That "whoosh" you heard Sunday night during the Academy Awards telecast was me breathing a sigh of relief.
Good judgment prevailed and "12 Years a Slave" deservedly won the Best Picture Oscar over a lousy script hidden behind amazing visuals ("Gravity") and a lousy script hidden behind amazing female performances ("American Hustle"). Somewhat similar to when "The Hurt Locker" conquered "Avatar," Academy voters seem to have taken a moment to think things over and voted with more than just their eyes. Which is smart, as it's unwise to press anything on a keyboard with any part of your face.
In the night's other major award with suspense behind it, Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") defeated Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle") and delivered a beautiful acceptance speech that sincerely validated everyone's dreams and, without notes, perfectly expressed what she wanted to say, exactly how she wanted to say it. "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's," she said in one of several great choices of words. This was her debut big-screen performance, and I can't wait to see what she does next (not including her small role in "Non-Stop").
Otherwise, the Oscars largely unfolded as everyone expected. Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club") won Best Supporting Actor and proved you can, in fact, refer to serious international conflicts and your terrible band in practically the same sentence. Matthew McConaughey won Best Actor for the same film, though even if he had lost the world would still justifiably marvel at his past few years of work. And Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), strongly defending stories about women, won Best Actress in a field absurdly lacking its most-deserving nominees (especially Adele Exarchopoulos of "Blue is the Warmest Color" and Brie Larson of "Short Term 12").
I'm shocked/thrilled that Spike Jonze won Best Original Screenplay for "Her" and relieved that John Ridley won Best Adapted Screenplay for "12 Years a Slave." However, "Frozen" won Best Animated Feature in another year with so few worthy nominees that the category should have been canceled. With an impressive rendition of Best Original Song "Let It Go," "Frozen" star Idina Menzel made an unintentional star of Adele Dazeem after presenter John Travolta totally botched Menzel's name. Really, he was not close.
Speaking of proximity: Host Ellen DeGeneres made multiple references to Jonah Hill's penis, which he (Jonah Hill, not his penis) minded only slightly less than Liza Minnelli minded being called a man. DeGeneres' opening monologue was surprisingly mean-spirited—I'm all for teasing the stars, but mocking their lack of time in college seems cheap and unnecessary. Few people make it in Hollywood, and it's risky to pursue that line of work instead of an education. But these are the ones who made it, FYI.
Also questionable was a montage of real heroes portrayed in Hollywood that seemed to equate Jackie Robinson and Abraham Lincoln with Sandra Bullock's character in "The Blind Side." Much happier was presenter Bill Murray acknowledging his late writer/co-star Harold Ramis and Darlene Love, featured in Best Documentary Feature winner "20 Feet From Stardom," earning a standing ovation after singing on stage.
That was nice and perhaps spontaneous. To DeGeneres' credit, she also attempted to inject some impulsiveness into what's often a very long, very stiff night, taking a picture with as many huge movie stars as possible in a (successful) effort to create the most-retweeted tweet ever and passing out pizza delivered to the theatre—making sure to get some to pregnant "Scandal" star Kerry Washington.
For a ceremony always in danger of taking itself too seriously, these moments of lightness reminded everyone that the Oscars don't have to come off as the most important thing in the world, even if it's tempting to treat them that way. Not that we ever get worked up about them, right?
Matt Pais is RedEye's movie critic.
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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