Monday, March 3, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: The End

I am still churning over the events of last night in my head, and probably will for the next several days. But I will try my best to compose my thoughts on the show, the winners, and the season as a whole.

This has been the most interesting season for me on a personal level. This is the first time that I have tried to balance my blog with a full-time job. Before, I was in college or was working part-time. I will say that I feel on some level, I have not been as engaged with the blog as I had in the past, and to my readers, I do apologize. But nonetheless, I still enjoyed every minute of the season, and in fact, it only enriched by job (I am a public librarian), and provided a nice outlet after long hours on my feet. But on to the awards! Let me first say that in all reality there were no completely undeserving winners. Sometimes your jaw can drop at some egregious names being called, but this year, like last year, proved that sometimes the Academy can make really excellent choices. The four acting winners all gave incredible performances (two of them were my own personal choices of the season), and all of them gave exceptional (if a bit wacky) acceptance speeches. Jared Leto's return to the screen was triumphant, and a well-deserved Oscar is his reward. The beautiful Lupita Nyong'o is now added to the list of young, first time ingenues that have claimed this award, and the future truly is bright for film as long as actors like her, Jennifer Lawrence, and others continue to churn out work like that.

Now I would like to take a moment to talk about Cate Blanchett. I have stayed out of the Woody Allen debate, and will continue to keep my mouth shut in the battle in terms of what actually happened. None of us will ever know what happened decades ago, and honestly, just looking at the family I don't think I care to. But I will say that it is no coincidence that all of this controversy was stirred up just as Woody was winning the Cecille B. DeMille Award, and Ronan was about to start his new talk show. But I digress. In the end the only thing that really upset me in the controversy is that actors who had worked with Woody were called out as bad people or unworthy artists. Whatever you think of Woody Allen, don't blame these actors for gravitating towards quality scripts. So in many ways I am happy that Cate Blanchett won another Oscar last night, because she gave an excellent performance, and because the controversy she was unjustly dragged into did not overtake the quality of her work. And man, what an acceptance speech. She is a freaking class act. She was able to gracefully thank Woody without overdoing it (and erupting more controversy), while also telling Hollywood the bold face truth that films with women in the lead are making money, and therefore there should be more of them. It really turned into a great Oscar moment. The final acting Oscar proved one vital thing about the current film industry: the McConassance is here to stay. Matthew McConaughey has turned his career around, and the Academy recognized not only his brilliant turn in Dallas Buyers Club, but also this rejuvenation of a great American talent. And while some will scoff at his winding and kind of strange acceptance speech, I felt it was thoughtful and deep.

The other awards mostly went to deserving films, particularly the seven Oscar wins for Gravity. It may not have taken the top prize, but it ruled the night, capped off by an incredible win for the brilliant Alfonso Cuaron. This will go down as one of my favorite Oscar wins since I started covering the awards five years ago. And while Gravity did not win Best Picture, the Academy picked an excellent film in 12 Years a Slave, and I got to see Cuaron, Steve McQueen, and Brad Pitt all win Oscars for top-quality projects. This was an incredibly tight year, and a great film was rewarded. While it wasn't my favorite of the year, I cannot complain. I was bummed and truly disappointed that American Hustle and Nebraska walked away empty-handed. Last year, the Academy really spread the wealth over the Best Picture nominees, but this year, Nebraska, Hustle, Wolf, Philomena and Captain Phillips all walked away empty handed, and that just doesn't seem right. The Hustle haters are rejoicing, because apparently having fun in a movie theater is a drastically criminal act. But David O. Russell's film, and his streak the last several years showcases an energetic filmmaker and hopefully the Academy will eventually recognize that. And Nebraska was a sweet, funny, and sad look at aging and the reverse relationship that occurs between parents and kids. It is Payne's best work to date, and the first in a decade that the Academy has given zero Oscars to. I will also say that while I love that Spike Jonze is now an Oscar winner, I hate that it was for Her, a sweet, yet thin film that did not justify its length. Especially when his previous works like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation were so much better. And so were the other four scripts nominated. But other than that little blip, the winners were deserving...

...and so damn predictable. This season had plenty of excitements, from the PGA tie, the interesting outcomes at the Globes and BAFTA, and it seemed like we were heading for another wild Oscar night like last year's ceremony. But unlike last year, where there were surprise winners, ties, and plenty of races to keep it interesting, this year offered up none whatsoever. I went out on a limb in some categories (18/24 not bad, but worse than last year), hoping that the Academy would do like it always does, and throw us a curve ball. But there were no curve balls, no out-of-bounds picks. Nothing. Just the pre-destined winners making one final speech before moving on to another year, and other projects.

And the ceremony didn't help that much to liven things up. Ellen did much better the first time around, as her monologue was a bit shaky. But some of her bits like the selfie that brought down Twitter and Meryl Streep eating pizza got a few chuckles from this viewer. She just seemed uncomfortable, as did the whole evening. And I don't think it was her fault. These two awful producers turned last year's ceremony into an over-indulgent celebration of their own personal successes, and crossed lines with the pick of Seth MacFarlane. They got a lot of criticism, so this year, they toned it down. But they toned it down to the point of nothing. They clearly stifled Ellen, because she usually is so natural, and even their tribute to superheroes and The Wizard of Oz felt forced, and felt like by the end they didn't really care. They definitely need to switch up the talent next year, and bring in a pair that knows how to find a better balance.

So there we go. Another long and fun Oscar season is in the books, my fifth so far. It won't be long before we turn our attentions to the next season, and the upcoming Tonys and Emmys, but for now I would like to linger just a few more moments in what has been an incredible two years for American and global cinema. The Oscars get a lot of flack, but they do get a lot of things right as well, and at the end of it all, it is film that wins. Celebrating film is what we all love and enjoy, and every time I do one of these postmortem blog posts, I try to step back and remember that in the end it is not about who wins or who loses. It is about celebrating the best in film, and once again the Academy Awards did just that. Thank you to all of my friends, family, and new co-workers who continue to support my unhealthy addiction to awards races. And finally, as always, I want to thank the readers here at The Awards Psychic. None of this would happen if you weren't encouraging me with your readership, your comments, and your discussions. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You give me a purpose to pursue my passion, and every time I think of that support I feel like Ryan Stone in Gravity: "no more just driving....I'm going home."

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