By Ohad Amran Columnist
Without question 2013 marked one of the best years in film. The films, directors and screenwriters nominated this year are among the most renowned and notable in contemporary cinema, whether you’re a cinephile or just the average moviegoer. Such visionary filmmakers include Alfonso Cuaron, who won best achievement in directing for Gravity, Steve McQueen, Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell and Spike Jonze to name a few.
The night looked to be incredibly promising when host, Ellen DeGeneres, graced the stage with deliberate jabs and zingers to start the evening. One poked fun at Best Supporting Actress nominee June Squibb’s (“Nebraska”) age. Ellen went on to remark that the actress is 84 and therefore must be hard of hearing. The jokes, incredibly tame compared to those of last year’s host, Seth McFarlane, weren’t the funniest, but were surprisingly snarky by comparison to Ellen’s usual gags.
That said, Ellen’s antics didn’t really carry the evening as well as she’d probably planned, if she’d planned at all; that is, at least until the tail end of the Oscars. Here, Ellen bought the first few rows pizza and allegedly convinced them to pay for it, all while taking a “selfie” with said attendees. This picture would go on to be the single most retweeted and favorited picture in the history of Twitter thus far, causing Twitter to momentarily crash during the awards show.
The first Oscar of the evening went to the Best Supporting Actor, Jared Leto, for “Dallas Buyers Club.” The singer, songwriter and frontman of alternative rock band 30 Seconds to Mars is no stranger to Hollywood. In fact, Leto garnered success in acting in the early ‘90s and even landed supporting roles in films such as “Fight Club,” “Girl, Interrupted,” “American Psycho,” and undoubtedly his most well-known role prior to “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Requiem for a Dream.” Leto’s portrayal of Rayon, an HIV-stricken, trans-gender cocaine addict, is his most honest and heartfelt performance to date.
Leto’s co-star Matthew McConaughey took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a leading role. The actor portrays a rodeo cowboy who has contracted HIV and is told he’ll have 30 days left to live. The performance truly captures McConaughey’s versatility as an actor and his immense growth — this has definitely been his year. Who knew that the lead in such films as “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Surfer Dude” would go on to lead in such films as “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Mud” and most recently the critically acclaimed HBO series that is sure to land McConaughey either a primetime Emmy or Golden Globe award, “True Detective.” Both Leto and McConaughey swept these same categories at this year’s Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The Best Supporting Actress award went to Lupita Nyong’o for her distressing portrayal of a slave in “12 Years a Slave.” Nyong’o’s performance in Steve McQueen’s afflicting account of Solomon Northup is not only a performance of a lifetime but also, remarkably, is her film debut.
Cate Blanchett took the Oscar, like she did at both the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, for Best Actress in a Leading Role for “Blue Jasmine.” Though the Woody Allen film didn’t receive much recognition Sunday night, it was up for another nomination for best original screenplay. The award for Best Original Screenplay went to Spike Jonze for “Her,” an absolutely remarkable feat. The film is a refreshing love story of a man who falls in love with his home operating system, which subsequently allows him to deal with the separation of a previous lover.
Best-Adapted Screenplay went to John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave.” This marked among the more noticeably awkward moments of the evening. Upon accepting his award, Ridley failed to acknowledge McQueen, the director of the film. Likewise, when McQueen took to the stage with the cast and fellow producers of “12 Years a Slave” to accept the award for Best Picture, he did not mention John Ridley. This was the result of a feud that began during the early stages of shooting, in which John Ridley declined McQueen’s request for a writing credit on the script because of the few changes McQueen had made to it during the shooting process.
Another notable awkward moment that occurred during the awards ceremony came when John Travolta completely mispronounced the name of Idina Menzel while introducing her to the stage to sing her terrific rendition of the Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” (from “Frozen”), calling her Adele Dazeem.
Gravity swept most of the categories, bringing it to a whopping seven wins. These categories included best cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, film editing, visual effects, music and, as mentioned, best director. Alfonso Cuaron’s beautiful long takes and masterful tracking shots are extremely well deserving of the Oscar. His previous work on blockbusters like “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” as well as “Children of Men” indicates that he is a director who has mastered his craft.
All things considered, the nominees and competition of this year’s films were beyond remarkable. When neither David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” nor Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” win a single category, that in and of itself speaks volumes.