What Hath Ellen Wrought? The 2014 Oscars

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

Like most right-thinking people, I consider the Oscars to be beneath me.  Seriously, the amount of mutual gratification and self-regard on display is appalling.  And yet, still we watch, partially because it’s like observing chimpanzees in an animal behavior experiment, and partly because we actually do love movies.

So I dutifully tuned in last night, realizing to my horror that I have watched more than half of all the Oscar presentations since the Academy Awards were invented.  It makes me feel old.  Not as old as Kim Novak, but close.  It’s impossible to watch a show like the Academy Awards and not have opinions, so here are mine:

— ABC worries about attracting younger men (who after all, are the film industry’s main customers) yet the Oscars start with a two-hour lead-in that no straight man would willingly watch: the Red Carpet thing.  I did watch a half-hour of it and almost ran screaming from the room with all the chatter about who’s wearing what.  And the interviews are like eavesdropping on the most boring cocktail party in history. The only interesting thing for I noticed was when one of the announcers identified Julia Roberts as JESSICA Roberts.  Twitter meltdown!

— Speaking of the Red Carpet, when did it become a thing to bring your mother to the Oscars?  I believe Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were the first to do this back when they were nominated for “Good Will Hunting.”  The first time was cute but now it looks like everyone’s trying to show how normal and “real” they are.  If I were nominated I would definitely bring my wife – or my sexy new girlfriend if necessary, because the easiest way to get a sexy new girlfriend would be to get an Academy Award nomination.  Also, why is it that none of the female nominees bring their fathers?

— Being an Oscar host is one of the least rewarding jobs in the world, because the audience either finds you offensive or boring.  Last year the Academy tried to woo back the aforementioned young men demographic by selecting Seth MacFarlane as host.  Ooops! Too many boob jokes.  Charges of misogyny!  So this year we are back with the ultra-safe Ellen DeGeneres, who caused no controversies.  She was fine but seemed to run out of material about an hour into the show, when she went into the audience to order pizza.  Then back to deliver the pizza. Then back again to pay for the pizza.  Ok, that was awkward, but fun – certainly better than Seth MacFarlane singing “We saw your boobs.”  Or better than any Broadway-style song and dance number that has ever been performed on any previous Oscars show.

— Ellen did get off a few good jokes, though, the funniest of which was directed to Jonah Hill, who displayed an unusual prosthesis in “The Wolf of Wall Street”: “You showed us something in that film that I have not seen for a very, very long time.”  To the extent she said anything stinging it was: “It’s going to be an exciting night. Anything can happen. So many different possibilities. Possibility number one.  ’12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture.  Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”  Ha ha, because you just know that the Academy did not actually think “12 Years A Slave” was the best picture of the year, but was afraid of being labeled racist, which totally would have happened if anything else had won. (After all, the “12 Year” ad campaign tag line was “It’s Time,” implicitly warning that it was time for an anti-slavery movie to win the Academy Award.)

— I’ve always liked it when old movie stars come out to present an award, but Kim Novak’s appearance was disastrous and set off a huge twitter rant about plastic surgery.  (Typical tweet: “This is a four-hour PSA on the perils of cosmetic surgery.”  Also: “Frozen wins.  The movie, not Kim Novak’s face.”) This woman made her first movie the year I was born but she has far fewer lines on her face than I do, and I doubt that’s due to clean living.  She also seemed discombobulated, leading to questions of whether she’d had a stroke.  For those of you who don’t know who she is, Kim Novak was a cool blonde sex symbol of the 1950’s – kind of the poor girl’s Grace Kelly.  She’s remembered today for one performance – the mysterious Judy Barton of “Vertigo.”  Not a great actress, to be honest.  In any event, after her appearance every female presented over the age of 40 was scrutinized for bad plastic surgery.  There seemed to be a general consensus that Sally Field had not had a facelift, that Bette Midler’s facelift was pretty good and that Goldie Hawn’s facelift was terrible.

— For me the highlight of the show was Darlene Love’s singing acceptance speech (see below), for  best documentary “Twenty Feet from the Spotlight.” Of course, she was not actually nominated – she was only in the movie – but that’s a quibble.  Next year there should be a rule that every winner needs to sing before getting an Oscar.

