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The Best & Worst Moments Of The 2014 Oscars

The Best & Worst Moments Of The 2014 Oscars

Well, after months of speculation, thousands upon thousands of column inches, millions of dollars in campaigning and plenty of furious arguments, the Oscar season is over. Last night’s 86th Academy Awards saw “Gravity” pick up seven prizes, but being beaten to Best Picture by “12 Years A Slave” (only “Cabaret” won more awards without taking the big one), while “American Hustle” failed to win anything from its ten nominations (full list of winners here).

But what of the ceremony itself? On the whole, we’d say that it was a fairly decent night — very draggy and slack in places, but with enough new ideas, and crucially, strong results and speeches to make it more memorable than the last few. As ever, there was plenty of rough to take with the smooth, so we’ve picked out some highlights and lowlights of the night below. You can let us know your own favorite, or least favorite, moments in the comments section.

Best Moments

The Best Picture winner deserved it
This year was something to be cherished, in
that it was a rare occasion in which the race was between two genuinely
special, game-changing movies. Regardless of whether “12 Years A Slave” or “Gravity
took Best Picture, either would have been the best Best Picture winner
in quite a few years. But our hearts, and it seems the hearts of many,
were with ‘Slave,’ the most significant and history-making of the
options, and we were delighted that it was the one that won out. And so
too were the people that made it: the cast and crew were legitimately
joyous when Will Smith announced the result, not least director Steve McQueen.
The filmmaker went into the awards season with a bit of a
not-giving-a-shit vibe, but it became increasingly clear that he really
wanted to win, and his jumping-for-joy after his acceptance speech was a
great moment (though somewhat soured by what
appears to be tension between him and fellow Oscar winner screenwriter John Ridley — neither thanked the other in their speeches, allegedly because McQueen didn’t receive credit on the screenplay).

For the most part, Ellen
There wasn’t a whole bunch of excitement when it was announced that Ellen DeGeneres would be hosting this year. She’s did a decent enough job seven years ago, but hardly the sort of memorable evening that had us champing at the bit for a return appearance. But we enjoyed her this time around a fair bit more. Her monologue wasn’t quite a gut-buster, but was gently, consistently amusing, and had a little more edge to it than before (her closing gag, “Possibility number one: “12 Years A Slave” wins best picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists,” struck a nice balance). And she kept up a winning presence throughout the show, popping up for fun little bits, and not disappearing like Seth MacFarlane did in previous years. We’d be up for a more daring choice down the road, sure, but DeGeneres demonstrated she’s a very safe pair of hands here. And that’s all without mentioning…

It had a fun spontaneous, loose quality
DeGeneres’ light-on-her-feet approach gave the evening a sort of casual, hanging-out-with-the-stars quality that felt genuinely new for the telecast, and felt like it was engaging with the modern world without pandering or condescending. From Benedict Cumberbatch‘s pre-ceremony photobomb to Instagram after-party shots, this was the first Oscars of the post Jennifer Lawrence-era, where stars are keen to show they’re real people too, not untouchable gods, and the ceremony really embraced and engaged with that. Ellen spent more time in the audience than she did on stage, it seemed, and while the selfie and pizza bits arguably went on too long, both were genuinely charming and spontaneous, giving the evening a good-natured vibe a long way away from the rather more mean-spirited feel of last year’s ceremony. 

Given its general omnipresence, watching another performance of Pharrell Williams‘s ear-worm hit “Happy” wasn’t at the top of anyone’s priority list. But it turned out to be something of an unexpected highlight. In an evening that felt a little bit lacklustre throughout, it was a burst of energy and color that, in a Best Original Song category that often has rather dour performances, has to number among the most fun ever. And, in tune with what we were saying above, Pharrell coming into the audience and dancing with Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams was a lovely, instantly gif-able touch. Karen O and Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig‘s performance of “The Moon Song” was rather beautiful too, but it’s definitely Williams who walked away with the bragging rights for musical numbers last night, even if it was “Frozen” that took the Oscar. (Watch all the musical performances right here).

Bill Murray’s Harold Ramis tribute
A rare Oscar appearance for Bill Murray always promised to come up with some goods, and the comedy legend didn’t disappoint, but perhaps not in the way we were expecting. Murray wasn’t really chasing laughs when he co-presented Best Cinematography with Amy Adams, but after she read the nominees, he touchingly (and, one suspects, without having told anyone he was doing it) added, “Oh, we forgot one: Harold Ramis, for ‘Caddyshack,’ ‘Ghostbusters‘ and ‘Groundhog Day.’ ” Murray and the late director might have had a strained relationship in recent years, but the star was clearly visible affected, and it was a sweet and sincere way to pay tribute to him.

