Monday, March 3, 2014

2013 Oscars: Show recap ("12 Years a Slave" holds off "Gravity")

The Manifesto was overdue for a good night. After hitting on a paltry two-thirds of my predictions each of the past two years (14-for-21), I hit on all but two categories at the 2013 Academy Awards, finishing 19-for-21 for a success rate of 90%. Now, did I do that well because the awards were thoroughly predictable, or because I'm a prognosticating genius? I'll let you decide.

As for the show itself, you know what? It could have been worse. I'm not a huge Ellen DeGeneres fan, but after last year's Seth MacFarlane fiasco (for the record, I liked him), the Academy needed to bring in someone safe and inoffensive. By those guidelines, DeGeneres did her job. Her opening monologue was generally funny, and her overall demeanor was enthusiastic, playful, and non-threatening. The majority of her jokes landed, and the ones that didn't were earnest and warmhearted rather than mean-spirited. Her act wore a tad thin as the show went on (and on and on)—particularly the pizza bit, which was strained to begin with and gradually turned into a complete train wreck as it continued—but that's more indicative of the defunct nature of the hosting gig in general than any specific failure on DeGeneres' part.

Of course, the show itself is still a good hour too long, and a number of segments this year—particularly the two "heroes" montages, not to mention Pink's well-rendered but spectacularly out-of-place tribute to The Wizard of Oz—felt beyond pointless. But at this point, it seems as though the Oscars have given up on being memorable and are simply striving not to be awful. It's all a matter of expectations, and as John Cusack suggested long ago in Say Anything, "If you start out depressed, everything's kind of a pleasant surprise." By that measure, the 2013 Academy Awards were sort of a success.

On to the winners themselves. Following up on my buddy Kalich's request, I'm including my preferred choice along with my original prediction and the actual winner. In order of presentation:

Best Supporting Actor
Predicted winner: Jared Leto—Dallas Buyers Club (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Michael Fassbender—12 Years a Slave
Actual winner: Jared Leto—Dallas Buyers Club

No surprise here. Leto's speech was astonishingly grandiose, but he seemed to mean it, and at least he said something rather than just thanking 50 different people.

Following this, Jim Carrey introduced the first entirely unnecessary montage of the night, a random ode to animation, which became even weirder in that the award for Best Animated Feature didn't immediately follow. On the plus side, Carrey's bitterness at never having received an Oscar nomination remains a perennial highlight. I wouldn't be surprised if the Academy just put a hit out on him already.

Best Costume Design
Predicted winner: The Great Gatsby (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: American Hustle
Actual winner: The Great Gatsby

Further proof that glitz is gold. By the way, American Hustle came away empty-handed tonight, meaning David O. Russell's last two movies have combined to rack up 18 Oscar nominations ... and one actual Oscar. Weird.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Predicted winner: Dallas Buyers Club (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: American Hustle (which wasn't nominated, but still)
Actual winner: Dallas Buyers Club

Nice try, Jackass.

This award was followed by Harrison Ford presenting the first of three mini-montages featuring clips from three Best Picture nominees. On the plus side, credit to the Academy for condensing these clips into sets of three, rather than stretching things out with individual tributes to each of the nine nominees. On the minus side, Ford could not have been less interested and may have been completely hammered. Either way, I think he was more disgusted tonight than when Warner Bros. made him do additional voiceover narration for the original cut of Blade Runner.

Best Animated Feature
Predicted winner: Frozen (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Frozen
Actual winner: Frozen

Nice attempt by Kim Novak to inject some suspense by stuttering before making the announcement. Either that or she's just old.

Best Visual Effects
Predicted winner: Gravity (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Gravity
Actual winner: Gravity

Not exactly a shocker. Also, can Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emma Watson just do everything together from now on? I'm not seeing a downside to this suggestion.

Best Documentary Feature
Predicted winner: The Act of Killing (confidence: 1/5)
Actual winner: 20 Feet from Stardom

Thus ended my dream of running the table. Stupid documentaries. That said, the show received a jolt of life when one of the subject backup singers from 20 Feet from Stardom unapologetically burst into song during the speech. The Oscars could use a bit more of that level of spontaneity.

Best Foreign Language Film
Predicted winner: The Great Beauty (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Blue Is the Warmest Color (which also wasn't nominated, but again, still)
Actual winner: The Great Beauty

Kaboom! Who says you need to watch movies in order to predict the Oscars? In related news, I'm looking forward to actually seeing The Great Beauty later this month once it arrives on Netflix.

Shortly after this, Michael B. Jordan and Kristen Bell made a brief presentation about the scientific and technical awards. Thankfully, Jordan nobly declined to call out the Manifesto for inexcusably failing to address his magnificent, emotionally rich performance in Fruitvale Station when discussing this year's Best Actor race. My bad Mike, thanks for taking it easy on me.

Best Sound Mixing
Predicted winner: Gravity (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Gravity
Actual winner: Gravity

In space, no one can hear you scream, but everyone can witness your impressive sound design. Or something.

Best Sound Editing
Predicted winner: Gravity (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Gravity
Actual winner: Gravity

Moving right along. Also, Samuel L. Jackson isn't as funny with Naomi Watts as he is with when he's clowning around with The Avengers.

Best Supporting Actress
Predicted winner: Jennifer Lawrence—American Hustle (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Jennifer Lawrence—American Hustle
Actual winner: Lupita Nyong'o—12 Years a Slave

Dammit. This was the one category where I really went for it, and I flopped, meaning it's the second year in a row where Jennifer Lawrence has fucked me (last year, it happened in reverse when I expected her to lose). With that said, Nyong'o is terrific in 12 Years a Slave, so I can't be too upset.

