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The Best & Worst Moments Of The 2014 Oscars

by Oliver Lyttelton
March 3, 2014 1:03 PM
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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.

Best Moments

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.

Lupita Nyong'o
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.

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  • snehal | March 15, 2014 7:48 AMReply

    Does someone know what song was played when jared leto won the supporting actor award?

  • Kerry | March 6, 2014 5:18 PMReply

    haha- your review of Matthew Maconaheyhey's speech is EXACTLY why people HATE Hollywood- seriously? He was Humble, adorable and True to himself. #hater

  • Brett | March 11, 2014 5:23 PM

    I agree, McConaughey gave a great speech

  • ryan | March 6, 2014 3:57 PMReply

    Anne Hathaway's beautifully and gracefully delivered speech to the Supporting Actors , was the best Oscar presentation to the nominees ( and she was one of the few who didn't flub her lines ) . Plus , she did it with unbelievable star power and a great stage presence ( On the opposite spectrum , Jennifer Lawrence was awkward on stage with no presence and no star power . ) Charmer Jared Leto's speech was glorious . Karen O. and Pharrell performances soared .

  • sylvain | March 6, 2014 8:29 AMReply

    Someone once said that MMC was arrogant and pretentious...
    Didn't understand why... until his despicable speech.

  • Moses | March 12, 2014 8:08 PM

    How was his speech despicable??

    It was honest and genuine. i thought it was Great

  • Mabs | March 5, 2014 3:07 PMReply

    You're critiquing others while lobbing this sentence at us, "She's did a decent enough job seven years ago..." Shameful really. That negated anything I read before or skimmed after.

  • David | March 5, 2014 11:14 AMReply

    Jim Carrey was funny and Matts speech was great

  • RobD381 | March 4, 2014 10:17 PMReply

    I only disagree with two of your 'worst' moments (I too thought Harrison Ford was odd - maybe having a stroke?). I liked Bette Midler's song, and its placement (it cut down on the inappropriate clapping of American actors at the Oscars In Memoriam presentation like it was a horse race to see who was missed the most) -- my problem was that her sparkling eyes were closed during most of the song - surgery? Not good. Secondly, I completely disagree with your assessment of Matthew McConaughey's acceptance speech (and your dismissal of Jared Leto's moving acceptance speech too). I certainly had no problem understanding what he was saying and what he meant. I have heard many seemingly insincere references to God and thanking Him (most of which are sports-related) and I am skeptical of any Oscar acceptance speeches where everyone but the movie goer (the money maker) is thanked, but Matthew's talking was different. He can be slick in the movies, and very snake-oil salesmany, but this was different, and it was coherent. He was thanking Above, Around Him, and Chasing. I am assuming the Chasing was what bothered you, but how wonderful would it be if we all wanted to be our own Hero, and chased that idea 10 years at a time, never attaining that goal but always chasing it. This is an idea that could change the world, to be a better You every 10 years or so. He seemed perfectly sincere thanking a God that was within him, and, as he said, in YOU, and thanking his small circle of loved ones and family that were around him. Alright, alright, alright Matthew. Great speech!

  • Aurora | March 4, 2014 3:07 PMReply

    This is the best one of these lists I have seen and I have seen a few. I agree with pretty much everything. So happy btw you included Kevin Spacey, he was definitely a highlight for me and they really need to let him host something! I've a feeling he could be the best host in a looong time if they gave him a chance.

  • Joseph Byrne | March 4, 2014 11:20 AMReply

    Though not a believer, I had no problems with McConaughey thanking God in his speech. It was what came after that was problematic. Claiming he was his own hero came off as narcissistic, and it was not really in accord with the humility we might expect from a devout Christian.

  • - | March 9, 2014 2:20 PM

    "Claiming he was his own hero"
    What exactly is wrong with what he said apart from the phrasing? He flat out said something like "I know I'm never gonna be my own hero", so if you actually look at what he said there's nothing objectionable in it. You either didn't watch the speech or you're just going off your kneejerk reaction to it.

  • RobD381 | March 4, 2014 10:22 PM

    He never claimed to be a devout Christian, and what he said went against what the worst of church-associated religion thinks: that God is within YOU. The hero part wasn't NOW, it was what he was chasing, 10 years at a time. How wonderful to be chasing, to be always trying to be a better you and strive to be your own Hero (never quite attaining it).

  • Sean | March 3, 2014 8:45 PMReply

    Yea I agree with most other the McConaghey bit you guys are saying as "worst" uh absolutely not. The guy can talk about his faith or whatever the hell wants for that matter. I dont believe he was rambling & his speech was brilliant & even a great lesson for those watching.

    Travolta your an idiot. We know your dyslexic sure. But why not practice your line before hand? Ya know like you do the shitty movies you play in...

    U2 wasnt nearly as bad as you may have thought!

    While Pink on the other hand thumbs down...

    Spike Jonze huge surprise. And you are a gem & a brilliant talent to film & culture. Thank You! :)

    I HAVE BEEN SAYING IT EVER SINCE THE SHOW ENDED! KEVIN SPACEY FOR 2015!!! Can we make or some1 please make a banner or a poster or somethin! Spacey 2015! He would be marvelous!

