2014 Academy Awards Round-Up

It is easy, as a member of an unofficial community of online film lovers, to forget that the majority of America tune into the Oscars in order to see some of the most famous movie stars in the world act like normal people and reward themselves or better yet, recognize the best of what they had to offer, from the previous year in the art of motion pictures. Host Ellen DeGeneres certainly made it clear she was there to make these stars act like us normal folk as she ordered pizza and took selfies all night (though her selfies, as featured above, cause Twitter to break). Still, as part of this kind of film loving community the Oscars have come to mean little more than a game of politics and who has the best backers promoting their films or who is willing to do the most campaigning for their nominations and hopeful wins. That being said, this years winners and the ceremony itself turned out to be a rather entertaining spectacle and was well distributed with little to no surprises, but highlighted some of my personal favorite films of the year. Gravity was the big winner taking home seven statues (most of these in technical categories) while 12 Years a Slave took home the biggest prize of the night and was able to capture two other wins in some major categories. Both of these films were in the top three of my favorites from 2013 and while I was obviously rooting for Leonardo DiCaprio to take home his best actor Oscar for what I believe will eventually become regarded as his career-defining performance, the speeches from both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto who won for best actor and best supporting actor for their turns in Dallas Buyers Club both showed their understanding of the impact their performances carried as well as the state of mind in which they continue to strive to do better work. If you were watching only to see what to rent from Redbox in the coming weeks though, you at least received a few great recommendations.

While American Hustle walked in with the most nominations it walked away empty-handed and rightfully so as it was simply an "okay" film in an industry that continues to see fewer and fewer films made purely for adults and Hustle falls squarely into that category and wouldn't have stood out had it come out in a different decade, but with David O. Russell's recent hot streak and a strong cast that give it their all, many were fooled by the glamour of it all and couldn't see what a mess the script and execution actually were. I liked the film well enough, don't get me wrong, but I didn't think it was great. The same could be said for Nebraska and Her. Both of these films registered as interesting and strong work in the canon of each of their respective directors, but nothing about either of them were neither innovative nor impactful enough to make me remember them more than a few days after I originally saw them. They left no legacy and with the Academy Awards I'm always looking for potential legacy. Her was the film most cinephiles adored this year and was the Drive or Moonrise Kingdom of years past, a film almost too hip to be recognized by the tradition upheld by the Academy. I didn't understand the fuss around it though as it neither became a believable love story about the basic elements involved in human connections nor was it particularly innovative in its interpretation of the not too distant future. You can read my full review for Her to understand all of my discrepancies from those who absolutely adored it, but in short I think the original screenplay would have been better off going to someone like Woody Allen whose Blue Jasmine was a much more vivid portrait of someone losing touch with reality.

While both the best actor and actress races were pretty much a lock, Cate Blanchett taking the win for her great work in the aforementioned Allen film (though I wouldn't have minded seeing Sandra Bullock pull out an upset), it was the best supporting actress race that had the best chance of going one of two ways. Most would have bet on Lupita Nyong'o for her heartbreaking performance as Patsy in Steve McQueen's adaptation of the story of Solomon Northup, but there was always the looming chance that Jennifer Lawrence might take home her second Oscar in two years for her small role in Hustle. As I wasn't a huge fan of the film and thought Lawrence was doing a bit of overacting if anything it was absolutely the best thing for her career that she lose to Nyong'o and simply be her usual, goofy and relatable self throughout the ceremony as to keep her image intact and not allow any naysayers to begin commenting on how she didn't deserve to win, but only did so on account of her popularity and favoritism with the Academy voters. There is a fine line between everyone loving you and overexposure and the backlash to Jennifer Lawrence thankfully hasn't begun yet and hopefully doesn't for a long while if ever, but there is always the danger and she is walking the line very skillfully at the moment. Sometimes, you have no control over the factors that determine public perception though and winning an Academy Award would typically only mean good things for ones career, but in this case it was best that the up and coming Nyong'o took home the prize giving us not only the most heartfelt and genuine speech of the night (see below), but no doubt granting the gifted actress thousands of opportunities she will now have that likely would not have come her way had she lost out to Lawrence.


For the second year in a row we also had a best director winner whose film did not go on to win best picture and while many will make the case of how could Gravity win all of these technical categories essentially claiming it has the best cinematography, the best soundtrack and was the best directed how could the Academy then go on to not give it best picture? While as much as Gravity was a technically perfect film (my personal favorite of the year with a re-watchability factor 12 YAS will never have) there is something about McQueen's epic recounting the story of one mans journey through slavery with an unflinching eye that lives on with the viewer and that is not only thanks to the award-winning performance of Nyong'o and the excellent adapted screenplay that garnered John Ridley an Oscar as well, but because of the countless other excellent performances the film offers and the simple impact the narrative has on our minds and the visuals McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbit realized to go along with those words. It is a cinematic experience like no other last year and it deserved to be honored as the best picture of the year not only because it was finally nice to see Brad Pitt on stage holding a statue, but because it is the one film from 2013 that will leave an indelible mark on the culture and will be studied in film schools and acting classes for generations to come. Gravity doesn't get as much credit for the subtleties of its story and the grace of its performances that accompany the technical achievements it has come to be known for, but no film was ever going to dwarf the importance of the story that 12 YAS was bringing to the screen.

