Last night was the first time I have ever watched the Academy Awards in America. That means it is also the first time I have watched it without being bleary-eyed and drifting off into sleep.
I have been a movie geek from an early age. I am not a movie buff because that word implies a degree of knowledge about movie-making that I cannot make a claim to but I am a geek because I have been an obsessive consumer of movies from an early age. One of my earliest memories indeed comes from when I was two or maybe three and I was at my Grandad’s house, curled up in front of the fire, watching a Topper movie (I suspect it was ‘Topper Returns’ because I have a separate vivid memory of Rochester’s eyes growing large with comedic fear). I remember being transfixed and also hooked: the next afternoon I had to watch the next classic movie that was on. And the next. I spent many an afternoon in my childhood tucked up in front of BBC2 watching an old black and white movie and then the era of renting video tapes made it easier for me to watch the more recent classics. My first favourite movie was ‘Jaws’. I saw that when I was 8 (liberal, lax parenting was advantageous to me in that regard) and it is still my favourite film of all time. As my consumption of movies gained momentum, so did my reading of books. And just as I honed my analytical skills to interpret literature, so I applied those same skills to viewing films, picking apart the script and visual text to find meaning. Of course, not all films had great depth but I was happy to be merely entertained at times. Different films served different purposes and perfect films balance depth and entertainment.
As a result of being into films, I also used to stay up late to watch the Film review series hosted by Barry Norman and that in turn led to me staying up very late at night to watch the Academy Awards ceremony each year, probably from the age of 13. When I met my husband, I got him into it too. We would try our best to see each film that was nominated in the Best Picture category – though that was not always possible in an era when European release dates were often out of synch with North American ones – and decide which we thought should win the Oscar and predict which would actually win. In our students days, we would even host parties and have friends over to add to the punditry and then, when I was teaching, I would force myself to have a long afternoon nap on the Sunday so I could pull an all-nighter to watch the Awards show and then head straight off to work.
And then my Oscar ceremony viewing came to an end for two reasons: motherhood and Sky.
When Mr Pict and I became parents almost eleven years ago, we gained more than we could ever have anticipated or hoped for. But we lost the chance to go to the cinema to see grown up movies. So the days of being able to even attempt to see all the films in contention ahead of awards season were gone. Except for Best Animated Feature, of course; we’ve usually managed to see a couple in that category. Instead we have to watch them after the fact when they become available to rent on DVD or – now – on Netflix or streamed television. And the other thing that put the kibosh on us watching the Oscars was that they switched from being broadcast in the UK on a free channel and switched to being on a subscription channel. So for the past few years I have only ever seen highlights. Of course, I usually watched the Baftas so I did see one award show but nothing tops the Oscars.
So that – in a rambling synopsis – is why this year I was so excited to be able to watch the Academy Awards, in full, live and without even pulling an all nighter. In my continuing endeavour to turn my sons into film geeks like me, we also decided that we would permit them to stay up and watch at least part of the ceremony if they wanted to. Which, of course, they did because it meant getting to stay up really late. Thankfully we knew the snow was leading to a delayed start to school this morning. We even decided to watch the Red Carpet coverage to create momentum and build up. We also ate party food. In the living room. It was a real treat night for the kids. I think it may become a new family tradition, perhaps replacing our usual festival of Eurovision viewing. And, while we had fun as a family watching it all, I also had some additional fun texting back and forth with a friend who lives in Ohio because my blokes had zero interest in the red carpet stuff. Of course, I am a scruffy tomboy who has not the first clue about fashion but that doesn’t stop me forming a half-baked and no doubt ill-informed opinion on best dressed (Cate Blanchett) and worst dressed (Julia Roberts) regardless.
So these are my opinions on and highlights of the 2014 Academy Awards.
I thought Ellen made a decent fist of Oscar presenting. I happen to like Billy Crystal as presenter but I thought Ellen DeGeneres managed to balance the laughs without showboating or turning it into a stand up routine. Some of her jokes felt a bit flat and too unrehearsed but others hit the spot and the mulit-celebrity selfie that broke Twitter was fun.
As a family, the one category where we could each wade in with a firm opinion was the Best Song competition because we had all listened to the songs on YouTube as preparation. We were all split between ‘Happy’ and ‘Let It Go’ – a split largely caused because we are all suffering a bit from ‘Let It Go’ over-saturation which made ‘Happy’ more refreshing. Still it was a well-deserved win and Idina Menzel did an amazing job of singing the curtailed version. Or should I say Adele Nazeem has a great set of pipes on her. Travolta, Travolta, Travolta. You had one job to do. One job. I wonder if those hair plugs got bolted into his brain.
Mr Pict and I had a difference of opinion over Jared Leto. Of course, neither of us have seen ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ to be able to judge that particular performance though I will concede that, based on the clips I have seen, it is by far his most accomplished performance. But ignorance on the specifics of a topic never stops us having a debate. I think Mr Pict and I just like to argue to be frank. Anyway, I have never rated Jared Leto as an actor. I find him to be the opposite of engaging. Mr Pict has somehow formed the impression that Jared Leto is a very good actor based on not watching any movies he has ever been in. Interesting way to form a hypothesis. I was also, of course, gutted that his win meant a loss for Michael Fassbender who I adore as an actor and as a bunk muffin. (As an aside, one of my children once went to school, when we lived in Scotland, and told all and sundry that I fancied Magneto so I had to then hurriedly explain that they did not mean Ian McKellen, that I didn’t have a thing for Gandalf.)
Seeing and hearing Harrison Ford present an award made me feel suddenly old. Han Solo as fossil. Indiana Jones an exhibit in his own museum. He just looked and sounded so ancient.
I loved all the movie cluster segments between awards sections, all themed around types of “heroes”. They were skilfully edited and the clips well chosen, creating wonderful segues between all the speeches.
On the subject of speeches, I wish everyone would come properly prepared to win. Even if you are the outsider or dark horse contender, surely you have ego enough to think “There’s a sliver of a chance I might win this thing so perhaps I ought to prepare something.” Talking off the top of your head is not humble; it’s just rambling and incoherent. There was a bit too much of that in evidence last night. Personally I thought the best speech was made by Lupita Nyong’o closely followed by the rhyming speech given by the writers of ‘Let It Go’. Most bizarre speech definitely goes to Matthew McConaughey for his quasi-religious, existential motivational speech that somehow managed to be tightly structured while seeming meandering. I am as yet undecided as to whether it was bonkers or genius. He is actually another actor I had not rated until recently. It’s as if a few years in the cinematic wilderness and a decision to stop taking tedious rom-com or leading man roles finally led him to stop hiding his acting chops light under a bushel.
The Wizard of Oz segment, commemorating the 75th anniversary of its release, was joyously random and so very camp. I approved.
I have always liked obituaries. I like the succinct nature of them, the biography synthesised down to the most important and telling details about a person’s life. I am also a wee bit morbid. As such, one of my favourite sections in any Awards ceremony is always the In Memoriam section. I thought last night’s one was very well done. I loathe ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ but admit that it was an apt song choice. It was interesting to note how the majority of this year’s departed were most definitely vintage with those who had tragically not attained ripe old ages noticeable and notable by comparison. I will also admit that there were a couple who I thought had been dead a lot longer.
So that’s my “notes of the top of my head” (it’s not hypocrisy because I am not about to potentially win an award for anything) for my first Academy Awards show in many a long year. It was a really fun night. It felt good to be back.