Lupita Nyong’o
If there was ever any doubt after the last few weeks and months, last night cemented Lupita Nyong’o‘s place as Hollywood’s new darling. The actress has been a consistent class act throughout the season (becoming an instant fashion icon along the way too, with another killer dress landing last night), and seemed to be having a ball, from dancing with Pharrell to getting involved (with her brother) on the famous selfie. But it was her speech that proved the most memorable — Nyong’o never hid how delighted she was with the win, and with her new life, but also put it into perspective from the first few lines of the speech, while graciously thanking all the right people. Future winners, this is a pretty great template for your speeches.

Darlene Love & The Frozen composers
Ok, this might have been something of a love/hate moment — they were both simultaneously a little cringe-making, and a bit thrilling, but these two musical acceptance speeches were definitely more memorable than most. Darlene Love belting out a number when “20 Feet From Stardom” might have been vaguely reminiscent of an aunt at a wedding, but it was also a moment in the spotlight for someone denied it for so long, and a nice capper for the film’s story (though we still would have liked to have seen what Anwar from “The Act Of Killing” would have done had that film won…) Meanwhile, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez‘s rhyming speech for writing “Let It Go” from “Frozen” felt a touch calculated, and yet, also genuine — they are, after all, musical theater folk, and that’s exactly what would happen when musical theater folk win Oscars. There was enough sincerity behind it to make it charming, rather than gag-inducing, particularly when they dedicated the song, and award, to their kids.

Cate Blanchett’s speech
In fairness, Cate Blanchett had roughly four million precursor awards in which to practice her Best Actress thank-you speech, but happily, she pretty much nailed it, with one of the best speeches of the night. Gracious without feigning surprise, acknowledging the “random and subjective” nature of the awards, sincerely thanking the other nominees, coming up with a number of great gags (#suckit!) and pulling off a hugely effective rallying cry for movies with women at the center. As ever, it was a class act, and made the least surprising award of the night as pleasurable as anything else.

Kevin Spacey
There was some good supporting work from a number of people throughout the night, but the stealthy MVP among the guests might have been Kevin Spacey. After a few years where he’s been mostly absent from movies in favor of theater and television, Spacey is going to be heading back to the movies when he leaves the Old Vic Theater in London in 2015, and last night was a fun reminder of what a good presence he can be. From ad-libbing in character as Frank Underwood (which was greeted by huge cheers), to quipping “that’s for you” to Ellen as she passed the hat to pay for pizza, to pulling an instantly meme-able selfie face, Spacey quietly stole the show in a way that he hasn’t done anywhere since the mid-90s, and made a pretty good case for being a potential host in a future year.

Alfonso Cuaron
Not only did it seem to us perfectly fair that Cuaron won for “Gravity,” the director’s speech was charming , smart and genuine, even lapsing into Spanish at the end to thank his mother. He paid tribute to both his stars but very much to Sandra Bullock calling her “one of the best people I have ever met,” and even got a couple of good laughs, especially when he corrected his Freudian slip of “the wiseguys at Warner Brothers” to “the wise people at Warner Brothers.” Overall he struck a good balance between professional and personal and, if we weren’t already a little in love with Cuaron, we probably would have been after this speech.

Pairing presenters
Just a little one, but we liked the way that producers had seemed to emphasize double-act presenters over solo names this year. It got more star-wattage up on stage, inspired plenty of fantasies (who doesn’t have their fingers crossed that Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron hooked up? Or Matthew McConaughey and Kim Novak, for that matter…), and inspired a million #TrueDetectiveSeasonTwo jokes. That’s definitely something that can stick around for future telecasts.

Spike Jonze won an Oscar!
It had seemed in the cards, but many were still tipping “American Hustle” for the Original Screenplay nomination, so no one was quite sure if Spike Jonze was going to win an Oscar. But he did, and it was one of the most warmly received victories of the night. Jonze’s speech was sweet, but brief, but more than anything, it was a worthy recognition of one of our most talented and original filmmakers.

The Worst Moments

The whole thing was almost too laid-back and low-energy
Like we said,
we enjoyed the casual vibe of the show, but only up to a point. Despite
(and sometimes because of: the pizza bit was fun, but went on for
nearly fifteen minutes on and off) Ellen’s efforts, the show was very
saggy and even subdued — some presenters, naming no names HARRISON
had very odd energy, to the extent that we worried that there
might be a gas leak in the building. And, like an awards show version of
This Is 40,” skits and bits seemed to go on way past the natural end
point, and the editing and cues of the show itself seemed a bit slack
(there was quite a lot of time spent just watching presenters, Ellen
included, making their way up to the podium). It felt like this could
have been a lot tighter when all was said and done.