In the more minor categories throughout the night they were again mostly dominated by Gravity, but The Great Gatsby actually walked away with two awards for Best Costumes and Production Design while Frozen took best Animated Feature along with Best Original Song. 20 Feet from Stardom took the Best Documentary win away from The Act of Killing which many in the film community saw as the deserving title, but Stardom is an interesting look at what was no doubt seen as an uninteresting profession and while the seriousness of what The Act of Killing touches on easily overrides that of Stardom it doesn't necessarily make it the more deserving film and I was fine watching Darlene Love get up there and sing her heart out in her moment of glory (though she did take it a little too far and go a little too long). Other than this we will at least have moments provided by host DeGeneres to remember from the actual ceremony this year including more than just her selfie stunt, but the pizza delivery guy that had an average night at work transformed into a once in a lifetime experience and some of her opening zingers that had Liza Minelli as confused as she actually looked. Both Goldie Hawn and Kim Vovak made strong cases why it's a good idea to avoid plastic surgery while John Travolta seems to have allowed the hair dye to seep into his brain and put him so out of touch with reality he doesn't even know how to pronounce the name of a major Broadway star who provides the voice for not only the biggest movie song of the year, but in a movie that's made a billion dollars no less. You'd think someone like Travolta who clearly has a soft spot for musicals would know who Idina Menzel is and not pronounce her name Adele Dazeem. Other strange highlights included the amount of photobombing going on as well Steve McQueens clap, though this was eventually overlooked by the pure joy of his dancing that celebrated his films best picture win. Pharrell's performance of "Happy" was fantastic and created plenty of meme worthy moments when he got the likes of Lupita, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep on their feet to dance with him as well as a truly touching moment when Bill Murray played tribute to his recently deceased friend, Harold Ramis.

All in all it was a night of nice surprises and fine performances that one can criticize and ridicule all they want, but the Oscars are what they are and for that purpose alone, they served as distracting entertainment on a cold Sunday night that will at least draw some unsuspecting viewers to some of the better films of last year that they would have otherwise missed out on had there not been a show telling them how good these types of non-mainstream films really are. This is especially true with Philomena, which I have failed to mention throughout the article, but was one of my favorite films of last year and as much as I was happy to see it garner a Best Picture nomination I can't wait to re-visit it on home video and now I know many more will do the same.

A full list of the winners are follow. The winners are highlighted in RED.

Best Picture
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Actor
  • Christian Bale (American Hustle)
  • Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
  • Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Actress
  • Amy Adams (American Hustle)
  • Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
  • Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
  • Judi Dench (Philomena)
  • Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Best Supporting Actor
  • Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
  • Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
  • Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
  • Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actress
  • Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
  • Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
  • Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
  • Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
  • June Squibb (Nebraska)
Best Director
  • David O. Russell (American Hustle)
  • Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
  • Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
  • Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
  • Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
  • Rchard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
  • Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
  • Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)
  • John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
  • Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Writing (Original Screenplay)
  • Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)
  • Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
  • Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)
  • Spike Jonze (Her)
  • Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
Animated Feature Film
  • The Croods
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Ernest & Celestine
  • Frozen
  • The Wind Rises
Documentary (Feature)
  • The Act of Killing
  • Cutie and the Boxer
  • Dirty Wars
  • The Square
  • 20 Feet from Stardom
Foreign Language Film
  • The Broken Circle Breakdown
  • The Great Beauty
  • The Hunt
  • The Missing Picture
  • Omar
Cinematography
  • Philippe Le Sourd (The Grandmaster)
  • Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)
  • Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis)
  • Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska)
  • Roger Deakins (Prisoners)
Film Editing
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • 12 Years a Slave
Music (Original Score)
  • John Williams (The Book Thief)
  • Steven Price (Gravity)
  • William Butler and Owen Pallett (Her)
  • Alexandre Desplat (Philomena)
  • Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks)
Music (Original Song)
  • "Alone Yet Not Alone" from Alone Yet Not Alone
  • "Happy" from Despicable Me 2
  • "Let It Go" from Frozen
  • "The Moon Song" from Her
  • "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Sound Mixing
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Lone Survivor
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
Sound Editing
  • All is Lost
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Lone Survivor
Production Design
  • American Hustle
  • Gravity
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Her
  • 12 Years a Slave
Visual Effects
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Star Trek into Darkness
Costumes
  • American Hustle
  • The Grandmaster
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Invisible Woman
  • 12 Years a Slave
Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  • The Lone Ranger
Best Documentary Short Subject
  • CaveDiger
  • Facing Fear
  • Karama Has No Walls
  • The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
  • Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
Best Short Film (Animated)
  • Feral
  • Get a Horse!
  • Mr. Hublot
  • Possessions
  • Room on the Broom
Best Short Film (Live Action)
  • Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)
  • Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
  • Helium
  • Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
  • The Voorman Problem