The 86th Oscar Award Ceremony held on March 1 was one of the most stylish, provocative and well-organized events in a long time. Host Ellen Degeneres had just the right comic timing and eye for detail to make it a smashing success. But to the story of the Oscars are dozens of award shows preceding it with the same nominees and so this year there were few surprises. The Oscars is the king of them all, and for the US and the world, the most important one. The same films that the studios shamelessly promote wind up being nominated for the different shows, especially for the Oscars, with full page ads taken out in the Hollywood trades bearing the signature “For Your Consideration”.
There has been so much written about the nominees and winners and what they wore to the Oscars this year, so this report is not about any of that. The awards show, which is often regarded as cumbersome and excessive, is praised foremost for the acting awards. Cutaways to the stars in the audience and on the Red Carpet, the musical numbers and a focus on the host also command the spotlight.
Sandra Bullock explained that her role in "Gravity" had everything to do with the technical crew that made it look like she was floating in outer space. Her nomination as best actress was well deserved since she was confined for 10 hours to a 9-by-9 LED box every day on the set. It was positioned on a track holding a camera where she worked hard to make Alfonso Cuaran’s vision for "Gravity" look real. The Oscar nods to this film were due to its high technical quality – technology that didn’t exist five years ago. The film provides an imaginary universe which includes seeing the sun on the Ganges from outer space and hearing the sounds of a Chinese baby via satellite being sung a lullaby back on the radiant jewel of Earth.
"Gravity" received the most Oscars of the year: best director and best achievements in cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), visual effects, sound editing, film editing, sound mixing, and best original score (Steve Price). Oscars 2014 rightfully honored floating in outer space as an art form, and the landing in Arizona where the set for "Planet of the Apes" was created over 40 years ago. Bullock standing on the red earth in the end might be thinking along the same lines as Dorothy in the 'Wizard of Oz' when she finds her way back home.
The 75th anniversary of Victor Fleming's classic was brought to life when Pink sang 'Over the Rainbow' as scenes from this beloved narrative with visual effects by Warren A. Newcombe were shown in the background.
Narrative film is singled out mostly for the characters that lead the dramatic developments. But today’s audiences are less prepared to notice how other parts of film style give a film its particular form and meaning. The physical gestures of actors are part of this - their movements and their facial expressions, not just their acting abilities. If the other aspects of good acting style on film are in place, an acting performance becomes more than just delivering lines.
Acting styles have not been studied as vigorously as they should. Jennifer Lawrence admits she didn’t go to acting school at all. Nevertheless, there is something skillfully physical about her presence and we recognize this in "Hunger Games" and "Silver Linings Playbook" and in her role as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the jealous young wife of a con man in "American Hustle". We should also credit the costume and make up artists that help to create her character. "American Hustle" was nominated for both of these technical awards.
This year the award for best costume went to Catherine Martin for "The Great Gatsby" who brilliantly recreated the clothing of the time period. Another important element of film style is production design and Martin won another Oscar for creating the overall design of "The Great Gatsby'. Beverley Dunn who shared the Oscar with Marthin (Set Decoration) arranged what was put in front of the camera in the scenes.
Deserving of best foreign language film of the year was "The Great Beauty"( Italy) beautifully shot by Luca Bigazzi and directed by Paolo Sorrentino. The film evokes Federico Fellini and his work in this upscale rendition of the night life of Rome with rich discussions about art, politics and the Vatican.
Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" triumphed as best film of the year after several technical awards were given "Gravity". This Oscar went to how the narrative was told through the best adapted screenplay by John Riddle based on Solomon Northrup’s novel. The film featured a powerful role by Lupita Nyong'O who gave this year’s best Oscar speech. The refreshing thank you put the emphasis on the boldness of the film, its origin and the visceral performance she gave as a severely abused young slave of the South.
"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. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own."
The overall tone of this year’s Oscars was playful but serious, honoring those who craft the best achievements in film of the year and those in memoriam who were legacies in the film industry.