By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com March 3, 2014 at 1:03PM
Well, after months of speculation, thousands upon thousands of column inches, millions of dollars in campaigning and plenty of furious arguments, the Oscar season is over. Last night's 86th Academy Awards saw "Gravity" pick up seven prizes, but being beaten to Best Picture by "12 Years A Slave" (only "Cabaret" won more awards without taking the big one), while "American Hustle" failed to win anything from its ten nominations (full list of winners here).
But what of the ceremony itself? On the whole, we'd say that it was a fairly decent night — very draggy and slack in places, but with enough new ideas, and crucially, strong results and speeches to make it more memorable than the last few. As ever, there was plenty of rough to take with the smooth, so we've picked out some highlights and lowlights of the night below. You can let us know your own favorite, or least favorite, moments in the comments section.
The Best Picture winner deserved it
This year was something to be cherished, in that it was a rare occasion in which the race was between two genuinely special, game-changing movies. Regardless of whether "12 Years A Slave" or "Gravity" took Best Picture, either would have been the best Best Picture winner in quite a few years. But our hearts, and it seems the hearts of many, were with 'Slave,' the most significant and history-making of the options, and we were delighted that it was the one that won out. And so too were the people that made it: the cast and crew were legitimately joyous when Will Smith announced the result, not least director Steve McQueen. The filmmaker went into the awards season with a bit of a not-giving-a-shit vibe, but it became increasingly clear that he really wanted to win, and his jumping-for-joy after his acceptance speech was a great moment (though somewhat soured by what appears to be tension between him and fellow Oscar winner screenwriter John Ridley — neither thanked the other in their speeches, allegedly because McQueen didn't receive credit on the screenplay).
For the most part, Ellen
There wasn't a whole bunch of excitement when it was announced that Ellen DeGeneres would be hosting this year. She's did a decent enough job seven years ago, but hardly the sort of memorable evening that had us champing at the bit for a return appearance. But we enjoyed her this time around a fair bit more. Her monologue wasn't quite a gut-buster, but was gently, consistently amusing, and had a little more edge to it than before (her closing gag, "Possibility number one: "12 Years A Slave" wins best picture. Possibility number two: You're all racists," struck a nice balance). And she kept up a winning presence throughout the show, popping up for fun little bits, and not disappearing like Seth MacFarlane did in previous years. We'd be up for a more daring choice down the road, sure, but DeGeneres demonstrated she's a very safe pair of hands here. And that's all without mentioning…
It had a fun spontaneous, loose quality
DeGeneres' light-on-her-feet approach gave the evening a sort of casual, hanging-out-with-the-stars quality that felt genuinely new for the telecast, and felt like it was engaging with the modern world without pandering or condescending. From Benedict Cumberbatch's pre-ceremony photobomb to Instagram after-party shots, this was the first Oscars of the post Jennifer Lawrence-era, where stars are keen to show they're real people too, not untouchable gods, and the ceremony really embraced and engaged with that. Ellen spent more time in the audience than she did on stage, it seemed, and while the selfie and pizza bits arguably went on too long, both were genuinely charming and spontaneous, giving the evening a good-natured vibe a long way away from the rather more mean-spirited feel of last year's ceremony.
Given its general omnipresence, watching another performance of Pharrell Williams's ear-worm hit "Happy" wasn't at the top of anyone's priority list. But it turned out to be something of an unexpected highlight. In an evening that felt a little bit lacklustre throughout, it was a burst of energy and color that, in a Best Original Song category that often has rather dour performances, has to number among the most fun ever. And, in tune with what we were saying above, Pharrell coming into the audience and dancing with Lupita Nyong'o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams was a lovely, instantly gif-able touch. Karen O and Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig's performance of "The Moon Song" was rather beautiful too, but it's definitely Williams who walked away with the bragging rights for musical numbers last night, even if it was "Frozen" that took the Oscar. (Watch all the musical performances right here).
Bill Murray's Harold Ramis tribute
A rare Oscar appearance for Bill Murray always promised to come up with some goods, and the comedy legend didn't disappoint, but perhaps not in the way we were expecting. Murray wasn't really chasing laughs when he co-presented Best Cinematography with Amy Adams, but after she read the nominees, he touchingly (and, one suspects, without having told anyone he was doing it) added, "Oh, we forgot one: Harold Ramis, for 'Caddyshack,' 'Ghostbusters' and 'Groundhog Day.' " Murray and the late director might have had a strained relationship in recent years, but the star was clearly visible affected, and it was a sweet and sincere way to pay tribute to him.
If there was ever any doubt after the last few weeks and months, last night cemented Lupita Nyong'o's place as Hollywood's new darling. The actress has been a consistent class act throughout the season (becoming an instant fashion icon along the way too, with another killer dress landing last night), and seemed to be having a ball, from dancing with Pharrell to getting involved (with her brother) on the famous selfie. But it was her speech that proved the most memorable — Nyong'o never hid how delighted she was with the win, and with her new life, but also put it into perspective from the first few lines of the speech, while graciously thanking all the right people. Future winners, this is a pretty great template for your speeches.