Ellen DeGeneres

The Windbags Beneath Their Wings

Ellen had more than a few good zingers (and, inexplicably, pizza). But even she couldn’t save the selfie-aggrandizing Oscars.

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And so ends the interminably long awards season—with the most interminably long self-congratulatory event of the awards season. We will never get that time back, you realize. We won’t even be rewarded a gold-plated statuette. At least we can take pleasure in the fact that we viewers were in the comfort of our homes, where we could drink, hit pause and fast-forward, and order takeout. Or turn to HBO for some True Detective, Girls, and Looking. Or bail altogether and go to bed. (Those last two things were fantasies I didn’t indulge, in part because I wanted to make sure Steve McQueen walked away triumphant.)

What was with the pizza? Truly one of the laziest gags of the night, second only to the group selfie (though it did break the RT record), when Ellen, who had all but erased the mammary, I mean memory, of the travesty that was Seth McFarlane, was on a roll. Suddenly, she was looking desperate, ordering pizzas and handing out slices to the A-list. My eyes were trained on pregnant Kerry Washington the whole time, while Meryl Streep’s were trained on the deliveryman carrying pizza boxes. Give Kerry a slice, I yelled at the TV, GIVE THAT WOMAN A SLICE BEFORE MERYL TAKES ‘EM ALL! Poor Kerry was sitting there patiently with her empty plate, and just as Ellen was about to give her a slice, she got distracted and handed the pizza to … Scorsese. I got so stressed out watching that whole desperate gag, I went to the kitchen and grabbed myself a slice (Washington did ultimately get to chow down, for the record).

But enough about that lame sketch. The night redeemed itself with a fair amount of weird—especially considering that the Academy Awards is, unlike the Globes, a non-drinking event. So we had:

1. The inexplicable decision to have Pink performing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in tribute to the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland. (Yes there are many Liza jokes one could make—not least of which, about that blue streak in her hair—but I can’t bring myself to go there. It’s too easy, and besides, I have a weak spot for her.) To borrow a line once attributed to Vanessa Redgrave being cast as Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, it was like casting a hawk in the role of a sparrow. I understand the Academy wanted to appeal to a younger crowd, but, what, they couldn’t find a young Broadway star? If they want a big pop singer who could pull it off, why not Lady Gaga? She is obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, and she’s got pipes. Put her behind a piano, strip it down—it would have been really quite lovely. This, I’m rattling off the top of my influenza’d head. I’m sure we together could brainstorm an incredible list of talent that would have delighted Judy. Be my guest.

2. John Travolta’s new toupee, which apparently impaired his hearing, as he introduced Adele Dazeem, better known to the rest of the nation as Idina Menzel, who sang “Let It Go,” from Frozen (My name, incidentally, according to the John Travolta name generator on Slate is: Kiera Bozowens). Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-barino, I’m so confused.

3. The cold war between 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley and director Steve McQueen, who didn’t acknowledge each other during their respective acceptance speeches (the latter giving a GIF-worthy penguin clap). The two men have been embroiled in a fight over a screenwriting credit—McQueen wanted to share the screenwriting credit, and Ridley has refused—and it’s gotten ugly, according to The Wire. Fox Searchlight was hoping would be defused before the Academy Awards, but apparently a refusal to acknowledge each other’s work was the best they could hope for. That just plain sucked all around. 

4. The Dallas Buyers Club kids. Okay, Jared Leto, I’m gonna give you a pass on this one, because you were trying to make up for that flip speech at the Globes, where you went on about having to wax your body. But, dude, that was one big overcorrection: Loved the bit about your mom. And dedicating your performance to those who died of AIDS—clearly you learned your lesson. But stop there, don’t try to take on Venezuela and the Ukraine, because now you’re all over the map, literally. Keep your eyes on the prize, and get off the stage. That said, I’ll take your windbaggy speech over your co-star’s. Matthew McConaughey’s brain, I’m convinced, is a flat circle. His ego, however, knows no bounds. Perhaps that solipsistic speech, in which he thanked God and vaunted various iterations of himself, past, present, and future, as his own personal hero, will put an end to the McConnaissance once and for all. It’s been fun while it lasted—Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective. But thanks for the reminder that I can’t stand ya, bro.

5. The morbid Resurrection ads, which make those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA ads look cheery and bearable. Now I have a new commercial to put on mute. Didn’t we just see this series on the Sundance Channel this past fall when it was called The Returned? That French existentialist show about the dead coming back to life, and the grieving trying to reckon with the return of their loved ones? Resurrecting a show that isn’t dead and Americanizing it is bad enough; barraging us with one bummer commercial after another after a broadcast that just won’t end is its own kind of fresh hell. I mean, come on, throw us some more of those Tina Fey AmEx commercials, will ya?

But there were moments of redemption—few and far between, but set against all of this silliness, those moments really stood out and were appreciated all the more (especially in our household, which is currently one befelled by colds and flu. Yes, this meant real-life Oscar-viewing party was canceled and relegated to social media). Though winners went on far too long and the orchestra didn’t cue them to leave, in some cases this was more than welcome, as in the case of Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyongo, who set the new standard for how to deliver a gracious and eloquent acceptance speech (which you can watch in our video box).

The recent Yale graduate struck the perfect balance between expressing thanks for being given the breakout opportunity and for appreciating the gravitas of the story of 12 Years, the depth of her character, and declare her love for McQueen and the cast and the crew. Nyongo’s was genuinely moving because it came from the heart, and though she was largely predicted to win, she truly looked surprised—and her excitement and joy was infectious. And Cate Blanchett, who was both funny and empowering—and who was undoubtedly being scrutinized by the press for how she would thank Woody (she did, swiftly, professionally—I mean, what was she going to do, not thank him for giving her an incredible role?), but still managed to be dissed in the press for teasing her competitors (“Julia Hashtag Suck It,” obviously an inside joke with Roberts), even though none of the women seemed to take offense. Never mind that her speech focused on chiding Hollywood for believing that films that focus on women or have female protagonists are “niche experiences.”

“They are not,” Blanchett said. “Audiences want to see them. In fact, they earn money.”

As Ellen joked in her monologue at the beginining of the show, there were two possible outcomes at the Academy Awards: 12 Years would win the Oscar for best picture. And possibility two: Youre all racists.” Because, come on, Gravity, seriously? So it really was worth it just to see Steve McQueen all flustered and later, jump up and down giddily, triumphantly, after winning Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave—the film that had true gravity. 

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