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“12 Years a Slave” Takes Top Honours and “Gravity” Wins Big at the 86th Oscars

March 3, 2014

By John Corrado

Pizza Delivery Guy and Ellen DeGeneres - Oscars 2014So there you have it.  Two of the best movies of 2013 were honoured last night, with Gravity winning a total of seven Oscars including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón and 12 Years a Slave taking Best Picture, a pair of powerful films that have stuck with me since first seeing them at TIFF last September.

That was the 86th Oscars in a nutshell.  After delivering a nicely done opening monologue that was both celebratory and entertaining, likeable host Ellen DeGeneres spent much of the lengthy show off stage and delightfully interacting with the celebrities in the audience.

From taking a selfie with the nominees that was posted on Twitter, crashing the site a couple of times with the sheer number of retweets, to making good on the promise of ordering pizza and passing slices around the audience, Ellen DeGeneres proved to be a very amusing host.  She kept the mood lighthearted between everyone involved, often playing things safe in the best possible way.  Her material was likeable and cute, which worked well for me.

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto - Oscars 2014The first award of the night was for Best Supporting Actor, which went to Jared Leto for his mesmerizing turn in Dallas Buyers Club.  He was the frontrunner going in, but that didn’t make his win any less powerful.  From beginning to end of his beautiful and touching speech, which started with paying tribute to his mother “for teaching him to dream,” the actor and musician proved why he deserved the trophy.

“To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight, in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela,” Jared Leto added, “I want to say we are here and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you tonight.”  His speech ended with “this is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS, and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.”

Best Supporting Actress also provided one of the most powerful moments, when Lupita Nyong’o received a standing ovation as she emotionally accepted the award for her heartbreaking role in 12 Years a Slave.  “When I look down at this golden statue,” the breakout star said at the end of her heartfelt speech, “may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

Lupita Nyong'o - Oscars 2014The first win for Gravity came in Best Visual Effects, and indeed the technical categories are where the film triumphed the most, including well deserved wins for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning work.  Steven Price also won Best Score for his moving music, which was such an integral part of the film.

Best Costume Design and Production Design both went to The Great Gatsby, a good movie that seriously looked great.  Best Makeup and Hairstyling went to Dallas Buyers Club, which is super impressive work, especially when considering the reported $250 budget.

The surprise winner for Best Animated Short was Mr. Hublot, and the interesting looking Helium was awarded in the Live Action category, both of which I regretfully haven’t seen.  Documentary Short went to The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, a touching tribute to Holocaust surviver Alice Sommer, who passed away last week at 110.  Best Documentary Feature very deservingly went to the moving and inspiring 20 Feet From Stardom, and kudos to director Morgan Neville for having Darlene Love sing her acceptance, receiving a standing ovation.  Italy took home Best Foreign Language Film for The Great Beauty.

Cate Blanchett - Oscars 2014Best Animated Feature deservingly went to Frozen, a huge blockbuster hit that was also the best of the five nominees, and surprisingly the first win for Walt Disney Animation Studios in the relatively short history of the category.  The film became a double winner when “Let It Go” picked up Best Song, a power ballad that wows me every time, and the rhyming acceptance speech from husband and wife songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez was adorable.

The show wasn’t perfect, but it never really is.  There were a couple of moments that only added minutes to the overlong running time, like a selection of clips from classic animated films that was strangely presented by Jim Carrey early in the show and an odd montage of heroic characters that similarly appeared for almost no reason later on.

A performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Alecia “P!nk” Moore for the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz was nicely done but arguably needless, and the same could be said about Bette Midler singing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” at the end of the In Memoriam segment.

Alfonso Cuarón - Oscars 2014But the performances of all four nominated songs worked quite well, starting with Pharrell Williams performing the aptly titled “Happy” and getting the audience to dance along with him and that infamous hat.  Karen O performed a haunting rendition of “The Moon Song,” a beautiful piece of music that I’m thrilled was even nominated.  Bono and U2 paid touching tribute to Nelson Mandela and received a standing ovation for their acoustic performance of “Ordinary Love.”  At this point, “Let It Go” is more than just a song, it’s a phenomenon, and I’m always blown away by Idina Menzel’s stunning voice.

This also meant that John Travolta was guilty of one of the most embarrassing name flubs ever, when he introduced the Broadway superstar as Adele Dazeem.  But many of the presenters did a fine job, particularly Bill Murray who presented the award for Best Cinematography alongside Amy Adams.  After announcing the list of nominees, Bill Murray touchingly added “we forgot one, Harold Ramis for Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day,” a nice moment of recognition for the comedic great who tragically passed away last week.

Best Adapted Screenplay deservingly went to John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave, and Spike Jonze was equally deserving of the Original Screenplay award for Her, representing the beautiful writing behind some of the best movies of last year.  I’m also very happy that Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for his commitment and dedication behind Gravity, and the Mexican filmmaker referred to the production as a “transformative experience” throughout his gracious acceptance.

Cate Blanchett was probably the biggest lock of the night and deservedly so, winning Best Actress for her breathtaking performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.  During her excellent speech, she thanked “the audiences who went to see it,” before directly addressing “those in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films, with women at the centre, are niche experiences.”  “They are not,” the Australian actress noted, “audiences want to see them and in fact they earn money.”

Next up was Best Actor, which went to Matthew McConaughey for his remarkable work in Dallas Buyers Club.  Throughout his brilliant and inspirational speech, the actor spoke about the three things that he needs each day, adding that “one of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase.”  This list included God, his family and a hero, which he always considers to be himself in ten years.  “First off, I want to thank God, because that’s who I look up to,” Matthew McConaughey said.  “He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand.  He has shown me it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.”  The actor left the stage with his trademark “just keep livin’.”

Will Smith had the honours of presenting Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave, an incredibly powerful drama that deserves the award and fits nicely alongside the pantheon of winners.  Brad Pitt accepted as a producer before allowing Steve McQueen to offer his thanks.  “I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today,” the director said at the end of his speech, before jumping up and down to celebrate the win.

Although five of the excellent Best Picture nominees went home empty handed, including such fine achievements as American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street, this was just such a competitive year that for these contenders the nomination really was the award.  I’m genuinely happy with the way things turned out at the Oscars, an evening that delivered some standout acceptance speeches and a night where the expected winners were also the deserving ones.  At the end, the 86th Oscars were a celebration of the excellent year for movies that was 2013, where 12 Years a Slave took top honours and Gravity emerged as the big winner.

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