Academy Awards: The good, the bad, the ugly

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony was a strange beast. Equal parts funny, annoying and brilliant, it defined both the great and the not-so-hot of live television. As Oscar telecasts go, it was quite good.

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Ellen DeGeneres was a major highlight of this year’s sometimes stuffy, sometimes spontaneous ceremony.

What worked in this year’s ceremony? For better or worse, host Ellen DeGeneres was a big reason why the show worked. Several bits should go down as some of the best in history, including the pizza delivery and the selfie seen around the world. Ellen was relaxed and jovial, working the audience and having some great fun with the stars. She’s a pro at making hilarious moments out of painfully awkward situations (as opposed to being just painfully awkward, like another recent hosting duo I could name). I thought Seth McFarlane was an edgy breath of fresh air, but Ellen is perfectly delicious Oscar comfort food. As Cinema Blend put it, she was “the Oscar host we needed AND the one we deserved.

It was also a banner year for Oscar winners and their speeches. Jared Leto thanked his mother, Matthew McConaughey thanked God AND his mother (and his drunken angel father—seriously, that was weird), and the stunning Lupita Nyong’o paid tribute to the dreamer in all of us. They were three of my all-time favorite Oscar speeches.

I also thought it was a good year for the actual awards. Almost every winner was deserving, though some categories were so stacked that it was impossible for people not to be disappointed. Gravity took home a whopping seven awards, sweeping the technical categories and garnering a win for director Alfonso Cuaron (the first Latin American to win that award; though it’s crazy to think Pedro Almodovar has never gotten one). But, in a neck-and-neck Oscar race, the top prize went to the richly deserving 12 Years a Slave, which has got to be the best movie to win that award since…let’s just say it’s been a long time.

The not-so-good? What about this year’s Oscar “theme?” It was supposed to be a salute to movie “heroes,” but the presentation was so disjointed, it ended up feeling like no more than a padded, unnecessary afterthought. And, speaking of padding, this ceremony was long; it clocked in around 3 ½ hours. It seems ABC doesn’t mind going over running time; there were surprisingly few infamous musical “playoffs” for overlong speeches, even one’s like Jared Leto’s that went on for minutes. But, other than those “heroes” sections, the show really didn’t seem to drag. Even the “In Memoriam” segment was streamlined (causing some criticism), and the Best Picture centerpiece presentations were clustered in groups of three. And the musical numbers from this year’s Best Original Song candidates were particularly good.

The night’s biggest downer was its predictability. The major awards went to the intended suspects, and there were really no left-field wins (although some surprises in the documentary and animated short races shook things up). Remember the crazy insanity that was the Golden Globes? I mean, those speeches were bonkers (Jacqueline Bisset, anyone?) At the Oscars, everyone seemed cordial and no one seemed drunk. That made the ceremony feel classy and a little dull.

“Safe” is probably a better word. The Academy was concerned over the backlash from last year’s show; so they decided to do what was expected of them. And it worked really well (those ratings don’t lie) and not much more. That’s fine with me. It’s hard to complain about this year’s Academy show; it was classy, breezy fun. More importantly, there were some potentially historic Oscar moments to round out the package.

I leave you with pizza. Hope you’re hungry!

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