Best Picture: "12 Years a Slave"
As the cameras started panning out and the goodnight music started playing, Steve McQueen was jumping around in ecstasy, weightless, after giving his acceptance speech—the kind of jumping school kids do in wild abandon at the slightest thrill.
It was a beautiful jump. It expressed just how astonishing the collective achievement of “12 Years a Slave” is: a movie about slavery that seemed to and sought to eschew all notions of sentimentality and punch pulling. A movie whose heart was wrought from a genealogy of suffering, which palpitated with dramatic frissons.
In a category that included compelling sci-fi narratives, real-life stories and offbeat character-driven comedies, “12 Years a Slave”—itself a real-life story—drew together the best we expect of films and filmmaking into a remarkable experience. It made us jump as high as McQueen.
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, "Gravity"
Alfonso Cuarón’s win for Best Director for “Gravity” can be seen as the culmination of a long journey to Academy recognition. Garnering his first nomination for “Y Tu Mamá También” (Best Original Screenplay), he went on to receive several nominations for 2006’s acclaimed “Children of Men.” Now, Cuarón has two Academy Awards under his belt, also receiving tonight’s award for Film Editing.
The win, besides giving Mr. Cuarón his due, also marks an increase in recognition for science fiction films. Similar to Cate Blanchett’s call to recognize female-centered films as more than “niche entertainment,” Cuarón’s win validates (in part) the dramatic potential of sci-fi as more than “easy blockbuster” or “teenage filler.” Tonight “Gravity”—along with “Her”—showed just how real and human a space story could be, a space story drawn out of the deepest depths of imagination and terror in the face of that black vacuum.
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
In a night of surprising moments—Jamie Foxx’s a capella rendition of “Chariots of Fire,” anything Ellen DeGeneres did basically—one of the best and most bewildering moments came when Cate Blanchett accepted her award for “Best Actress.” In lieu of thanks, she opened by saying, “Stop it! You’re too old to be standing!”
Whatever that means, it was clear Blanchett was ecstatic to be up there. And she more than deserved it. Out of a crop of strong performances, Blanchett brought a particularly winning intensity to her role as Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis—winning her second Academy Award.
After thanking nearly everyone in her life and everyone involved in the movie, Blanchett delivered a special shout out to her cohorts, all the women in film and made a note of highlighting how special and exciting women-centered films are—and why they should be recognized more.
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Matthew McConaughey is a testament to the versatility of Hollywood. For a very long time, he was labelled as nothing more than a Chick Flick fluff actor—good for corny laughs, some cheesy romance and mushy cliches. That was the very definition of his career.
And then, he did the Dallas Buyers Club. I don’t know if I’d have previously associated such an incredibly hard-hitting role of impressive intellect with McConaughey. However, I do now believe he has a rare talent—the likes of Streep, Blanchett and Bale. And in no way is he just a pretty face.
Having won an Oscar is no small feat, but winning it when the nominees include legends like Bale, Leonardo Decaprio and others from some of the best movies of our time is truly remarkable. But McConaughey truly won my heart with one of the best acceptance speeches I’ve ever heard, inspiring us all to chase a hero within us ten years from now.
Best Original Screenplay: "Her"
In a rare category where I saw most of the nominees, Spike Jonze took home the 8.5-pound statue in Best Original Screenplay for his work on “Her.” This film was certainly my favorite of those nominated, though there are plenty of detractions. This was also one of Jonze’s first screenplays without writing partner Charlie Kaufman. “American Hustle” was also phenomenal and Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell’s quasi-retelling of the “ABSCAM” certainly deserved the strong consideration it received. “Nebraska” was excellent as well, telling an interesting story without a real plot, while Woody Allen got his record 16th nomination in the category for “Blue Jasmine.” Last but not least, “Dallas Buyers Club” rounded out the list. One film I would have loved to see get nominated in this category was the Coen Brother’s “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Overall, the category really could not have gone wrong, but in this case, I think the Academy got it right.
Best Adapted Screenplay: "12 Years a Slave"
While there were five nominees in this category, it was never really a competition— John Ridley walked away with the Best Adapted Screenplay award for “12 Years a Slave.” Ridley, who was born in Milwaukee and raised in Mequon, Wis., received his first Oscar nomination for this film; however, his work on “Undercover Brother” and “Three Kings” were also nominated for other awards. While in a litany of other award shows, “12 Years a Slave” has taken home the award in this category, it lost the British Academy of Film and Television Award to Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for their work on “Philomena.” Other nominees in this category include the incredibly indie “Before Midnight” to go along with the more “Hollywood” pair of “Captain Phillips” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” At the end of the day, this was a one-horse race with everyone else coming for the $80,000 gift bags.