Endless montages
at the Academy is very keen on them, but we are still completely
baffled by the insistence of including montages that have very little to
do with anything. Themed this year, particularly tenuously, around “Heroes,” we had three separate clip packages, none of which were much
better put together than the sort of thing you can watch (or, ideally,
ignore) online, and none of which added anything to the evening other
than the chance to check Twitter without missing anything good. We know
the Academy and ABC are constantly chasing the younger demographic, but
the chance to see two seconds of “Iron Man 3” are not going to make any
more kids tune in.

Matthew McConaughey’s speech
nothing last night came close to being as disappointing as Matthew
‘s speech. Not that his win wasn’t deserved — it’s a great
performance. And McConaughey seemed to do everything right on the night,
being gentlemanly while presenting with Kim Novak, and passionately
kissing his wife when he won, then graciously thanking his fellow
nominees. But then he kept going, and the speech got worse and worse as
it went on. If God’s important in your life, that’s great, but
McConaughey thanking the almighty felt more like a preachy door-to-door
bible salesman than a sincere gesture, while his conversations with his
past/future selves was both a bit self-involved and kind of incoherent.
Maybe we just wanted more of a Rust Cohle-vibe to the whole thing, but
it was a bit of a bum note on which to end the first act of the

Still basically ignoring the Honorary Awards
the digressions and gags and montages and musical numbers are all well
and good, but it sometimes feels like it’s coming at the expense of the
really good stuff. Despite the Honorary Awards having provided some of
the most powerful and moving moments in Oscar history, they’ve been
downgraded to also-ran status in recent years, and this time around, we only
got brief clips from the Governor’s Awards, without the recipients even
being in the house. Is there anyone alive who’d rather have seen Pink
singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” rather than see Angela Lansbury or
Steve Martin
give a speech honoring their careers? We feel like we
complain about it every year, but each time around, it feels like the Honorary
Awards are treated more and more shoddily.

Jim Carrey
There’s always a big comedy name popping up to present something, and this year, it was the somewhat faded A-lister Jim Carrey (whose last two movies, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and “Kick Ass 2,” both tanked). Coming very early in the show, Carrey proceeded to pretty much let all the air out of the room immediately, with a misjudged and awkward “Don’t patronize me” response to Ellen’s introduction of him as the star of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” before launching into a Bruce Dern impression, which was admittedly pretty good, but just continued to feel a bit awkward. Closing on a rather tired LSD gag, it was a pretty disappointing appearance from someone who’d done a good job at the Golden Globes recently.

As U2 were introduced to perform their Best Original Song nominee “Ordinary Love,” you could practically hear 800 million people going for a toilet/cigarette break. Even fans of the band who are stuck around must have acknowledged that the performance was far from their finest hour. The song is firmly B-side material, and despite a stripped-down acoustic arrangement, it still felt bombastic and self-important, which is an impressive achievement. Bono getting in on the audience-interaction game by serenading the front row didn’t help all that much either.

Pink & Bette Midler
As the show drags on, it’s easy to feel more and more negative about the less necessary digressions, and a couple arrived in musical performances from Pink and Bette Midler. The latter was at least accompanying the In Memoriam reel, but it felt strangely tasteless to be singing “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and the pace of the thing wasn’t helped by Midler singing after the reel finished, slowing the whole thing to a halt. Can we not just make In Memoriam about the people it’s honoring, rather than about what ever tear-jerking song accompanies it? Pink’s version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” felt even less essential. Sure, it’s the 75th anniversary of the movie, but it’s the 75th anniversary of a lot of movies (“Gone With The Wind,” “Stagecoach,” “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” among many others), and even so, we’re not sure that the makers of the film would have felt particularly honored by Pink’s technically impeccable, but very “American Idol“-y performance of a song everyone’s heard a million times before.

Adele Tazim
Given that he’s been stuck mostly in straight-to-VOD fare of late, it felt a bit odd for John Travolta to be introducing “Frozen,” but we suppose appearing in “Grease” will always get you the chance to do something like that. Probably not any longer: Travolta hilariously/mortifyingly botched his introduction of singer Idina Menzel, calling her something “Adele Tazim.” Whether it was an autocue malfunction (it did seem to be playing up a bit last night), or some kind of weird Scientology-induced disconnect, it was one of the more baffling Oscar-related moments we can remember.

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