The Oscars don’t simply honor the best of the year, they unleash a carnival of criticism about the host, the speeches, the parade of glamorous frocks, the show’s performances and the ceremony at large. And who am I not to offer my own bombastic pronouncements on what transpired? Here are a few observations and opinions I just have to get off my chest.
Darlene Love Belts One Out
The terrific pop singer and star of Best Documentary 20 Feet from Stardom let wail during the acceptance speech with an a cappella “Eye on the Sparrow.” I found it to be more yelled than sung, though the ensuing standing ovation suggested that my opinion was firmly in the minority.
In an industry splendidly overpopulated with gorgeous people, a few stood on an even higher plane on Oscar night: pretty man Jared Leto, unerring fashion plate Lupita N’yongo, Chris Hemsworth (above) in a swell burgundy tuxedo, a dapper, bearded Bradley Cooper, a stunningly beautiful Kate Hudson and an elegant-in-Armani Cate Blanchett.
The Comic Stylings of Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey alluded to the fact that he’s never been nominated, and, as The Truman Show (1998) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MInd (2004) proved, he is indeed a darn good actor. But I confess to never caring much about his sledgehammer approach to comedy. It was a turnoff at the time of his movie breakthrough 20 years ago and today still strikes me as abundantly and unfunnily grotesque.
Bill Murray (above, with fellow presenter Amy Adams) neatly and unexpectedly tipped his hat to the late Harold Ramis while presenting the Oscar for Best Cinematography, mentioning their work together on Caddyshack (1980), Ghostbusters (1984) and Groundhog Day (1993). Bono set his brief tribute to music, shouting out “Darlene Love!” at the end of U2’s performance of their nominated song “Ordinary Love.”
I’m not sure why this show needs any theme besides “The Year’s Best.” Certainly the Academy’s display of movie heroes—animated, everyday and popular—seemed half-hearted and intrusive to the business of the evening, with the various montages revealing a wholesale avoidance of many films pre-1970.
Actors Writing Their Own Lines
In her Best Actress acceptance speech, Cate Blanchett pointedly commented about industry folk “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. The world is round, people!” Best Actor Matthew McConaughey engaged in a loopy, semi-stream-of-consciousness ramble wherein he revealed the identity of his personal hero: Matthew McConaughey. Lupito N’yongo continued to be the model of articulation, grace and humility in her acceptance of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. And Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto movingly paid tribute to his mother and brother as well as the depressingly large section of humanity affected by AIDS. For the first time I can recall, all four winners in acting categories gave memorable, at times eloquent, speeches.
Travolta's Failed Anagram Attempt
I’m not sure what was plaguing John Travolta as he butchered Idina Menzel’s name when introducing her performance of “Let It Go.” Perhaps he forgot his reading glasses and “Idina Menzel” looked like “Adele Dazeem.” Dyslexia might have been the culprit. Maybe good rehearsals do indeed lead to a lousy performance. In any event, the misstep was all the rage the day after, even inspiring someone to devise a Travoltify Your Name widget. For the record, “Cinemagumbo” in Travolta-speak is “Cameron.”
Novak and Poitier
I love the idea of having old Hollywood royalty be a part of the festivities. The reality, however, can be hit and miss. In 2003, an 86-year-old Olivia de Havilland showed up to introduce a tribute sequence. She was charming, lovely and lucid. In 1987, a 78-year-old Bette Davis presented the Best Actor trophy to Paul Newman. She was outspoken, untamed and unpredictable, and because of it, for a while afterwards, she became a running joke. This year, history was represented by Kim Novak and Sidney Poitier, 81 and 87 years old, respectively. Poitier, paired with Angelina Jolie to present Best Director, and always a slow, deliberate speaker, fared well. Novak, who presented Best Animated Feature with Matthew McConaughey, was another matter. Appearing slightly befuddled, speaking haltingly, she made a strange Magic Mike comment and went off script to thank the Academy for inviting her to the show. Though not by any means a fiasco, I wonder if her wobbly presence might scare away other legends like Doris Day from ever making a similar showing at the future ceremonies.
Setting the Stage
Though I was no fan of the intricate design on the stage floor, the backdrops showed a cool style, from vintage incandescent light bulbs and manual typewriters to a series of lit-from-within Oscar figures.
This year, In Memoriam was an odd play in two acts, with Act One seeing the usual montage of deceased movie folk set to dignified music. The film clips ended and that was that…until Bette Midler began Act Two by singing her power ballad from a quarter century ago, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I kept wondering if she only agreed to sing if they keep the camera on her the entire time. Otherwise, it was a curious and lengthy approach to this award-show staple.
Pink's Turn of Phrase
Her voice was strong, but what’s up with her phrasing? She took breaths in the most peculiar places, turning “Over the Rainbow” into “Oh, Ver the Rainbow.” If producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan are eyeing her for the lead in Peter Pan, NBC’s next live musical television production, I trust they will find her a crackerjack vocal coach.
Ellen Works the Room
In a broadcast that had few highs and lows, Ellen DeGeneres was predictably affable and amusing, with a solid opening monologue that contained something rare for her—a joke with a sting. Her quip about Liza Minnelli actually being a Liza Minnelli impersonator—a direct steal from The Simpsons—was perhaps more Ricky Gervais than Ellen DeGeneres, replete with an awkward reaction from the joke’s target. Selfies and pizza delivery bits were entertaining time wasters as she played jester to a celebrity court completely on her side. Except for, perhaps, Liza Minnelli.