Oscars 2014: Ellen Kills, Cate Triumphs, And One Straight Actor Really Messes Up

ABC's Portraits Of The 86th Annual Academy Awards Host Ellen DeGeneres

Here’s the thing about a pleasant, but unsurprising Oscars: It’s still pleasant! Unlike any other trophy telecast, the Oscars can actually coast on prestige and glamor during the dull moments. Charlize Theron can’t quite read the teleprompter? Whatever! Ellen DeGeneres is handing out pizza to celebrities like an evil, gluten-based “Candy Man” for too long? Fine! It doesn’t matter when I’m screaming, “FLAWLESS QUEEN” every time Cate Blanchett appears onscreen and “SHE’S NOT GOING TO BE IGNORED, MERYL” when Glenn Close comes into view. Which was a lot. My throat hurts.

We came into the 86th Academy Awards panicking about the chances of our favorites. “Is Jennifer Lawrence’s squawky performance in that horrifying puppet show American Hustle capable of winning over Lupita Nyong’o?” I gasped to myself. “Is Cate really a sure thing when Judi, Sandra, Amy, and Meryl are also towering totems of likability?” And of course: “Is ’Let It Go’ going to win, even though it may as well be called ’Just Be a Lesbian Already!’?” There was no need to worry. All the right people won, and more importantly, all the right movies (American Hustle) lost. Therefore, I’ll be breaking down the telecast as a gigantic group of highlights punctuated with one, wince-worthy lowlight.

Highlights

Lupita Nyong’o is an empress of every age, especially this one.

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If you’re looking for an exercise in flawlessness, please look up the reigning grandmaster of flaw-free speeches, Ms. Lupita Nyong’o, our ravishing Best Supporting Actress. “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, sheathed in a scientifically engineered powder-blue gown that only looks perfect on Lupita Nyong’o. “So I want to salute the spirit of Patsey [her 12 Years a Slave character] for her guidance.” Sometimes you worry about whether certain Oscar-winning roles will hold up in years to come, but in the case of Lupita in 12 Years, I’ve never been more certain that we have a role and performance for the ages.

Ellen was fine! 

She was fine. And that was fine. Her palatable emceeing reminded me that you really, really don’t need a firebrand host to make these festivities worthwhile. The Golden Globes require some verve. This just requires someone who looks like he/she’s having a good time. I really enjoyed her quip to Jonah Hill, however, about bringing something in The Wolf of Wall Street “that I haven’t seen in a really long time.” Penis humor, y’all. Thanks, Ellen. By the way: LOVE her Miles Standish formalwear.

Every musical performance ruled. What? How?

2014 should go down as a banner year in the song department since every performance at this telecast was fabulous. Karen O. on that whispery “Moon Song” jam? I rose in my seat and swayed like a charmed cobra. U2 and their Mandela tribute “Ordinary Love”? Guys, I haven’t bought a U2 album since Achtung Baby and I physically cringe at the thought of “Walk On,” but this was a compelling and restrained moment. I sometimes feel like “Bono” is secretly an insufferable Joaquin Phoenix project, but he wooed me right here. Idina Menzel warbled “Let It Go” right too, just before it won the (mostly expected) Oscar. We’ll get to her dubious introduction in a moment, but did I mention Pharrell, whose happy-clappy groove “Happy” was nominated for Despicable Me 2, was responsible for the night’s coolest moment? Ready? Here it is.

First: MOVE OVER, AGNETHA, LUPITA IS A SUPERFLY DANCING QUEEN.

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Second: MERYL LEARNED SOME LIFE-AFFIRMING PAT BENATAR SH*T FOR PHARRELL, OH MY GOD.

meryl streep pharrellAnd third: GO ON, AMY. YOU SLITHER LIKE AN AUSTERE CATERPILLAR.

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“HAPPEEEEEE.” — me, out loud, at all this.

Bette Midler’s In Memoriam performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” was also lovely and expected, but props must be paid to that constant aerialist Pink, whose tribute rendition of “Over the Rainbow” was a gape-worthy pleasure. Love that she wore a sparkly ruby number too, like a swingin’ ’60s Peggy Lee.

Jared Leto: A gentle soul who welcomes you to Narnia.

Jared Leto has been an enigmatic figure this entire award season. First of all, he is Aslan. Secondly, he also reminds me of Princess Vespa’s stunt double in Spaceballs. Most importantly, sometimes he seemS ready to engage in a dialogue about transgender actors/roles and sometimes he seemS a bit aloof and unprepared to address the expected criticism that occurs when you’re a straight guy playing one of the only major transgender roles of the year. When he won for Dallas Buyers Club last night, he toasted his mother and brother before dedicating his Oscar to “the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS, and to those of you who’ve 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.” Well said. Do I wish he’d brought up trans issues directly? Yes. But I liked the sensitivity of his speech, even though I still think his character’s arc is the weakest and most predictable part of Dallas Buyers Club. A solid B+ soliloquy here, though.

