Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Academy Awards Ceremony: The Good

Steve McQueen
In order to best explore all sides of the 86th Academy Awards Ceremony, I have decided to split my opinions up into two posts: the good and the bad. We'll begin with the good, as any given year is not without its charm. For starters, there wasn't any major upsets for those predicting the top dogs. While this means that it limits the bickering for most of the ceremony's legacy, it does mean that the Academy has done something right and the results will now be tested by time. Of course, there is much else to be said from speeches to performances to the overall presentation. Even if this year's ceremony had a lot of downsides, it definitely had a lot of great memorable moments.

The Performers

After a dull opening that didn't feature any fanfare or special recognition to the films of 2014 (unless Jonah Hill's member counts), it was refreshing to see the first Best Original Song performance liven up the night. Performing "Happy," Pharrell Williams came out in his traditional mountie hat and threw in the most spectacle that we will get all night. With dancing children and the audience shimmying along, it was an upbeat, amazing performance that remains unmatched for the rest of the ceremony. With Pharrell interacting with audience members, he quickly made his brief appearance on the show into one of the most memorable. If anything, it makes me want to nominate him next year just so he can liven it up again. 

Left to right: Karen O and Ezra Koenig
In a much more stripped down performance, Karen O and guitarist Ezra Koenig took the stage to perform "The Moon Song" from Her. It was by no means the liveliest nor the most visually impressive, but there was a sweet touch of simplicity that complimented the romantic tune. With the very brief performance, it may have felt anti-climactic as a nominee, but as a performance piece, it was beautiful and a nice standalone moment. It is by every means a sweet song brought to life visually as how you're likely to picture a song about being on the moon.

The Speeches
Lupita Nyong'o
It would be crass to leave out Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) from the list of highlights. Turning in one of the best speeches of the night, she was overfilled with passion and triumph that every word sound momentous. Along with being one of awards season's fashion icons, she also managed to steal the show with her definitive statement: "Your dreams are valid." With that comment, she defined the underdog so perfectly. Compared to the boisterous mixture of people singing their acceptance speeches, her modesty really shined through and made the award feel significant.

Matthew McConaughey
If you're anyone, following Matthew McCoanughey win all of the awards has been a blessing if not for any other reason than those acceptance speeches. Even if this doesn't trump his psychedelic Screen Actors Guild speech, it does have a lot of poignancy. From discussing his dead father cooking gumbo to who his hero is, there is a sense of joy that comes with this particular win. The words "I'm my own hero in 10 years" may seem a little corny, but the Best Actor (Dallas Buyers Club) winner said it with charisma and personification unlike any other nominee. In a way, his win also symbolized his return to acceptance as a legitimate actor after a decade of forgettable films. It embodies everything from Magic Mike to Killer Joe to Mud. In a sense, McConaughey has made it. Now it's time to see if he'll stay this time.

Alfonso Cuaron
While Gravity swept the Academy with seven wins, Alfonso Cuaron's win for Best Director feels like a career triumph. After getting ignored for Children of Men, it is refreshing to see him earn not one, but two Oscars (the other for Best Editing) and make history as the first Mexican director to win the Best Director award. It is quite a triumph and something that he notified in his speech, which included a shout out to other Mexican filmmakers Guillermo Del Toro and Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu. With the winners of this category going back-to-back as non-whites, it is a positive note for the Academy and recognizing other filmmakers. There's only hope that this trend continues with more recognition for other races.

John Ridley
What makes John Ridley's acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay (12 Years a Slave) rather fascinating is his recognition of his roots. Discussing his beginnings in TV writing, he spent a good portion of his speech highlighting the man who helped him to define his style and bring life to the screenplay that he won the award for. It also started one of the most interesting internet speculations with the infamous "fake" clapping by Steve McQueen that the writer and director aren't getting along. Either way, Ridley had the better speech and while it didn't compare to Lupita Nyong'o's, it did have a triumphant message to it and was one of the more inspiring elements of the night.

Cate Blanchett
With her Best Actress win for Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett took to the stage, thanking Woody Allen and delivering a somewhat strange speech. It wasn't so much the content, but the idea that it might not happen. With her speech, she triumphantly called for more movies with women protagonists to be made. It was supposed to be a moment of triumph, but with five other Best Actress nominees, it does seem like a weird complaint (even though Meryl Streep isn't helping diverse casting one bit). However, the message and the poise that brought to the performance was phenomenal and made it one of the best given speeches of the night. 

The Presentation

Thanks to Mill+ for creating some of the most gorgeous artistic statements that I have ever seen at the Oscars (check out more here). For the ceremony, they were in charge of creating art for many of the categories as well as the In Memoriam. The results were phenomenal and tonally accurate to each field. Save for the descriptions, these are works of art that definitely transcend the average awards presentation and adds a touch of class. It is creative and fun and shows the potential of what an artistic representation of films can be at the Oscars.

If the speeches were dull, it would be hard to not find something to talk about with the changing backgrounds. From a barrage of Academy Award statues to strange circular lights to rows of type-writers, the entire ceremony's shifting backdrop was fascinating and kept the visual appeal moving. However, the most confusing of these remains the red flowers, which feels like a strange callback to American Beauty. In a ceremony full of strange reference points, it wouldn't be out of line, but when presenting the costuming and stage awards, a blanket of flowers seems oddly mundane and kind of dumb. Still, it was nice to look at.

What are some of your favorite moments?

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