The 2014 Academy Awards: The Safest Show in Town

Apparently, 2014 was the year in which I finally admitted that it was more fun to just pick the people I wanted to see win, rather than the people who I thought were probably going to win. The logic there is that I’d rather be disappointed than indifferent. It was nice to see Lupita Nyong’o pick up Best Supporting Actress, and I am extremely skeptical that I’m going to like any of the other Best Picture nominees I haven’t seen more than I liked 2014 winner 12 Years a Slave, but the 2014 Oscars made one thing very clear to me. In terms of any semblance of entertainment value, they’re dammed if they do, and they’re dammed if they don’t.

People accused the Oscars of being boring, so they brought in Seth MacFarlane last year. As sophomorically offensive as his hosting performance was at times, there was at least a sense of alertness about things. I watched the show with a little more interest than I had in years, if only because it was nice to not know at times what was going to happen next. I would swear to you the presenters were more interesting last year, too. I have no idea who created the pairings for this year, but if you told me they were drawn out of hat by a blackout drunk falling from a skyscraper, I might believe you.

I learned something this year, or I at least had a recurring suspicion cemented in my thoughts. I have no strong feelings about whether most of the nominated individuals and films win or lose. I certainly don’t give a damn about the fashion. That pretty much leaves the presenters, the host, and anyone they trot out to perform music. Keeping those things specifically in mind, the Oscars were very safe, very low-key, and very bland.

That doesn’t mean I hated Ellen DeGeneres second turn as host. Her job is to be entertaining, and to keep things moving. She certainly did a good job on the first point, and she did the best she could on the second point. Ellen is the kind of Oscar host who is going to make nice jokes, not say anything too inflammatory, and delight people with her quirkiness, even when she seems to get lost for a moment. There’s nothing really wrong with that. There’s nothing very exciting about it, but there’s worse things in the world than being bland. You can be entertaining and extremely distasteful to a lot of people (MacFarlane), you can be a car wreck that has to be seen to be believed (James Franco and Anne Hathaway), or you can manages to be pretty close to perfect, in what has to be one of the most thankless jobs in Hollywood (Billy Crystal or Chris Rock).

Harrison Ford, Ellen DeGeneres, and some poor, overwhelmed pizza delivery guy.

Harrison Ford, Ellen DeGeneres, and some poor, overwhelmed pizza delivery guy.

Ellen made jokes I largely can’t remember now, bought everyone pizza (which was cute, yes), and “broke” Twitter with a selfie that included people like Bradley Cooper, Meryl Steep, and even Jared Leto trying to force his way in. She kept the pace alive, and she didn’t make any waves. Her performance falls somewhere in the middle of whatever grading scale you want to imagine. It could have been worse, but if we’ve learned anything from the last couple Golden Globes shows, it could have been a lot better.

And let’s talk about Jared Leto. Thanking your mother is apparently a nice enough gesture that people are going to overlook a plug for your shitty band, followed by a throwaway mention about Venezuela and Ukraine, delivered with all the passion of a bank teller reading your zero dollars balance to you for the seventh time. Good for him that he won, I guess, but tell me again how many openly LGBT people have either been nominated for or won Oscars? How many straight people have won for playing characters that identify as LGBT?

Believe it or not, but being a cynic isn’t a lot of fun at this point in my life. It’s just hard not to at least be aware of these things.

So let’s get away from the cynicism and indifference. Lupita Nyong’o deserved to win. No one is going to tell me any different, and no one is going to tell me that her speech wasn’t one of the only things at the show that had even a trace of sincerity for it. She deserved to win, and she gave a great speech. Steve McQueen and everyone else involved with 12 Years a Slave deserved to win Best Picture, and I hope people noted the 21-million number he threw out at the end. Bill Murray gave Harold Ramis the extra shout-out that Ramis deserved, and it was impossible not to smile while feeling very sad. Most of the musical performances had some life to them for a change, particularly Idina Menzel, who didn’t let John Travolta’s fantastic stupidity deter her from driving home why “Let it Go” was easily the best song amongst the Best Song nominees.

Try to get the pronunciation down next time, Travolta, before you trot your useless ass out onto the stage.

Oscar remains a youth-driven gig, or at least it claims to. It was nice nonetheless to see people like Kim Novak and Sidney Poitier show up, and shame on anyone who made fun of the way Novak looked or sounded. She’s 81, and she was lighting up the world in Vertigo before most of us were even born. Show a little goddamn respect.

And I don’t even like “The Wind Beneath My Wings” (someone is going to play it at my funeral just to screw with me after I’m dead, I just know it), but I’m not going to deny that Bette Midler still has a hell of a voice. The huge cliché of playing that song for the cavalcade of people who died was actually a cliché I could stand. I suppose I’m not completely over the chasm of self-serving cynicism just yet. Or I’m a big softie. I guess it could go either way.

Alfonso Cuaron becoming the first Latino to win Best Director? That’s nothing to be cynical about either. I suppose I should see Gravity at some point. If the Oscars accomplished anything that’s significant to me, it’s that they reminded me of the short live action and animated films I wanted to see, and the foreign films that are clearly worth looking into at some point soon. All of those things were good things. Spike Jonze finally won a screenplay Oscar was another good thing. The animation tribute “curiously” favored Disney over characters like Bugs Bunny. The tribute to heroes in the movies was actually pretty neat.

2014 Oscar winners: Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong’o, and Jared Leto.

2014 Oscar winners: Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong’o, and Jared Leto.

Anyone who knows me knows I really did want Cate Blanchett to win for Blue Jasmine, a movie that’s going to mess with my psyche for a long time to come. Matthew McConaughey deserved to win, and capped that victory off with the kind of bizarre acceptance speech I was hoping he’d give. Leonard DiCaprio will probably win an Oscar someday, and I’m fine with that, but a large part of my personality delighted mightily in knowing the dreams and hopes of his hardcore fans were annihilated for yet another year.

This is starting like a pretty positive review. So what am I really complaining about? To look over this article, you’d think that I enjoyed the whole thing overall.

I guess I did in retrospect, but I still remember being bored enough that I had to amuse myself by spamming my poor Facebook friends with my best attempts at observational humor about the show. It was a safe show that didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I realize it’s a little unreasonable to be annoyed about that.

Maybe I’m just annoyed with myself for watching The Oscars again. The list of things I could have better spent my time on is a formidable one. That was never lost on me throughout the show. And yet I watched anyway. I could have gone to bed early, but I chose to sit through a three-hour participation ribbon ceremony that had its moments, but nothing worth the level of attention given to it by myself and others.

That could just be my problem. Robert De Niro (or whoever wrote his lines) was spot-on about writers, when he presented last night. Self-loathing makes it easy to settle. It can fill an article about The Oscars up pretty easily, too.