  • RobD381 | March 4, 2014 10:24 PM

    Bono for official Peace Ambassador of the World - anything to get U2 to disband. Reminded me of a bunch of boys playing in a garage....

  • murphious | March 3, 2014 7:51 PMReply

    Hey, Mr. Travolta. Next time you have a job to present or introduce a person, don't just show up that evening and expect to be able to do everything perfectly---get their name on a slip of paper and practice saying it first.
    Besides, with all those weird Scientology names of aliens and their planets you would think Idina Menzel would be an easy one!

  • Chris138 | March 3, 2014 6:48 PMReply

    I agree that McConaughey's speech was largely disappointing, but not because of him mentioning God or his faith in it. It was a slight step up from the truly rambling speech he gave at the Independent Spirit Awards, but it still was all over the place and came off a bit unendearing overall. I don't know why it's such a big deal that he mentioned his own faith. Denzel Washington mentioned God in his acceptance speech when he won for Training Day, and I don't recall anyone making a big deal out of that.

  • Jack Reacharound | March 3, 2014 7:07 PM

    Yeah what does the man thanking God have to do with anything. If God is his inspiration, then God is who helped him make it to that stage. I didn't find his speech rambling at all. He thanked everyone from the cast and crew he needed to thank and then gave us an insight into who he is as a person. It made me see him as more deserving of that award than anything.

  • Brian Miller | March 3, 2014 6:35 PMReply

    All of the music except for Karen O's bit was horrible. I wasn't a big fan of MM mentioning God either, but it really sounded more political than anything, as if to say to the mainstream: I'm not the nihilist you see on True Detective. I still love the man.

  • kerry | March 6, 2014 5:20 PM

    Why on earth do YOU care if he mentioned God? are you serious????

  • Jamie | March 4, 2014 3:47 PM

    I don't see how you got anything "political" out of MM's speech. There is nothing wrong with him mentioning God, he didn't tell everyone "Now,let's all pray" and he certainly didn't mention any political issues or make any stands for or against anything. I think you read way too much into a man being happy that his hard work was recognized and telling a story about how he intends to keep reaching for perfection.Also,if you think Idina Menzel's performance was horrible( especially after hearing her name butchered by Travolta) or Pharrell Williams' joyous and obviously crowd pleasing performance was horrible,then you must just be a person that can't stand other people's joy.

  • Keith | March 3, 2014 5:23 PMReply

    If you think McConaughey's mention of HIS faith and HIS belief in God was preachy then you obviously has some pretty strong hate towards that. Whether you're religious or not there is no way those brief opening comments were too much or excessive. Give me a break.

  • RobD381 | March 4, 2014 10:27 PM

    BossAirplane, I'm sure he capitalized HIS to show emphasis, as in HIS remarks rather than YOUR remarks. There's not an option for underlining or italicizing remarks in Comments.

  • BossAirplane | March 3, 2014 9:41 PM

    "His" is not capitalized. In this context, you were referring to Matthew McConaughey, not God.

  • sati | March 3, 2014 5:09 PMReply

    My God what is your people problem with Matthew? Are you a bunch of Leonardo fanbots? Each article I see here on Oscar season criticizes him.

  • Jake Mason | May 29, 2014 3:32 AM

    Because he is a pretentious D-bag that's why.

  • Dan | March 3, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    Only because you don't believe in God doesn't mean you give it a worse because someone does. Is just your opinion anyways, I liked his speech.

  • let it be | March 3, 2014 2:57 PMReply

    That Carrey LSD bit was fun. Keep fantasizing about Chris Hemsworth cheating on his pregnant wife with Charlize Theron.

  • Jorge Clooneigh | March 7, 2014 7:06 AM

    I am glad someone else pointed that out - a little crass to "hope" that married man cheats on his expecting wife with another woman just because she looked amazing. Way to make Charlize feel cheap too.

  • black stars | March 3, 2014 2:54 PMReply

    McConaughey should've quoted some Ligotti instead of that God nonsense.

  • Ugh | March 4, 2014 2:10 PM

    Because only what you and people like you think is right, right?

  • Lauren S | March 3, 2014 2:44 PMReply

    I couldn't disagree more about your feelings on Pink's performance of "Over the Rainbow". To me it was the highlight of the night. That movie is forever cemented in the hearts and minds of children/adults of any age and deserved every second of that tribute. And to say Pink sounded like she was on "American Idol" is insulting on so many levels. I can't think of ANY professional singer today (okay maybe Jennifer Hudson, only) who would've given a better live performance of that song.

  • RobD | March 4, 2014 10:30 PM

    Lauren S I completely agree. It was a beautiful rendition of the song, without any affectation usually seen in these situations or in "covers." Pink has a beautiful voice. I was impressed.

  • DG | March 3, 2014 2:06 PMReply

    I thought Mcconaugheys speech was fine

  • Kerry | March 6, 2014 5:24 PM

    it was great, the opinions on this are why the world is the way it is today- seriously

  • Murphy | March 3, 2014 2:32 PM

    Best of the night

  • az | March 3, 2014 1:52 PMReply

    Your Cabaret fact, drove me to wiki - I'd always thought it won best picture - Amazed to see what a rocking year 1973 was (Deliverance, Fat City, Sounder) And doubly amazed to see that Coppola didn't win best director for The Godfather. The Godfather only won three, wow.

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