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Best & Worst Oscar Moments

Best & Worst Oscar moments, including McConaughey's victory dance and Ellen's pizza prank

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Oscars, Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o, Jared Leto
From left Oscars winners, Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Film Magic
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After devoting most of the last six months handicapping the Oscar race, movie bloggers likely will spend most of the next 36 hours trashing Sunday’s evening’s Academy Awards telecast. Why? Perhaps they can’t help themselves. As writer-historian Mark Harris suggested in an insightful Tweet, dissing the Oscarcast is “the Silkwood shower we take to scrub off the self-hatred.”

But here’s the thing: As Oscarcasts go, the one that aired Sunday was a modestly amusing and generally well-paced affair. Capably if not excitingly hosted by a game and ingratiating Ellen DeGeneres, the program proved to relatively painless as made-for-TV spectacle, and largely satisfying as a doling out of just desserts to the truly deserving.

 Capably if not excitingly hosted by a game and ingratiating Ellen DeGeneres, the program proved to relatively painless as made-for-TV spectacle. 

And if that sounds like I’m damning with faint praise – I am. But trust me: If anyone tries to tell you this is the worst Oscarcast he or she has ever seen, you need to ask just how many Oscarcasts this complainer has ever watched.

Speaking as a cineaste, I was pleased when the brutally gripping 12 Years a Slave was named Best Picture – even though, deep in my heart, I was hoping for an upset by Nebraska – and when co-star Lupita Nyong’o grabbed the gold as Best Supporting Actress. But, then again, I was just as happy that the relentlessly thrilling Gravity took home seven Oscars overall, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón.

No, I was not surprised that Cate Blancett got the Best Actress award for Blue Jasmine, and that her path to victory wasn’t blocked by any sort of backlash against writer-director Woody Allen. (Let’s face it: Blanchett had this sucker nailed down as early as last summer.) Yes, I was delighted to hear the take-no-crap Aussie take time during her acceptance speech to take a spirited swipe at Hollywood studio chiefs who continue to view “films with women at the center are niche experiences.”

And I freely confess: I whooped and hollered with unabashed glee when Texas boy Matthew McConaughey – who, as you doubtless have heard, I discovered years ago at SXSW when I reviewed Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Variety – got the Oscar as Best Actor for his richly detailed and deeply moving portrayal of hustler turned AIDS activist Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club.

Co-star Jared Leto gave an eloquent enough speech while accepting his Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. But McConaughey was the one firing on all cylinders, thanking everyone from God Almighty to director Jean-Marc Vallée to a dad swilling Miller Lite somewhere in heaven while clutching the gold, beaming brightly and, briefly, dancing an expression of happy gratitude. Awright, awright, awright!  

Some other random observations about the Oscarcast:

BEST REMARK FROM A WINNER TO A FAWNING AUDIENCE: Cate Blanchett: “Sit down, you’re too old to be standing!”

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR… MAYBE: Jim Carrey made but a fleeting appearance, to intro a film-clip montage, but he scored big laughs – yes, even with his borderline-lame LSD joke – and his uncannily accurate imitation of Bruce Dern was downright hilarious. (So hilarious, it had Dern himself roaring with laughter.) Why not give him a chance to liven up the whole freakin’ show?

JUST WONDERING: Am I the only one who expected Ellen to wind up asking Meryl Streep to just get up and take that group photo?

GO AHEAD, ADMIT IT: Sure, Lupita Nyong'o won the Best Supporting Actress award (for her excruciatingly powerful performance in 12 Years a Slave). And, God bless her, she richly deserved it. But c’mon: Julie Squibb of Nebraska had the best film clip in this category. Come to think of it, she had the best film clip of anybody nominated in any category all evening, right?

BEST PRESENTER-TO-PRESENTER BANTER: Bill Murray to Amy Adams: “Baby, you look like $146 million domestic.” (Props also to Murray’s evidently impromptu shout-out to the late Harold Ramis “for Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.”)  

FALLEN STARS: The people who put together the annual “In Memoriam” tribute usually catch heat for neglecting to include this aged celebrity or that industry insider, and the segment as a whole often is mocked as… well, take your pick: Too lachrymose. Too ponderous. Too, well, sad.

But this year’s tribute to film folks no longer with us struck me as much classier and more subdued than usual this year. For one thing, everyone from gone-too-soon Paul Walker to veteran producer A.C. Lyles to master animator Ray Harryhausen got pretty much the same time on screen. (A personal observation: Very, very glad to see my friend Roger Ebert made the, ahem, final cut.)

The decision to use Roger Williams’ ineffably haunting theme from Somewhere in Time to underscore the presentation was a masterstroke. And yes, Bette Midler brought it all home with an effective and affecting rendition of her signature tune, “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

It’s a shame that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, include Sarah Jones in the lineup, despite the much-publicized campaign to honor the young camera assistant who was killed Feb. 20 during the location filming of Midnight Rider. But, yes, that was her name you saw flashing on the screen before the commercial break, on a plug for the longer “In Memoriam” tribute that appears on Oscar.com.   

UNMENTIONABLE, UNFORGETTABLE: It would be needlessly unkind to remark about the appearance of two female presenters who likely have grounds to sue their plastic surgeons. (Both reminded me, alas, of the old joke about the woman who had her face lifted – and then dropped.) And I just can’t bring myself to say anything about… Well, no, that’s a lie, I can bring myself to say I have the utmost respect and admiration for Sidney Poitier. It’s just that I felt very melancholy while seeing him looking so frail – even while coming off so effortlessly elegant and dignified – while serving as a Best Director presenter.

Truth to tell, I’m even more grateful than I might normally be that Poitier also appeared during one of the evening’s “Celebrating Heroes” montages (or whatever the hell they were called), looking fine and in his prime in Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night. Yes, even after all these years, it’s always a terrific rush to hear: “They call me Mister Tibbs!”

GOOD SPORT OF THE EVENING: Brad Pitt, hands down. Not only was he a nifty presenter and a supportive partner. (Note the way he proudly applauded Angelina Jolie’s win of an honorary Oscar.) He was one of the first celebs to get out of his seat and join the fun when Ellen called for folks to join her in that group shot. And when Ellen started handing out pizza – well, I’ll be damned if he wasn’t the first dude to start handing out paper plates and napkins before he chowed down. Don’t know about you, but I want him to drop by for my next party.

AND SPEAKING OF PIZZA: Gee, do you think this place will enjoy an uptick in business after tonight?  

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