Monday, March 3, 2014

Five things to love about the 2014 Oscars

First, diversity. I don't mean just racial or ethnic diversity, though we saw that, too: "12 Years a Slave" became the first Best Picture winner directed by a black man (Steve McQueen), Mexican-born director Alfonso CuarĂ³n won for "Gravity" and gave part of his acceptance speech in Spanish, Texas native Matthew McConaughey took home best actor for "Dallas Buyers Club." (C'mon, you know Texas thinks of itself as a land apart.) Actually, I'm talking about diversity among winners: Five different films shared the top eight awards (picture, director, acting, writing).

Second, speeches with meaning. McConaughey told us to look up to someone, look forward to something and chase our heroes -- which, in his case, is the person he hopes to grow to be down the road. Cate Blanchett (who won for "Blue Jasmine") reminded the industry that pictures with women at their centers could appeal to wide audiences and make money, something Hollywood frequently forgets.

Third, choices that rewarded the most deserving pictures in virtually every case. I haven't seen enough of the shorts, documentaries or foreign films to know, but almost every other prize went to the movie that merited it most. I didn't have a single "Oh, how COULD they?" response.

Fourth, collective skunkings for "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," which went 0-for-15 together. Whatever enjoyment can be had from them in the short term, they're not movies many people will want to watch 10 years from now -- and those are the ones that should win. (Of course, I already don't want to watch "Gravity" on my TV set. But in a theater, if it were re-released? You bet.)

Fifth, classy people. Daniel Day-Lewis, who presented the best actress award, declined the usual introductory blather about how performances ennoble our lives: He read the nominees, declared a winner and got out of Blanchett's way. (Robert De Niro, looking pained, did try to get through gibberish about writers' angst while giving the screenplay awards. He didn't make it.)

Former Charlottean Kristen Anderson-Lopez and husband Bobby Lopez gave a thank-you speech (after winning for the song "Let It Go") that was funny, came in under the requisite 45-second time limit and was in rhyme! And Sidney Poitier, frail and dignified 10 days after his 87th birthday, simply encouraged all filmmakers to keep producing pictures that challenge and stimulate us.

I hope they were paying attention.