12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and Gravity won everything else, but here are some more deserving winners of those 2014 Oscars.
The biggest surprise of last night’s Oscars ceremony is just how deserving many of the winners were; that, and a wild Benedict Cumberbatch photobombing U2 on the red carpet. The nominees in the major categories arguably all had a reason to be there, but whether the right people won is still up for debate. I stayed up all night to watch the Oscars, and because I managed to sit through three hours of collective self-onanism and endured Pharrell singing that goddamn Happy song without throwing my TV out of the window, I feel I’ve earned the right to judge the Academy’s choices and pick who really should’ve won on the night.
Who won: Emmanuel Lubezki, for Gravity
Who should’ve won: Bruno Delbonnel, for Inside Llewyn Davis
Because they forgot to nominate Inside Llewyn Davis for every single category it was eligible in, it seemed only right that the Academy rectify that come the night of the awards, by awarding Inside Llewyn Davis in one of the two categories it was nominated in. Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography on Gravity looks fantastic, as does that of any of the films nominated for Best Cinematography (bar Nebraska, Phedon Papamichael’s dull lensing a classic example of shooting in black and white and lazily calling it ‘art’), but Bruno Delbonnel manages to evoke an entire era through his work on Inside Llewyn Davis. The Academy also had the opportunity to finally award Roger Deakins the cinematography trophy (for Prisoners) last night, after a staggering ten nominations and zero wins, but Delbonnel was the one to beat.
Best Supporting Actor
Who won: Jared Leto, for Dallas Buyers Club
Who should’ve won: Michael Fassbender, for 12 Years a Slave
Hollywood likes to call Michael Fassbender ‘the next big thing’ as much as it likes to make jokes about the size of his gigantic penis, but is less a fan of actually rewarding him for the sublime performances he’s been giving since he broke out in 2008’s Hunger. No Oscar nominations for his acting in that film, Fish Tank, Prometheus or even Shame, in which the actor gave one of the best leading male performances of the last few years. So they gave finally gave him an Oscar nom this year for his fearsome work in 12 Years a Slave, only to give the Best Supporting Actor award to the less-deserving Jared Leto. Leto is fine in Dallas Buyers Club, but there’s little depth to that performance – Fassbender, on the other hand, humanises an inhuman plantation owner in 12 Years while keeping him the right side of terrifying.
Best Original Song
What won: Let it Go, from Frozen
What should’ve won: The Moon Song, from Her
Having just passed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office, Frozen doesn’t need accolades to ensure its longevity, and it especially doesn’t need awards that it ultimately doesn’t deserve. We’ll skip the fact that Ernest & Celestine should’ve been the one to win Best Animated Feature, though, and go straight to what was perhaps the most glaring injustice of the night – no, not the fact that John Travolta accidentally introduced Idina Menzel as another person (“Please welcome…Adele Dazim”), but that her rendition of Frozen’s Let It Go won Best Song over Karen O’s Moon Song. Let It Go is the kind of meaningless, insincere Disney ditty that fills up the Best Song category these days, but in a year when a genuinely competent song – in this case, O’s bittersweet ballad from Her – silenced the room when performed on the night, you’d think that’d be the clear winner. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Still, at least U2 didn’t win.
Who won: Cate Blanchett, for Blue Jasmine
Who should’ve won: Sandra Bullock, for Gravity
With all due respect to Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock took on probably the most physically demanding female role of the year and still managed to deliver something effortlessly powerful in Gravity. Bullock is so good in Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi that she significantly warms up a film that threatens to be all dazzling effects and no heart (that it dominated the ‘technical’ awards last night gives a clue as to where the film’s focus lies). There are very few actresses who could convincingly give an emotional, natural performance against green screen and false scenery, then manage to hold the audience’s attention over almost the entirety of the final 90-minute picture.
Who won: Glenn Freemantle, for Gravity
Who should’ve won: Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymn, for All Is Lost
If any film was deserving of cleaning up in the technical categories last night, Gravity was it. But there was one other film tucked away at the 2014 Oscars that could have made a comfortable sweep in any other year: JC Chandor’s All Is Lost. Both Gravity and All Is Lost would have been worthy winners for most of last night’s technical awards, but Gravity – which spends most of its run-time in space, and uses Stephen Price’s excellent, vibrato score to disguise the fact that much of the film is silent – was perhaps just slightly less deserving than All Is Lost, which expertly uses a sound environment to tell an almost dialogue-free story.
Who won: John Ridley, for 12 Years a Slave
Who should’ve won: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, for Before Midnight
As good as 12 Years a Slave is, and as deserving of the Best Picture award as it was, the adapted screenplay by John Ridley doesn’t always overcome the scripting pitfalls of the period ‘prestige’ picture. The Three Kings scribe is also the writer behind Undercover Brother and the awful U Turn, and his hit-and-miss technique is still apparent in 12 Years, with the 19th century dialogue at points coming across as stilted and faux-inspirational (“I don’t want to survive…I want to live”). Much better is the screenplay for Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, which manages to bring big ideas to a small-scale picture and actually say something new about movie romance. Linklater’s Before trilogy is universally acclaimed, and Linklater is one of the smartest American auteurs of the age – was it too much to ask Oscar to recognise that?
Who won: Matthew McConaughey, for Dallas Buyers Club
Who should’ve won: Leonardo DiCaprio, for The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey is astonishing in Dallas Buyers Club – emotionally and physically fragile, McConaughey demolishes the image he spent years cultivating as a happy-go-lucky slab of Texan muscle, by shedding a quarter of his body weight and embodying the spirit of a homophobic, opportunistic hedonist. And yet, in The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio is even better, unleashing his OTT inner psychopath with unbridled, cocaine-hoovering abandon.
McConaughey taking on an AIDS-ridden bigot was a gamble, but DiCaprio risked alienating everyone by playing a man who eagerly sleeps with hookers, ingests countless dugs, robs people blind for his own gain, beats up his wife and then pretty much gets away with it all in the end. Leo was never going to win – not just because it’s Leo, as the popular internet conspiracy theory suggests, but because the Oscars couldn’t be seen to side with such an odious character. Still, DiCaprio’s already-iconic performance will linger in the collective memory for a good long while, and isn’t that a kind of award? No. Sorry Leo.
Featured image: Paramount
Inset images: CBS Films/StudioCanal; Entertainment One; Entertainment One; Warner Bros; FilmNation Entertainment; Sony Pictures Classics; Universal