2014 Oscar Report–First Thoughts

The good news is that most of my personal choices won. The bad news is that while best friend Clint and I did great on our Oscar pool, another guy did better. Oh, well.

The show, as always, was too long. Part of the problem was Ellen DeGeneres. I thought she seemed a good choice as host, as last year’s host was terrible. Ellen is funny and generally not unkind, and she can think on her feet. Other than a rather cruel jab at Liza Minnelli, Ellen opened with funny and only slightly cutting remarks—a good start. Then the patter with the stars, the walking around, the pizza thing—all bad ideas. It dragged things out and wasn’t funny. Strange. My guess is she won’t be hosting next year.

The musical numbers, usually a bit of a drag, were fairly well done. They were blessedly shortened, and they didn’t turn everything into a big production number. Great choice there. Of course John Travolta’s complete bolloxing of Idina Menzel’s name in his introduction of the “Let It Go” singer will be one for the ages, a gaffe he’ll never be able to completely put behind him, and one that seemed to rock the already nervous Tony winner before she started singing.

There was supposed to be a strong theme of the Hero throughout, but instead there were some interruptive clips of movie heroes that didn’t make much sense, had less continuity, and seemed a waste of thought and effort. And the homage to The Wizard of Oz was bizarre. 1939 is generally considered the greatest movie year in history, but honoring that year would have meant honoring THE film of that year, Gone with the Wind. That’s politically incorrect right now, especially in the year of 12 Years a Slave. So let’s ignore that magnificent year and focus on just one of the films of that year. And while we’re at it, let’s get a singer with a decent voice and have her do a distracting desecration of the film’s great song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Pink has a fine voice, but after a slightly bumpy opening of the first part of the song—rarely sung but always eagerly heard—she ruined the classic from the first line of the song proper: “Some…(breath)…where….over the rainbow.” Seriously, a breath after the first half of the first word? Then she kept up that approach throughout, taking breaths everything and crushing any meaning or lyricism out of the song. Of course, in a particularly self-congratulatory response on that most self-congratulatory night, some folks stood up. Please, Hollywood, at least you should have been counted on to resist the all-but-ubiquitous trend to provide standing O’s for everything award and every effort. Please reserve them for the rare cases of the truly deserving.

And speaking of music, having Bette Midler sing after the In Memoriam section (where the recently departed are remembered) seemed superfluous, and extended things unnecessarily. She either had a cold or is simply losing some of her voice, as she pulled out nearly every singer’s trick to keep “The Wind Beneath My Wings” going. As a performer, she was successful. As a singer, she may well be losing what was always a fascinating vocal instrument that often seemed on the verge of collapse, especially in her slower numbers. She’s clearly peaked, and only time will tell what she has left. She was as stunned as I that people gave her another standing O. (I began to think I was at the State of the Union address after a while.) But the In Memoriam sequence itself was one of the best I’ve seen.

Most everyone looked fine, and clothing was fashionable, complimentary and stayed in place. I think it was a mistake to have Kim Novak present, especially after her telling TCM interview with Robert Osborne. She’s clearly struggling, and the platform of the Oscars was an awkward mix, and unfair to her. But in general, the presentations seemed tighter and less bone-headed in their patter. I’m guessing there were better writers.

You could choke on the political correctness of the whole evening. An entire master’s thesis could be created out of the elements that made PC so pervasive that nothing actually stood out (nothing was needed to rock the boat—there’s a whole new boat now). But the most humorous was the group of six chosen as student filmmakers, whose work was rewarded out of hundreds of entries. When you saw the group up on stage, the optics of the diversity of the group made one wonder if their work was actually seen, or were the young filmmakers just screened according to what would look best on the Oscar stage? Unhappily, the great work of the artists who won, and the best pic of the year—12 Years a Slave—could regrettably be seen as part of the PC tapestry instead of the wonderful performances and great film they all genuinely were. When Ellen joked in the beginning about 12 Years possibly winning Best Picture, with the opposing idea of everyone being racist, it was funny and at the same time far too revelatory of the zeitgeist of the evening and the attendees.

Aside from the physical therapy obviously needed for the damage done from everyone patting themselves so hard and often on their backs, the Oscars do mean something, especially when they actually get the awards “right,” as they did this year. People need to see the new Best Picture, and maybe the awards, particularly for the top prize, might encourage more to see it. Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine is a work of art and a master class in acting. Winning Best Actress might call more attention to it—well deserved. Same with Matthew McConaughey’s work. We can only hope that he’ll continue to do more serious work.

Winning this award means that more attention will be paid to the work—not just in the near future, but in the distant future as well. When the choices are this sound, that’s a great thing.

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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