OSCAR REVIEW: ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Gravity’ Maintain Illusion of a Tie

12 Years a Slave, Oscars

Steve McQueen jumps for joy! Let the memes commence!

Telecast Grade: B-/B
Winners Grade: B+

It certainly felt like the night was going in Gravity‘s direction, nearly sweeping the technical awards, including editing which can often seal the deal for a Best Picture winner. When Alfonso Cuaron took the stage for Best Director, it really felt like the wind was heading in his direction to take the stage one more time, though he did good to take the opportunity he had to thank the entire cast and crew as though he were winning Best Picture. In a way, though, it feels like Gravity did. Obviously on paper it has 12 Years a Slave coming out on top, but it still feels like the entire season has been an undecided stalemate between the two films, and the PGA tie was very indicative of that.

Alfonso Cuaron, GravitySo why do I feel kind of ill about it? Well, all of Gravity‘s wins feel markedly merit driven. Admittedly the craft categories are the ones most driven by laboring accomplishment. 12 Years a Slave‘s victory, while totally deserving, feels almost driven by (ugh, this word tastes bad) guilt. Every time a 12 Years a Slave clip played that night, the mood turned from jovial to dead-serious. This is a film that was entirely necessary for people to see, but I feel the film’s awards season presence has pinned people into misunderstanding it. The last-game campaign tagged with the words “It’s Time” screams some feeling of shame, and I think that heavily factors into its Best Picture win. It makes it feel like the Academy’s responding to the subject matter, not the way it’s being brought to the screen.

This is an issue with the way the Academy votes, not the film they decided to reward. 12 Years a Slave is certainly the greatest Best Picture winner since The Hurt Locker, and my mind is still blown that Steve McQueen has an Oscar. The director of Hunger has an Oscar! That feels extraordinary to me. His achievement isn’t the only one I’m happy with, either. Alfonso Cuaron finally has his much deserved achievement. Emmanuel Lubezki finally won Cinematography after being passed over too many times. Catherine Martin took the stage twice for superb work on The Great Gatsby, wearing the kind of beguiling dress you’d expect her design for Oscar night.

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a SlaveI’m still nonplussed by The Great Beauty, but I can be happy that Paolo Sorrentino won an Oscar. Cate Blanchett’s been here for great work time and again, so a second win is very much deserved, and even overdue after losing for I’m Not There. And hey, she may be here again next year if Todd Haynes’ Carol turns out as brightly as we hope. Spike Jonze has joined his friend Charlie Kaufman as an Original Screenplay winner. McConaughey got on stage for one infectiously jazzed, story-driven acceptance speech. The speeches overall did run a bit long, but it’s a good sign of respect after how rudely they played people off last year.

Happiest win of all, though, was undoubtedly Lupita Nyong’o taking the stage for Supporting Actress, donned in the dress and the glow of a fairy princess, and for once that’s not an expression to be sighed at. There was such a collective happiness for her in the room, but the overwhelming feeling I got was hope that Hollywood treats her right and gives her the roles she deserves. How many young recipients of this award taper out of relevance? When an ingenue rises to the stage with such joy, how can we not be worried for her career prospects going forward?

Pharrell, HappyAs for the show itself, I may have had my own evening shaded by rude, loud and compulsory Oscar party occupied by people who largely hadn’t seen any of the nominees. The vibe I got from the telecast, though, was agreeable, if not particularly memorable. We knew that’s what we were getting with Ellen Degeneres hosting, and it was a less mean-spirited night than last year felt. The heroes theme hardly convinced anyone, its integration into the show fraying noticeably at the seams. Some musical presentations landed better than others. Bette Midler’s post-In Memoriam rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings” drained any and all enthusiasm out of the room. Pink’s presentation of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, while shoehorned into the broadcast, was quite lovely to listen to.

The high-point of the telecast, though, was probably Pharell singing “Happy” onstage. While U2, Karen O’ and Idina Menzel were pretty stationary, Pharell and crew were bouncing all over the stage, even getting the crowd to rise from their seats. Though I’d been a bit soft on the song before, that performance pretty much turned me around in its favor. I don’t remember another Oscar moment that got such a reaction from the crowd as that. Let that be a lesson to future telecast producers: Make exciting things possible during the telecast. Don’t cop to montages or lame social-media gags of Ellen using twitter in the aisles. Actually raise the pulse of the room so it’ll be a night worth remembering.

Ellen DeGeneres, OscarsSo it was a fine night, if not a particularly exciting one. Nothing really came as a surprise, which is fine when the quality of winners is agreeable. I may just be happy that the Academy didn’t award Get a Horse! for Best Animated Short. I got 16 out of 24 of my predictions correct, so I guess I’m not particularly good at predicting the winners, if only because I thought the night would have more surprises in store. Such is the way of the season. It runs so long that the winners become all too complacent. At least next year’s ceremony will be a week sooner on February 22nd, and by then we may have a more surprising Oscar season than we did this year. One can only hope.

One last note: Best Picture nominees Philomena, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street all went home empty-handed. That’s the largest pool of lock-outs in the Best Picture race since its expansion, so maybe the Academy will finally get the message and think about consolidating? Regardless, you can check out the full list of winners below:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Best Animated Feature: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty
Best Documentary: 20 Feet From Stardom
Best Documentary – Short Subject: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Best Live-Action Short: Helium
Best Animated Short Film: Mr. Hublot
Best Original Score: Gravity
Best Original Song: “Let It Go” from Frozen
Best Sound Editing: Gravity
Best Sound Mixing: Gravity
Best Production Design: The Great Gatsby
Best Cinematography: Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
Best Film Editing: Gravity
Best Visual Effects: Gravity

What did you think of last night’s Oscars and the winners? Let us know!

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