In the end, the Oscars that many anticipated to be one of the most unpredictable in memory, with three films neck and neck for Best Picture, turned out to be highly predictable.
If you were filling out your Oscar ballot, a few rules turned out to be ironclad. Give every technical award to “Gravity,” except for the theatrical ones like Costume and Production Design, which go to “The Great Gatsby.” “Frozen” gets everything it’s up for. “American Hustle” gets nothing. Give the frontrunners all the acting awards. And, for Best Picture, rely on Oscar voters fearing the logic that host Ellen DeGeneres offered up at the start of the show: “There are two possibilities. 1. ‘12 Years a Slave‘ wins Best Picture. 2. You’re all racists.”
Even though “Gravity” was my favorite movie of 2013, I was not at all disappointed that it lost Best Picture to “12 Years.” I’ve long given up on the idea that the Oscars honor the best picture of the year. More often, it’s the Best Picture That They Know They Ought to Honor. “Ought” sometimes means it’s such a massive box office hit that it can’t be ignored, or that it’s such an “important” film that it can’t be ignored.
The thing about “12 Years a Slave” is that it’s an “important” film that’s also a great work of art, and an Oscar win means that more people who sat on the fence about seeing it because of its powerful and disturbing subject matter will give it a chance. So that’s about the best you can hope for.
My favorite award of the night was Spike Jonze getting a Best Original (and how!) Screenplay win for “Her,” my second-favorite film of the year. My favorite moment of the night was Bill Murray going off-script to honor the late Harold Ramis. I didn’t see it coming, especially given that Murray and Ramis had been estranged for years (although the two did apparently reconcile), and it really moved me.
Other than that, I thought it was a good if overlong show. I really like DeGeneres as a host, because she’s so comfortable winging it in front of the camera and not relying on pre-scripted bits like a greener host does, like Seth MacFarlane. In fact, she probably should have done the entire show from the aisles, cutting up with celebs, serving them pizza, taking part in the World’s Most Expensive Selfie (which had just as many stars in, and was more dramatically involving than, “The Monuments Men.”)
There were the thuddingly bad moments, like Bette Midler’s straight-outta-1988 cheesy performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” that stretched the “In Memoriam” segment even longer. Or John Travolta’s bizarre reading of “Idina Menzel” off the cue card. Or Goldie Hawn’s strangely perky way of saying the Best Picture winner’s title (“12 Years . . . a SLAVE!”)
But the speeches were mostly strong, including Lupita Nyong’o’s tearful statement that the joys in an actor’s life are often rooted in the pain of others. And while we may be approaching a saturation point for Matthew McConaughey, you have to love how he turned his speech into sort of a one-man show and worked in his own catch phrase. And I loved Cate Blanchett’s brassy challenge to make more films about interesting women (“The world is round, people!”)
That equality didn’t seem to extend to the ceremony’s shaky “theme” of “movie heroes,” which seemed to focus mostly on male action stars uneasily edited in with the usual clips from “Casablanca” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Maybe they’re doing “movie heroines” next year, ladies?