“Wind Beneath My Wings”— I like Bette, but it was pointless and she was over the top) and the reel itself featured no “sound-ups” of famous movie clips and the Academy trying to be all PC and giving in to the pressure of including just far too many people no one’s ever heard of, sorry. It was dull, and not much of a tribute to a lot of really, really talented people— Peter O’Toole for example, zips by in 2 seconds. You just need the sound-ups and you have to drop the second unit directors, OK.

The “heroes” theme, like all Oscar “themes” made no sense and fell on its face. The clip packages were entertaining, but let’s face it, they just showed a random bunch of clips that vaguely fit into the “heroes” theme.

All-in-all a “safe” Oscars, and a safe, but particularly entertaining, host in Ellen DeGeneres.

Odds and ends:

• Best song rant. These songs are just not particularly good. And then we have to sit through them being performed.

• Bradley Cooper’s Oscar clip was what I considered his weakest moment acting-wise in the entire film!

• Leonardo DiCaprio was pretty dour when Gatsy won awards; Kristen Bell was downright beaming when Frozen picked up it’s awards. (Although Leo might have been nervous as a nominee; Kristen was just there having fun.)

• Like Kirk Douglas a couple years back, Kim Novak was the risky, a little too elderly presenter. I gotta tell you, I think they should do this every year. You never get to see these former stars otherwise and these oldsters are the only ones willing to go off script. And it usually ends up OK. I loved Novak’s comment that she was so pleased to be there as it had been so long. Make an old-timer happy and risk perhaps a slightly awkward moment.

• I adore Goldie Hawn, but I hardly recognized her on stage. When they cut to her in the audience during Kate Hudson’s presentation though I did: so, a lighting thing? Kate Hudson looked pretty hot by the way.

• Giving out Best short and animated feature together should be an annual tradition.

• Will Smith has got to be the first Best Picture presenter to also be a current Razzie Award winner.