Arts & Culture · Film & Television

This Year’s Lackluster Oscars: Some Highs and Some Lows


By the time the 86th Academy Awards aired Sunday night, I had pretty much gotten over my annual despair of ever seeing another woman in the Best Director category. After all, there was a lot to celebrate this year: great movies, phenomenal actresses, Ellen.

I was especially looking forward to Ellen.

Frankly, I was underwhelmed.

Perhaps in an attempt to right the wrongs of last year’s truly offensive show, Ellen DeGeneres or the Academy or the Oscars producers (or all of the above) went out of their way to make this a kinder, gentler broadcast. Ellen has always impressed me with her ability to be simultaneously funny and nice. But after a while, the bite-less jokes grew monotonous. Her energy level—despite a constant cavort around the auditorium (“Ooh, ooh, where’s she gonna pop up next?”)—was surprisingly low.

In fact, the whole evening seemed more like a dress rehearsal than Hollywood’s biggest night. It was simply too casual. Yes, it’s cool that all these famous stars know each other and hang out together, but I want my Oscars old-school: glamorous and elegant. This year’s show felt like one of the newer, less prestigious ceremonies (Golden Globes or People’s Choice). At times, it was almost like the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, but with an older (in most cases, much older) audience. All we were missing was the slime.

Then again, we had pizza.

If you weren’t able to join our live blog, here are some of the evening’s most memorable moments. I’ll start with the ones that had us shaking our heads.

Matthew McConaughey deservedly won the Best Actor statue for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, then babbled a virtually incoherent acceptance speech about God and his father and never being able to catch up to himself 10 years from now because he’s his own hero. Say what?

John Travolta, after confessing how deeply important musicals are to him, proceeded to introduce the “Wickedly talented, one and only, Adele Dahzeem.” Um . . .  that would be Idina Menzel.

I alluded to it earlier: Thanks to Ellen’s degenerosity, we all had pizza. Well, not all of us, just the couple of dozen super famous people in the A-list front rows. It was mildly amusing to see a pizza delivery guy there. It became less so—quickly—when Ellen insisted that the stars pull out their wallets and pay the poor schlub. Maybe the pizza schtick would have been funnier if the first half of the show hadn’t been so informal already. Maybe.

What bothered me even more was a feeling that the awards presentation was one never-ending Samsung promotion. I get it, I really do. The Academy Awards are a commercial venture. Samsung’s a major sponsor. But, really, all the “Here I am, hangin’ with my homies” selfies got pretty tired, pretty quick. (If, like so many in the Twittersphere, you experienced any selfie-envy, you can add yourself to Ellen’s star-studded picture here.) I don’t mean to be a spoilsport. But, this is supposed to be The Academy Awards, not a junior-high cafeteria.

And, last but not least, there was the plastic surgery. Boy, was there plastic surgery! From the barely recognizable Liza Minnelli to an utterly unrecognizable Kim Novak. Even Goldie Hawn sported the now familiar shiny cheeks and frozen features. The woman’s almost 70 and she’s still trying to look like the go-go dancer from Laugh-In.

The long, slow show did have a handful of extraordinary highlights, and I’m happy to report that we can thank the industry’s women for most of them.

A radiant Cate Blanchett accepted the award for Best Actress for Blue Jasmine. She quickly thanked her controversial writer-director, then went on to laud each of her fellow nominees. She explained, “As random and subjective as this award is, it means a great deal in a year of, yet again, extraordinary performances by women.” She then continued by criticizing producers “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money.”

As she accepted Best Supporting Actress, astounding newcomer Lupita Nyong’o gave what may be one of the best Oscar speeches ever. Alluding to the real-life character she portrayed in 12 Years A Slave, she said “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.” She finished with “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. Thank you.”

All right, Jared Leto is a man (although he played a transsexual onscreen and had arguably the most gorgeous head of hair the other night). But I believe he deserves a shoutout for the heartfelt tribute he paid his mom. In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, Leto shared a story: “ In 1971, Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother and she’s here tonight. And I just want to say, ‘I love you, Mom.  Thank you for teaching me to dream.’”

U2 may have rocked the crowd and Pharrell Williams had people dancing in the aisles with his infectious “Happy,” but the most powerful musical numbers were performed by three incredible divas: Bette Midler (“Wind Beneath My Wings”), P!nk (“Somewhere, Over the  Rainbow”) and Idina Menzel (“Let It Go”), who seemed to recover quickly from Travolta’s clumsy case of mistaken identity. And, a seemingly impromptu acceptance song by Darlene Love (one of the subjects of Best Documentary winner 20 Feet From Stardom) was pure magic; it provided an exciting break from what had become a fairly tedious program.

All Academy Award shows do come to an end eventually. It looked as if we might have a Gravity upset when Alfonso Cuarón won for Best Director. But the final award for Best Picture went to 12 Years a Slave. I was very happy to see this important film recognized.

And I have to admit I was even happier to turn off my TV and go to bed. At 216 minutes, the Oscars ran longer than any of the year’s nominated movies—even the epic Wolf of Wall Street.

Another half hour and Ellen would have had to order Chinese.

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  • Tobysgirl March 4, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Lumping protesters in Venezuela with the ones in western Ukraine sounds about right. The ones in Ukraine are neo-Nazis, which the U.S. has spent $5 billion of your dollars supporting. The ones in Venezuela are also being funded and supported by our government, and consist of the disgruntled elites who have consistently not won elections. I’m sure this was not Leto’s point, but all it takes is some reading and thinking.

  • [email protected] March 4, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I’m with Toni. If it hadn’t been for the WVFC blog, I would have bailed out long before best picture. For those of us who stuck with the Oscars for 216 minutes (thanks Alexandra for counting all those minutes), Ellen could have at least posted a “free pizza” coupon for us at the end.

  • Judith A. Ross March 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who was confused by McConaghey. Equally confusing was Jared Leto’s lumping protesters in Venezuela with those in the Ukraine. Though I appreciated his shout-out to his mother and the LGBT community, he might want to get a bit clearer on his politics before espousing them on a national stage.

    Great review. Thanks!

  • 1010 Park Place March 4, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    …And the Oscar review goes to… Alexandra MacAaron! Your review was more fulfilling than watching the Oscars live. I was so NOT enthralled that I was posting to my spreadsheets at the same time!

    Brenda Coffee

  • Toni Myers March 4, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for this incisive review, Alexandra. The highlight for me was blogging with the people I admire on WVFC. Don’t know if I could watch Oscars without doing it again. Oh, yes to your highlights.
    I was open mouthed at the out of touch with reality McConanghey. Unlike Blanchett and Nyong’o who so movingly talked about the context of their work: the joy of talented women and acknowledgement of the misery of others Nyong’o gave voice to vs. her joy at being recognized for her portrayal.

  • B. Elliott March 4, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Spot on review. I was so bored I couldn’t even blog!

  • Roz Warren March 4, 2014 at 9:35 am

    GREAT last line.

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. March 4, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Live Blogging with friends for WVFC was almost the only life for me over this long and boring evening. Don’t know if I can do it again. Love this balanced review, Alex.