Remember when John Travolta began to read Idina Menzel’s name and instead invented another name entirely?

Maybe in the official tongue of Scientology, “Idina Menzel” is pronounced “Adele Dazim,” but methinks L. Ron would’ve shuddered at this ENORMOUS SNAFU too. It would’ve been one thing if Travolta just mispronounced Idina’s name, but no: He completely misspoke after breathlessly referring to her as the “talented” and “one and only.” Good God. ADELE DAZIM. That sounds like the name of Xenu’s first wife. I could watch this Vine all day, even if Travolta’s palpable trepidation sours the fun just slightly.

We gave a Best Actress Oscar to the fiercest actress alive. That feels pretty good.

It is just hard to talk about this goddess, this woman who always looks like the most suspicious character in a murder mystery. Cate’s intelligence and passion and coolness are right up in your face, and frankly, her sense of dignity and comprehension makes her more glamorous (to me) than even a Grace Kelly or a Joan Crawford. Cate embodies everything I love about Australian actresses: the willing fragility of Nicole Kidman, the nervy screen presence of Naomi Watts, and the headstrong, hyper-smart grit of Judy Davis. Cate is the greatest, and her performance in Blue Jasmine is finest performance ever in a movie by that-guy-whose-reputation-and-dubiousness-are-so-confusing-and-disheartening-that-I-won’t-say-it-at-this-time. My favorite part of the speech? When she gave a shout-out to movies with female protagonists, saying, “Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money — the world is round, people!” G-L-A-M-O-R.

This huge selfie situation was adorable. 

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The only way this Ellen-staged Instagram moment could’ve been more glamorous? If everyone except Meryl left the photo.

Bill Murray’s Harold Ramis tribute was even more adorable.

While presenting the cinematography statue, Bill Murray waited until after the nominees were announced to add, “Oh, we forgot one. Harold Ramis for Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day.” I jived in my seat like Ray Parker Jr. at this.

Kudos to Gravity’s technical wins, but thank God 12 Years a Slave took Best Picture. 

I told you the award handout went swimmingly. Gravity took home seven trophies in categories none of us are smart enough to critique properly, but 12 Years a Slave won the biggest award of the evening and provoked a salacious jumping-and-dancing moment from director Steve McQueen. I’ve held an Oscar before, and I can tell you right now that jumping and dancing with one is a scary idea. It’s like jumping hurdles while carrying an elongated bowling ball. I wouldn’t do it to impress anyone, guys.

The Lowlight

Matthew McConaughey’s weird, eyeroll-worthy speech

Damn it, Matthew. Not only did you not bring up AIDS in your confusing speech for a movie concerning the most devastating era of the disease, but you pimped your clothing brand instead. “Just Keep Livin'” is his men’s casual fashion line. Uh, yikes. And eww. I’ve brought this up before, but the weird thing about Matthew McConaughey’s strange omissions in his recent speeches is that he proved in our interview that he knew a lot about AIDS in the ’80s. I don’t understand why he couldn’t have referenced that reservoir of insight even for a moment. Definitely my least favorite speech and moment of the evening. Maybe he thought Jared Leto’s passing acknowledgements were enough for one night? That’s probably a problem in itself.

Did you tolerate The Great Gatsby’s two Oscar wins? I did, but if it had won any more, I’d have groaned for three straight minutes like Lana Del Rey.

Last Page…The full list of Oscar winners, courtesy of MTV.

86TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS WINNERS

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features)

ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN
“The Great Gatsby” (Warner Bros.) Catherine Martin

ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
“Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features) Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“Mr. Hublot”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM OF THE YEAR
“Frozen” (Walt Disney)
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho

ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
“Helium”
An M & M Production
Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
“The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life”
A Reed Entertainment Production
Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“20 Feet From Stardom” (RADiUS-TWC)
A Gil Friesen Productions and Tremolo Production
Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
“The Great Beauty” (Janus Films) – Italy
An Indigo Film Production

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years A Slave” (Fox Searchlight)

ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Emmanuel Lubezki

ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger

ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION DESIGN
“The Great Gatsby” (Warner Bros.) Production Design: Catherine Martin; Costume Design: Beverley Dunn

ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES (ORIGINAL SCORE)
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Steven Price

ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES (ORIGINAL SONG)
“Let It Go” from “Frozen” (Walt Disney)
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“12 Years A Slave” (Fox Searchlight) Screenplay by John Ridley

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Her” (Warner Bros.) Written by Spike Jonze

ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Alfonso Cuarón

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics)

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features)

BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight)
A River Road, Plan B, New Regency Production
Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers