Ellen Degeneres opened the 2014 Academy Awards with a quip that the night held “so many different possibilities. Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”
Apparently, last night’s Oscars show proved the academy isn’t racist, and that films don’t need sex and debauchery to win awards. Gravity, a film about astronauts getting lost in space, won seven awards, including best director, while the morally ambiguous American Hustle and flat-out pornographic The Wolf of Wall Street were completely shut out of all their nominated categories.
Even the hosting took a step back from last year’s raunchy Seth McFarlene, the creator of Family Guy, who took potty shots in his monologues and musical numbers. Degeneres stuck with her milder brand of humor, including ordering pizza for some of the hungry actors in the audience and taking a group selfie with superstars Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, and Kevin Spacey. The photo “broke Twitter” as 1.7 million people (as of Sunday 9:30 p.m. PST) retweeted it.
Still, the night seemed needlessly long, with a few highlights sprinkled between Oscar traditions: film montages, tributes, and movies few have even seen. One such highlight came after 20 Feet from Stardom, a film about the backup singers to famous musicians, won the award for best documentary feature. During the thank you speeches, veteran singer Darlene Love took the mic saying, “Lord God, I praise you,” before belting out the gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” The Dolby Theater audience rose to its feet in a standing ovation.
Another emotional moment came when first-time actress Lupita Nyong’o of 12 Years a Slave won the award for best supporting actress. The film depicts the life of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South. In her speech, Nyong’o pointed out that “it doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Later, as director Steven McQueen picked up the best picture Oscar, he dedicated the award to those who suffered slavery and “the 21 million who still endure slavery today.”
Disney’s Frozen, which has just crossed the $1 billion mark in box office sales worldwide, unsurprisingly picked up best animated feature, along with best original song for “Let It Go.” In another predictable win, Dallas Buyer’s Club’s Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won best actor and best supporting actor respectively. The biopic about Ron Woodroof, a rodeo cowboy who finds out he is HIV-positive and helps others obtain FDA-banned medicine, had McConaughey losing 40 pounds and Leto donning a wig, heavy makeup, and dresses as a transvestite with AIDS. Cate Blanchett of Blue Jasmine won the award for best actress despite controversy over director Woody Allen, whose adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, accused him of sexual abuse.
Still, the night’s biggest winner was Gravity, which took director Alfonso Cuaron four and a half years to shoot. With the film set entirely in outer space, it relied heavily on computer-generated imagery, special lighting, and even a complex puppeteering system to make Sandra Bullock look like she was floating inside a space station. And the results were spectacular—the film brings viewers to a place few will ever go and lets them experience the beauty, vastness, and terror of the larger universe. Cuaron is the first Latin-American director to win the award, and stayed humble in his speech.
“Making a film can be a transformative experience and I want to thank Gravity because for many of us involved in this film it was definitely a transformative experience,” said the gray-haired director. “For a lot of these people that transformation was wisdom, for me it was just the color of my hair.”