— Last night could have been called the “Glee Oscars” because of the high incidence of Oscar attendees who appeared on the show, including Idina Menzel (Rachel’s birth mother), Kate Hudson (Rachel’s mean dance professor), Whoopi Goldberg (Rachel’s mean dean of admissions), Kristen Chenoweth (Mr. Schue’s old crush) and John Stamos (the cool dentist).

–Speaking of Idina Menzel, I loved how John Travolta mispronounced her name, calling her something like Adele Dazeem.” Of course Twitter went berserk, rightfully so given that Travolta had one job to do and he screwed that up.  I mean, do they not tell these presenters what they are going to say ahead of time?  Funniest tweet: “Mispronouncing ‘Idina Menzel’ is, like, the cruelest way to deal with gay rumors.” (i.e., because he doesn’t own the “Wicked” soundtrack.)

— More on Idina/Adelle,  I’d been skeptical and a bit cynical about the song “Let it Go,” but she did a fantastic job of performing it (you need to sit through a long Pepsi ad if you want to see a clip here). I usually don’t like this kind of overwrought singing but she made it work.  And I was thrilled U2 didn’t win, thus preventing us from another lecture about Bono’s humanitarian causes.

— The night will probably be best remembered for the most awesome selfie and product placement of all time.  Proving that movie stars are just like frat brothers when it comes to getting their picture taken, Ellen got some major stars to pose with her in the audience and then successfully set out to break the record for the most retweets in history.  Jockeying for position in the photo were Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Tatum Channing and Kevin Spacey.  And right in front?  Lupita Nyong’o’s brother!  What you can’t see is poor Liza Minnelli trying to jam her way into the photo from the back.  Drunk with power, Ellen later joked that she broke Twitter and she was only half-kidding.  So many people retweeted that the service went down temporarily.  BTW, Samsung must be thrilled.  The quality of the photo is much better than I ever get on my Droid.

Ellen retweet

— Interesting that the winner of the best costume design was wearing one of the ugliest dresses last night.

— Until the Golden Globes I didn’t know that Spike Jonze was white and Steve McQueen was black.  And don’t call McQueen African-American, for God’s sake!  He’s British.

— Funniest unintentionally tweet while Better Midler was singing that song from “Beaches”: “Am I a total nerd for noting that it’s the wind *over* the wings that allows one to fly??? #oscars #physics”  Uh, yeah, but that’s OK.  Still a funny post. (And no, that tweet was was NOT from Neil DeGrasse Tyson)

— It was all well and good for Bill Murray to call out Harold Ramis last night, but Murray and Ramis were estranged at the time of his death.  As my wife noted, Ramis died thinking Bill Murray was not his friend.

I was shocked by the political incorrectness of Matthew McConaughey’s speech.  No mention of AIDS or the real-life AIDS victim he portrayed.  Instead, he made several explicit references to God, showing that in real life he’s actually the antithesis of his “True Detective” character  Rust Cohle. And how spaced out was it to make a reference to “Charlie” Laughton, presumably Charles Laughton, the British actor who died in 1962 without making a name for himself as a theoretician?  I doubt anyone else could get away with saying that he was his own hero.  All of which goes to show, I think, what a good actor he is.  Somehow despite being so spaced out as a person he manages to play characters who seem like they have all their wits about them.

— I don’t really have an opinion on “12 Years a Slave,” since I didn’t see it.  It was actually the only nominated film I didn’t see, not being a fan of torture.  Never saw “Schindler’s List” either and for the same reason (I’m still trying to prepare myself emotionally).  I find it hard to believe, though, that “12 Years” was better than “Gravity.”  If you look back at the history of the Oscars, many many Oscar winners which once seemed “important” at the time now seem dated.  You can gaze all the way to 1937, when “The Life of Emile Zola,” self-importantly beat “The Awful Truth,” which is still hilarious and widely admired today. I reject the premise that you need to see movies like this to have your consciousness raised.  I can affirm that I have always been opposed to slavery, even without seeing this movie.

— Sorry that “Captain Philips” and “American Hustle,” the second- and third-best movies of the year (after “Gravity”), got shut out.  This was a tough year with so many great movies that someone had to go home empty handed. (But for “The Great Gatsby” to win more Oscars than “Captain Philips,” “American Hustle,” “Nebraska,” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” combined seems crazy.)

See you next year.  Let’s get Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyers to do it.

  1. I laughed when I read your first point…. you mean you DON’T want to know what dresses are being worn? You are right of course!

  2. The dresses was bad enough but then they asked about the earrings, which was worse.

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