Oscars 2014: No huge surprises, but smart choices
COMMENT: It was an Oscars without many surprises, but that’s not to say that AMPAS voters didn’t make a few bold decisions.
One of the night’s bigger surprises was that Spike Jonze won best Original Screenplay for Her; a visionary work, but not one that was expected to connect with older Oscar voters.
The sentimental choice for Best Supporting Actress might have been June Squibb for Nebraska, the pop-culture choice might have been Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle. Oscar voters’ pick of Lupita Nyong’o wasn’t out of left field, but it certainly was thrilling to see. She gives a searing performance in 12 Years A Slave, and even appears in this week’s box-office hit Non-Stop. This young actress’ talent is awe-inspiring; it’s only icing on the cake that her fashion choices, dance moves and poised yet personal speech made her the darling of the night. Queen Lupita, long may she reign.
And while it was totally predicted for weeks beforehand, the split of 12 Years a Slave as Best Picture and Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity felt absolutely right. Cuaron’s film was a technical masterpiece five years in the making, and he deserved that Oscar to go with the grey hair that he joked the film brought him.
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is a different kind of masterpiece, and its triumph as Best Picture shows BAFTA voters aren’t out of touch with the critics - not to forget the public. The film has now crossed $50m at the US box office.
American Hustle went into the night with 10 nominations and to leave empty handed feels a bit rough. It was particularly galling to see Dallas Buyers Club walk off with the hair and makeup Oscar, after Hustle was bafflingly left off that nominations list.
The Wolf of Wall Street was also blocked out; many awards watchers had thought this film was building up steam in recent weeks but the surge wasn’t enough to take home the gold men. No doubt Marty and Leo will have other years, but this film’s achievements were strong.
As with the BAFTAs, I’m particularly impressed when voters recognize outstanding achievements in films that they don’t deem wholly outstanding. Again as with the BAFTAs, Catherine Martin’s out-of-this-world costume design and production design in The Great Gatsby triumphed despite the mixed reception for Baz Luhrmann’s film.
In the documentary race, it felt like it was always a race between a tough genre-pushing artful film (The Act of Killing) and the more traditionally made crowdpleaser (Twenty Feet From Stardom). The crowdpleaser won, and the Internet was mostly outraged.
It’s true that The Act of Killing will be the more memorable work in years to come; but let’s not forget that Twenty Feet has it’s own successful place in the documentary world – it’s made nearly $5m in the US making it the biggest documentary box office hit of 2013 and attracting some filmgoers who might not usually go see non-fiction films.
It was a good year for international work. Gravity’s Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are both Mexican-born and composer Stephen Price and editor Glenn Freemantle are British as are the Framestore VFX team led by Tim Webber.
British-born, Amsterdam-based Steve McQueen triumphed for Best Picture (with Film4 alongside the US backers) and Australian Cate Blanchett took home Best Actress while compatriot Catherine Martin won two prizes.
The French filmmakers of Mr Hulot beat Disney’s Get a Horse! while shorts winners Malcolm Clark hails from Montreal and Anders Walter from Denmark.
Not forgetting Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, The Great Beauty, from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino.
Did I have a few personal faves that didn’t win? Of course (I’m thinking of Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan for Philomena’s script). But overall, this is an Oscars that will be remembered for not having any jaw-dropping mistakes; sometimes doing what’s expected is the right path.
Wendy Mitchell is Editor of Screen International