Wednesday, 5 March 2014

86th Annual Academy Awards

Well, I was 100% correct when I wrote that "Nebraska" would not win an Oscar in any of the six categories for which it was nominated and I am not the least bit surprised. As an independent movie which didn't boast an A-list cast and which didn't benefit from loads of publicity and which didn't set the box-office alight, it never stood a chance. Then again, I read last weekend that the new Lego Movie grossed more in the preceding week than all nine of the Best Picture nominees combined and that 66% of Americans had not seen even one of the nine. So we're all in good company.

As I have written in previous years I myself have not yet viewed most of the contenders, but I have seen enough clips and blurbs to feel that I have. Therefore I have my own pre-formed prejudices sufficient to evaluate the final selections. "12 Years a Slave" may have won best picture (I can imagine the voters choosing not to be politically incorrect), but it was not really the big winner of the night, failing to win best director as well. It did win best adapted screenplay and best supporting actress, although I was a little surprised that popular girl of the moment Jennifer Lawrence did not stumble off with the award, as she did at the BAFTAs. Lupita Nyong'o (the new Red Carpet favourite) quite probably deserved the Oscar for her convincing on-screen suffering, but I'm afraid that will not make me look forward to finally seeing the film. The big winner of the night was "Gravity", taking best director, cinematography, editing, music, and a trio of technical awards. I'll tell you a secret: that's another movie I am not looking forward to seeing.

I'm sure that Matthew McConaughey, who is having a remarkable career renaissance, and Jared Leto richly deserved their awards for best actor and best supporting actor in "Dallas Buyers Club", especially since the Academy seems to look favourably at the physical discomfort of a role and losing vast amounts of weight always seems to do the trick. To be fair, they were probably both pretty good despite their emaciation, and McConaughey's acceptance speech was pitch perfect. As for Cate Blanchett winning best actress for "Blue Jasmine" which seemed to be the most sure-fire bet, I can't help feeling that it would have been lovely for Judi Dench to finally receive this accolade. I don't know whether Blanchett was actually as marvellous as people seem to think, since despite being a massive Woody Allen fan, I missed seeing this flick in the cinema because of my physical limitations during the period of its release. I just love the fact that she crowed that she was "exacerbated" to receive the award from Daniel Day-Lewis, which actually means to make bad things even worse! But at least she had the good grace to thank Woody Allen for writing and giving her the role, despite the current hoo-ha and attempts to brand him a paedophile (again!).

To cover the other awards briefly, "The Great Gatsby" (which I have seen) deserved its gongs for production design and costume design, since these were pretty spectacular, even if the film itself was decidedly overblown and lacking in so many ways. (I still prefer not the 1974 version with Robert Redford, but the 1949 version with Alan Ladd, which is virtually impossible to view nowadays -- although you could ask to see my copy!). It was good to see Spike Jonze winning for best original screenplay for "Her", a movie that I am hoping to catch up with soon. I've not yet seen any of the animated feature, although I understand that "Frozen" was enormously popular and did big, big business; it's just a shame that Hayao Miyasaki, a true giant of animation, was overlooked for what is reputed to be his last feature. As for best foreign language film, I'm sure "The Great Beauty" deserved its award, the most joyous of the five nominations, and the DVD awaits my attention even as we speak. I can't comment on the short subjects -- animated, live action, and documentary -- since I know nothing about any of them yet, but I can express my surprise that "The Act of Killing" (one of two of the nominees that I have seen) did not win best documentary feature, since it was quite extraordinary. However, having read a bit about "20 Feet from Stardom" (the winner), I can see why it was the popular choice.

As for the ceremony itself, I don't feel that Ellen DeGeneres did as brilliant a job as some would have it, although obviously she was a vast improvement on last year's host. She had only one really good joke (at Liza Minelli's expense), and her get-down-with-the audience antics were mildly jejune -- ordering pizza, taking a whip-round to tip the delivery boy, and posing for the much vaulted 'selfie'. It's amusing that one now knows that this was a paid-for bit of product placement by Samsung. That's really typical of Hollywood's ingrained commercialism. The montage clips, this year celebrating various 'heroes' were as always pleasingly nostalgic, even if they occasionally seemed a strange assortment. The homage to the 75th Anniversary of the "Wizard of Oz" was a timely inclusion, but the visuals played second fiddle to Pink's vocalizing. Finally, in a year with the loss of so many great talents, the 'In Memoriam' section was better done than some previous ones, giving each loss near enough the same exposure; and the whole tribute was capped by Bette Midler's beautiful rendition of 'The Wind Beneath my Wings'. Pretty moving stuff...

I understand the U.S. television audience for the show was an improvement on recent years, so that's good news for future years, even if the show is over-bloated and marred by too many commercial breaks. Never mind, I'll be amongst next year's viewers with my usual anticipation.
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