It was, right? Uncharacteristically, the 86th Academy Awards were given to an array of Epic Films That Were Just The Right Length. This was not the year of Men With Beards Talking In Rooms, or Kate Winslet’s Tits or Men On Chariots or any of that nonsense.
2014’s Oscars were given to freedom fighters, death defiers, wintry witches and extraordinary party-hosters in a generous cross-film spread of appropriate award-giving. Golden statues were handed to all of the right films, for all of the right reasons.
Gravity, the 2014 Oscar Darling (read our review), walked away without Best Picture but stole just about everything else, scooping seven awards in all. Alfonso Cuaron picked up gongs for Best Director and Best Film Editing while the teams that worked immeasurably hard on all aspects of the soundtrack and visual effects collected four Oscars between them as well. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s astronauts in peril made for an endlessly heart-stopping 90-minute thrill ride, but Gravity is a great technical and directorial achievement above all else. The film owes a great, great deal to the teams that put together most of what you see and hear in an extraordinary journey through outer space. It’s only right that those people were honoured in such a grand way.
12 Years A Slave, based on the life of illegally enslaved free black man Solomon Northup, came away with three Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay. That it also earned Best Picture is undeniable: a great cast led by Chiwetel Ejiofor includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong’o. Across a bittersweet two hours, director Steve McQueen offered an unflinching look at the appalling treatment of Northup and other slaves across several plantations in 19th Century America. Kenyan actress Nyong’o, an unknown before 12 Years, bears the brunt of the abuse inflicted by the slavers. Through McQueen’s unblinking camera lens – a trademark trait also seen in Hunger and Shame – she becomes a constant reminder of the suffering still endured by slaves in developing parts of the world.
Equally deserving of its prizes was Jean-Marc Vallee’s biopic Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto – who came away with Best and Best Supporting Actor gongs respectively. McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a whiskey-swilling lady-fraternising homophobic electrician who develops AIDS in the 1980s. Put on an experimental drug which appears to do more harm than good, Woodroof sets up the titular organisation in an unlikely partnership with transgender woman Rayon (Leto) in order to smuggle and sell more effective treatments to other AIDS patients across the city.
In the midst of his so-called “McConaissance”, McConaughey is trailblazing his way into acting legend following a decade of rom-coms in which his abs were valued more than any talents of his own. He plays Woodroof with a degree of ferocity, softening as the character’s condition worsens and his relationship with Rayon improves. Both he and Leto shed unimaginable amounts of weight for the film to reflect the effects of AIDS on the body, Leto going as far as to wax his entire body and remaining in character on set. The film also picked up the Oscar for Best Hair and Make-Up, for which there was a reported budget of $250.
Disney will be glad to have received two Oscars for Frozen. The loose adaption of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen (with additional Disney musical and visual sparkle) won Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song for Let It Go and further steadies Disney’s future in animation following a shaky few years of middling feature-length squibs. Despite this, Disney did miss out on a second consecutive Best Animated Short win – Get A Horse!, the Mickey Mouse short screened before Frozen in cinemas, couldn’t equal last year’s win for Paperman.
Outside of the big winners, this year’s Oscars have been awarded in just the right places. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is an brash, noisy and stupid affair – ironic, considering the source material’s cautionary commentary on the dangers of excess – but it was undeniably stylish; the Best Production and Costume Design statues are testament to that. Her, Spike Jonze’s beautiful story of a divorced man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with an operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), introduced such an original premise and delivered on it so beautifully that it would be a small injustice if it hadn’t picked up the Best Original Screenplay gong.
There will be some hushed whispers around some of the wins. Cate Blanchett’s Best Actress turn in riches-to-rags tale Blue Jasmine, while incredible, has been overshadowed by the recent Woody Allen scandal; and American Hustle failed to gather a single statue. However, the 2014 Oscars have made two very big, very declarative statements: that the film industry, in all of its sectors, continues to be an incredibly powerful machine of visual and aural spectacle and of spectacular storytelling – and that this year, the right pieces of each film have been celebrated as deserved.