“Gravity” won the most awards, “12 Years a Slave” won the biggest award, and host Ellen DeGeneres crashed Twitter.
Despite working with material that wasn't particularly sharp, DeGeneres proved that a dry delivery can go a long way when it comes to selling a middling joke: “People around the world are going through hard times, and movies offer us an escape,” she noted as she took the stage Sunday at the 86th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. “Movies inspire us — I'm not saying movies are the most important thing in the world, because we all know the most important thing in the world is youth.”
Among her bits with the audience at the show's start, DeGeneres tweaked Jennifer Lawrence for tumbling last year on her way to accept her award; Lawrence tripped again this year, on the red carpet, and DeGeneres' response was the perfect distillation of her hosting style. “If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.” If anyone has found a way to be sarcastic but good-natured at once, it's DeGeneres, who in the opening wore a dark velvet tux that brought to mind a French barrister's uniform. More on her performance in a moment. First, a look at some of the night's winners.
“12 Years a Slave” took home three awards, including best picture and adapted screenplay. As expected, “Gravity” nabbed a best director award for Alfonso Cuaron, as well as a number of technological categories, including cinematography, visual effects, editing, score, sound mixing and sound editing.
Best supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o took home the Oscar for her first feature-length movie role in “12 Years a Slave,” and though visibly stunned she gave a poised, charming speech. “It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's,” she said of the real-life character she played in the film. “So I want to salute the spirit of Patsey, for her guidance. And for Solomon (Northup), thank you for telling her story and your own.”
Best supporting actor winner Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) offered heartfelt words, but they underscored just how awkward and wrongheaded it can feel when celebrities take the significance of their moment in the spotlight as inspiration to others facing very real and grave challenges: “To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela” — the threat of war looms over the former, riots consume the latter — “I want to say we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we are thinking of you tonight,” Leto said.
At least DeGeneres offered a pre-emptive joke in this vein: “For those of you watching around the world, it's been a tough couple of days here,” she noted, and then uttered words rarely heard in LA : “It's been raining. We're fine. Thank you for your prayers.” Her monologue's one biting joke: “Possibility No. 1: ‘12 Years a Slave' wins best picture. Possibility No. 2: You're all racists. And now, please welcome our first white presenter, Anne Hathaway!”
Later bits, such as DeGeneres offering pizza to the first few rows of nominees, didn't land, but in true DeGeneres fashion she got off a good line as she passed out slices with the delivery guy trailing behind: “I don't have any money. Who here …?” In contrast to Seth MacFarlane (last year's host) DeGeneres knows how to poke at Hollywood without alienating her audience. The downside? Unexceptional, on the verge of boring. The resulting show was so safe and devoid of personality, it felt downright skip-worthy.
Bill Murray, however, offered a lovely off-script nod to his one-time collaborator Harold Ramis, the writer-director-actor who died last week at age 69. Announcing the nominees for cinematography, Murray added: “Oh, we forgot one — Harold Ramis for ‘Caddyshack,' ‘Ghostbusters' and ‘Groundhog Day.'” It was sweet grace note, especially since Murray had provided only a brief statement when news of Ramis' death broke.
The show's lowest moment came before the broadcast began: During the ABC pre-show, a taped bit featured Jimmy Kimmel crawling through a television screen to berate a pair of overweight, brain dead, junk food-eating tweeters for daring to snark about the red carpet. Or as comedy writer Josh Fruhlinger tweeted dryly in response: “Jimmy Kimmel is here to defend ordinary celebrities from middle American monsters.”
No one was guilted into refraining from their running commentary; ironically, Twitter service went down midway through the broadcast, only to be restored later.
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