'12 Years' Defies 'Gravity': an Oscars Review

Elizabeth Webster of the D.C. Council with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years a Slave."
Photo by Joyce Chow
Elizabeth Webster of the D.C. Council with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years a Slave."

I woke up this morning from three nightmares: I dreamt the Russians had sort of invaded the Crimea, that another snow storm had stopped D.C. and the region in its tracks and that the 86th Academy Awards show was still going on.

Two out of three isn’t bad.

Still, even though “12 Years a Slave” had in the end defied the steamrolling “Gravity” by winning the Best Picture Award just before midnight (Eastern Time), which made this one of the longer Oscars shows in recent memory, it sure felt like there was a lot of Oscars after life going on. There was twitter buzz about every little thing. The selfie, twitted by hostess Elleen DeEllen DeGeneres, was priceless as was John Travolta’s big flub-up of introducing Broadway star Idina Menzel (singing “Let It Go” from “Frozen”) as “Adella Dazeem.” But here’s my question: how did we know this is the correct spelling of the fake name?

Menzel, who appeared here at the National Theatre back in September in the pre-Broadway run of “If/Then”, knocked the song—apparently a favorite among pre-adolescent girls who are big fans of “Frozen”—out of the park. You go, Adella. Not only that, but the song won Best Oscar honors.

The Oscars ceremonies, which go way back to the day when Bob Hope was still only middle-aged as host of the black-and-white show, always bring out contradictory feelings. You feel like Tevye watching it. On the one hand, the incense-like whiff of self-congratulation that always seems to engulf these things, on the other hand, those trips down memory lane, which resurrect the still lively corpse of old Hollywood. On the one hand, the acceptance speeches—those that are eloquent and generous, like that of Cate Blanchett, who praised every of her rivals for best actress. On the other hand, the acceptance speeches, like that of director Alfonso Cueron, who won for “Gravity” and failed to acknowledge the existence of other directors, a selfie in the flesh.

Watching the Oscars this year—as opposed to sitting through them last year when Seth McFarlane saw the boobies and Ann Hathaway Fantined the ceremonies—seemed a little weird. The ABC crew covering the red carpet fanfare prelim made you long for Billy Bush, which is saying something, although during the course of watching, I managed to find out that that fringy thing midway down the dresses of Jennifer Lawrence, Blanchett and Amy Adams was a called a peplum, a word that no doubt will haunt me in yet another nightmare, as in “May I ask if that is a peplum you’re wearing?” There’s something sweet and throaty in that word, it sounds like organic chocolate.

This was one of those nights when you gave in to the excesses—there are always excesses—of improbability because to fight it was to worry about Ukraine, the coming snow day, the sub-zero weather after that. Those things were playing in the background, to re-appear on the midnight news or the morning paper, if you could find it in the snowdrift.

So instead, all right, all right, Matthew McConaughey was sitting in the front row with his mother and wife, looking almost angelic in a white tux, practically glowing with expectation, the longish hair perfectly combed, like a schoolboy’s. You thought: "My God, what if he doesn’t win?" Not only that, but he gently shared the spotlight with Kim Novak, who at 81, still looked glamorous like the movie star of yore that she is and seemed perfectly happy to be there, as if inhaling a last gulp of tinsel.

We live during a time when such proceedings are being constantly blogged about, twitted and texted to a fare thee well, in real time, often by anonymous (or not) professional snarkers like Nikki Finke, a Hollywood outsider-insider, who probably wears a perfume called “Cutting Edge 24/7” with a slight dash of “Super Self Absorption.” Jimmy Kimmel, by the bye, skewered those hidden twitterers, then promptly, in true Hollywood fashion, promoted his show.

DeGeneres was playful throughout, wandering among the seats, being insulting, but not too much, changing into at least two tuxedoes, dressing up as Glinda the good witch from "The Wizard of Oz," ordering out for three or four large pizzas, and distributing them (which probably ran up the clock), generally running the proceedings like a slightly naughty Miss Congeniality.

The cool and the hip in the media did not like the tribute to “The Wizard of Oz,” celebrating its 75th anniversary, with big-voiced mega-star Pink doing a tolerable version of “Over the Rainbow,” with Liza Minelli and the Lufts in the audience. It’s easy to trash this sort of thing. Yet I think you do so at your peril: I remember a young girl and her date watching it a Biograph screening some years ago at the end of which the girl asked her date what he thought. “I thought it kind of dragged,” he said, which prompted this classic reply and end of relationship: “Frank, I don’t think you’ve ever been happy a day in your effing life.” (Almost as good as “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” which was uttered in the same year as “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.”)

But I digress. Here are some highlights:

Thor and Theron (Charlize) handing out an award. Wow. Think of the kids they might have.

Bette Midler, singing, emoting, acting, emotionalizing “Wind Beneath My Wings,” after the traditional recitation -- "In Memoriam" -- of the departed.

The presence of a true legend and stately gentleman, named Sidney Poitier, obviously frail, but strong of heart, being asked how things were different from when he won an Oscar for “Lilies of the Field.” “Well, for one thing, we didn’t have this,” he said, pointing to the carpet. “So many changes.” And Poitier again, being joined by the amazing grace of Angelina Jolie to present the award for best director. “Please keep doing what you’re doing,” he told the audience of film-makers.

If Jennifer Lawrence became Hollywood’s instant darling last year—and she still is darling—this year’s entry was Lupita Nyong’o, who won the Best Supporting Actress nod for “12 Years a Slave.” Eloquent, poised, beautiful and funny, the Kenya native stole the evening from almost everybody, except perhaps for the fact that her movie won the biggest award of all. She and the movie deserved it. The Oscars—like the snow storm—are finally over, even if the Russians have not left the Crimea.

[See photos below from the DIstrict Council's Elizabeth Webster. As in previous years, Webster was in Los Angeles over the weekend to visit friends and colleagues and to promote film production jobs in Washington, D.C.]

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Wed, 3 Sep 2014 00:44:43 -0400

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