Oscars 2014: Ellen Kills, Cate Triumphs, And One Straight Actor Really Messes Up

ABC's Portraits Of The 86th Annual Academy Awards Host Ellen DeGeneres

Here’s the thing about a pleasant, but unsurprising Oscars: It’s still pleasant! Unlike any other trophy telecast, the Oscars can actually coast on prestige and glamor during the dull moments. Charlize Theron can’t quite read the teleprompter? Whatever! Ellen DeGeneres is handing out pizza to celebrities like an evil, gluten-based “Candy Man” for too long? Fine! It doesn’t matter when I’m screaming, “FLAWLESS QUEEN” every time Cate Blanchett appears onscreen and “SHE’S NOT GOING TO BE IGNORED, MERYL” when Glenn Close comes into view. Which was a lot. My throat hurts.

We came into the 86th Academy Awards panicking about the chances of our favorites. “Is Jennifer Lawrence‘s squawky performance in that horrifying puppet show American Hustle capable of winning over Lupita Nyong’o?” I gasped to myself. “Is Cate really a sure thing when Judi, Sandra, Amy, and Meryl are also towering totems of likability?” And of course: “Is ‘Let It Go’ going to win, even though it may as well be called ‘Just Be a Lesbian Already!’?” There was no need to worry. All the right people won, and more importantly, all the right movies (American Hustle) lost. Therefore, I’ll be breaking down the telecast as a gigantic group of highlights punctuated with one, wince-worthy lowlight.

Highlights

Lupita Nyong’o is an empress of every age, especially this one.

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If you’re looking for an exercise in flawlessness, please look up the reigning grandmaster of flaw-free speeches, Ms. Lupita Nyong’o, our ravishing Best Supporting Actress. “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, sheathed in a scientifically engineered powder-blue gown that only looks perfect on Lupita Nyong’o. “So I want to salute the spirit of Patsey [her 12 Years a Slave character] for her guidance.” Sometimes you worry about whether certain Oscar-winning roles will hold up in years to come, but in the case of Lupita in 12 Years, I’ve never been more certain that we have a role and performance for the ages.

Ellen was fine! 

She was fine. And that was fine. Her palatable emceeing reminded me that you really, really don’t need a firebrand host to make these festivities worthwhile. The Golden Globes require some verve. This just requires someone who looks like he/she’s having a good time. I really enjoyed her quip to Jonah Hill, however, about bringing something in The Wolf of Wall Street “that I haven’t seen in a really long time.” Penis humor, y’all. Thanks, Ellen. By the way: LOVE her Miles Standish formalwear.

Every musical performance ruled. What? How?

2014 should go down as a banner year in the song department since every performance at this telecast was fabulous. Karen O. on that whispery “Moon Song” jam? I rose in my seat and swayed like a charmed cobra. U2 and their Mandela tribute “Ordinary Love”? Guys, I haven’t bought a U2 album since Achtung Baby and I physically cringe at the thought of “Walk On,” but this was a compelling and restrained moment. I sometimes feel like “Bono” is secretly an insufferable Joaquin Phoenix project, but he wooed me right here. Idina Menzel warbled “Let It Go” right too, just before it won the (mostly expected) Oscar. We’ll get to her dubious introduction in a moment, but did I mention Pharrell, whose happy-clappy groove “Happy” was nominated for Despicable Me 2, was responsible for the night’s coolest moment? Ready? Here it is.

First: MOVE OVER, AGNETHA, LUPITA IS A SUPERFLY DANCING QUEEN.

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Second: MERYL LEARNED SOME LIFE-AFFIRMING PAT BENATAR SH*T FOR PHARRELL, OH MY GOD.

meryl streep pharrellAnd third: GO ON, AMY. YOU SLITHER LIKE AN AUSTERE CATERPILLAR.

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“HAPPEEEEEE.” — me, out loud, at all this.

Bette Midler‘s In Memoriam performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” was also lovely and expected, but props must be paid to that constant aerialist Pink, whose tribute rendition of “Over the Rainbow” was a gape-worthy pleasure. Love that she wore a sparkly ruby number too, like a swingin’ ’60s Peggy Lee.

Jared Leto: A gentle soul who welcomes you to Narnia.

Jared Leto has been an enigmatic figure this entire award season. First of all, he is Aslan. Secondly, he also reminds me of Princess Vespa’s stunt double in Spaceballs. Most importantly, sometimes he seemS ready to engage in a dialogue about transgender actors/roles and sometimes he seemS a bit aloof and unprepared to address the expected criticism that occurs when you’re a straight guy playing one of the only major transgender roles of the year. When he won for Dallas Buyers Club last night, he toasted his mother and brother before dedicating his Oscar to “the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS, and to those of you who’ve ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.” Well said. Do I wish he’d brought up trans issues directly? Yes. But I liked the sensitivity of his speech, even though I still think his character’s arc is the weakest and most predictable part of Dallas Buyers Club. A solid B+ soliloquy here, though.

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