Best Cinematography
Predicted winner: Gravity—Emmanuel Lubezki (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Gravity—Emmanuel Lubezki
Actual winner: Gravity—Emmanuel Lubezki

It's comforting when those three lines above all read the same thing. Also, kudos to Bill Murray for throwing a shoutout to his old friend Harold Ramis when presenting this award. Nicely done.

Best Film Editing
Predicted winner: Gravity—Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Captain Phillips—Christopher Rouse
Actual winner: Gravity—Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger

At this point in the night, Gravity had racked up five Oscars, while 12 Years a Slave had one, so you know Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt were starting to sweat. Also, when the orchestra cut Cuarón off, I dearly wished he'd just said, "It's cool, I'll see you in an hour when I win Best Director, assholes."

Best Production Design
Predicted winner: The Great Gatsby (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: The Great Gatsby
Actual winner: The Great Gatsby

Sure, Academy voters may be too easily seduced by big, brawny set design, but at least they seem to vote for each award on its merits. The Great Gatsby was poorly received critically, but from a design perspective, it was a smash.

This award was eventually followed by the "In Memoriam" montage, which rightly concluded with the legendary Philip Seymour Hoffman. That itself was followed by a fairly muted Bette Midler singing "The Wind Beneath My Wings", which was well-meaning but completely redundant.

And then, we had John Travolta introducing Idina Menzel to perform "Let It Go" from Frozen, only he flat-out butchered her name as "Adele Dazin". Whoops. Worse, while Menzel showed off her tremendous pipes, she rushed the tempo, as though she couldn't wait to get off the stage. Still, of the four songs performed live tonight, this was the highlight. Karen O. (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Ezra Koenig (of Vampire Weekend) did a fine job with "The Moon Song", but it's hardly the type of song to be performed on a gigantic stage. U2 could have used a bigger amp and some heavier percussion on "Ordinary Love". And Pharrell Williams was suitably energetic in delivering "Happy", but the performance overall felt grating rather than invigorating.

Best Original Score
Predicted winner: Gravity—Steven Price (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Her—William Butler, Owen Pallett (aka Arcade Fire)
Actual winner: Gravity—Steven Price

Sure, it was off-kilter and distracting, but I don't care: Jamie Foxx's a cappella rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme was a classic. Oh, and Gravity was now up to six statuettes.

Best Original Song
Predicted winner: Frozen—"Let It Go" (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez) (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Frozen—"Let It Go" (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez)
Actual winner: Frozen—"Let It Go" (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez)

Whew. Also, speech of the night! This is proof that just a small amount of preparation can yield a memorable and truly entertaining speech, rather than just a numbing string of thank-yous.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Predicted winner: 12 Years a Slave—John Ridley (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Before Midnight—Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater
Actual winner: 12 Years a Slave—John Ridley

If Philomena had won here, Brad Pitt would have just walked out. As is, the second victory for 12 Years a Slave kept things suspenseful. Also, did Ridley forget to thank McQueen in his speech?

Best Original Screenplay
Predicted winner: Her—Spike Jonze (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Her—Spike Jonze
Actual winner: Her—Spike Jonze

Yes! Remember, I only cared about two categories tonight—Best Original Song and Best Original Screenplay—and justice was served both times. And sure, Jonze whiffed hard on his ambitious acceptance speech, where he weirdly pretended that his collaborators were up on stage with him, but at least he tried something new. (It also resulted in one of DeGeneres' best ad-libs, pointing out that Jonze is a former skateboarder who "has hit his head against concrete countless times"; she then casually applied the lip balm that she'd stolen from Lupita Nyong'o earlier in the evening. Well-played.)

Best Director
Predicted winner: Alfonso Cuarón—Gravity (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Alfonso Cuarón—Gravity
Actual winner: Alfonso Cuarón—Gravity

Sydney Poitier tried his best, but his struggles in introducing this award made me nostalgic for three years ago, when Kirk Douglas absolutely killed the room with his exaggerated senility. Anyway, that's a whopping seven Oscars for Gravity. Could it land the big one?

Best Actress
Predicted winner: Cate Blanchett—Blue Jasmine (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Cate Blanchett—Blue Jasmine
Actual winner: Cate Blanchett—Blue Jasmine

Naturally, and with a genuinely moving speech to boot.

Best Actor
Predicted winner: Matthew McConaughey—Dallas Buyers Club (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Leonardo DiCaprio—The Wolf of Wall Street
Actual winner: Matthew McConaughey—Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey certainly didn't attempt to abide by convention in his speech, and that's fine with me, even if he seemed like he was in the middle of one of his hallucinations from True Detective. Far more importantly, he dropped an "alright alright alright" at the end. God bless him.

Best Picture
Predicted winner: 12 Years a Slave (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Her
Actual winner: 12 Years a Slave

Sorry, Gravity, you'll have to settle for winning the second-most Oscars ever for a non-Best Picture winner (seven, one behind Cabaret's eight). I'll admit that I was pulling for Gravity at the end of the night, but I suspect history will view 12 Years a Slave favorably. Props to Pitt for swiftly ceding the stage to McQueen.

So that was the 2013 Oscars. My predictions went well, the show didn't go horribly, and the movies were pretty fucking great. Until next year.

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