I'm as put off as you are by those long-winded acceptance speeches in which even the most minor winners of the night feel compelled to thank everyone who has ever crossed their paths, especially the lawyers and agents and managers who have simply been doing their jobs and making piles of money in the process. But I'm equally bugged when the highest-profile winners are hurriedly played offstage later in the show because the lesser lights took up all the spare time hours earlier. I have always maintained that the primary reason viewers tune in is to hear what the four honored actors and other top recipients have to say. Most of them receive their awards late in the telecast, so many of them are made to deliver truncated remarks that frustrate winner and viewer alike.
Of course, it helps when the actors, directors, writers and producers who supposedly put everything they have into making their movies actually have something to say when their work is chosen by their peers as the year's best. In that regard, last night's Oscars should be remembered as the event in which all of the high-profile winners delivered speeches that were worth waiting for and worth sitting through.
Jared Leto set the tone as the night's first winner, with lovely comments about his mother and brother that moistened every eye in the house and several reminders -- delivered in a manner that was not at all preachy -- about disturbing current events happening around the world even as Hollywood celebrated itself with the biggest global telecast of the year. Lupita Nyong'o was similarly gracious and memorable in speaking about her family, her teachers and the historical significance of her role as a field slave known only as Patsey in “12 Years a Slave.”
Cate Blanchett talked about the popularity of movies with women of all ages in central roles -- something the mostly male movers and shakers in Hollywood should give more thought to. (It's interesting that Woody Allen for five decades has continued to write scripts with strong roles for actresses of every age, and that so many of those actresses have been honored with Academy Awards, or at the least, nominations. Is there another writer working in movies -- but, tellingly, not in Hollywood -- who has provided more extraordinary opportunities for so many actresses?) Matthew McConaughey also delivered a speech that was moving, inspiring, entertaining and at all times interesting.
Even Steve McQueen, the director of “12 Years a Slave” and the last person to make a speech at the end of a punishingly long evening, held everyone's attention with everything he said, especially his reminder at the end that 21 million people are currently suffering as slaves around the world. McQueen ended his acceptance speech at the BAFTAs with the same shocking revelation. I wonder if anyone in power -- in politics, media or elsewhere -- will act on his words?
As for the rest of the ceremony, the first two hours of the show were a terrible drag, with an only intermittently engaging host in Ellen DeGeneres and an eye-tiring set filled with glass Oscar statues (that looked like plastic) and lightbulbs. There was plenty of good music for a change, with Pharrell Williams’ performance of “Happy” from the movie “Despicable Me 2” and Darlene Love's impromptu rendition of “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” during her acceptance speech for the documentary about backup singers “20 Feet from Stardom” (in which Love is featured) as energizing highlights. Bette Midler should have been a show stopper, but in a show that had already featured much good music her powerful performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” seemed unnecessary. (It would have played much better had Midler sung it over the In Memoriam montage.)
The tribute to the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” one of the most popular movies ever made (and, as Whoopi Goldberg noted in her introduction, once an annual television super-event), with Pink singing “Over the Rainbow,” was exactly the kind of entertainment the Oscarcast should be known for.
If DeGeneres had not winningly stopped the show with the taking of that historic all-star Twitter-crashing selfie (a truly great moment and the night's biggest surprise) and John Travolta had not propelled himself back into the pop-culture mainstream (though not necessarily in a good way) by mangling Idina Menzel's name (and wearing what appeared to be the worst hairpiece of the night), I'm not sure anyone would be talking this morning about anything they watched during the overlong telecast other than so many of the beautiful speeches that gave the night so much grace and substance.
By the way, sharing the viewing experience on Twitter once again made sitting through an overlong awards show more engaging than it otherwise would have been. Two of the best tweets of the night were these: From @alisonforns: “Your John Travolta name is any female pop star plus the name of your most recent cab driver” and, from the Hollywood Reporter (@THR), “‘Idina Menzel’ must translate into something else in Thetan.”