The Best Writing About the 2014 Oscars

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While we’ve offered up our own Oscars commentary, from the most memorable water-cooler-conversation moments to a look at Matthew McConaughey’s bewildering acceptance speech, we’ve also spotted some excellent pieces elsewhere on the internet. After the jump, a brief collection of our favorite thought-provoking responses to this year’s Academy Awards.

Over at The Wire, Joe Reid offers up a straightforward look at the Oscars ceremony, coming away with “Four Lessons and Four Questions” from the awards, including an observation about what it takes to be a compelling host (at least for the audience in the theater):

Host Ellen Degeneres is quite comfortable among her audience; we knew this from her previous hosting stint (not to mention all that mom-dancing she gets up to on her TV show). Last night was no exception, with most of Ellen’s best bits coming as she mingled with the stars in their seats. She took selfies, she distributed pizza (the gag that kept on giving, right down to passing Pharrell’s hat around in order to pay the bill), she hobnobbed with Martin Scorsese and Jonah Hill and Steve McQueen. The balance at the Oscars tends to be that if you get the stars on your side, the evening goes a lot smoother.

At The New Republic, Sacha Z. Scoblic argues that DeGeneres was “perfect”:

Luckily, host Ellen DeGeneres delivered a smart, funny, and simple proceedings with none of the schmaltzy antics of last year’s Seth MacFarlane-driven circus. Of course I think Ellen would be funny reading the phone book. Nevertheless, telling people they’re racist if they didn’t vote for 12 Years a Slave, essentially calling Liza Minnelli a drag queen, looking for Harvey Weinstein to foot the bill for some pizza, referring to Jonah Hill’s penis as something she hadn’t seen for a very long time, and appearing as Glinda the Good Witch at her caught-in-the-headlights-awkward best after an ode to The Wizard of Oz — all made DeGeneres a perfect host. She reminded viewers and audience members alike not to take any of this pomp too seriously — a trick at which Billy Crystal excelled: “So tonight, enjoy yourselves, because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues.”

Richard Brody of The New Yorker, however, was not so much of an Ellen fan — or a fan of the ceremony as a whole:

Hollywood’s bell curve is inverted—it’s high at the ends of rank commercialism and utter eccentricity, with a deep dip in the middle where the mainstream blend used to be. So it is with the Oscars, as well, where the ceremony went to the far side of blatantly meretricious blandness and made no pretense about its safe and self-protective conservatism. The shticky suffusions of show-biz tradition were replaced by a rigidly plasticized shell of industrial defensiveness that wore its bank-vault-like mentality up front. The order of business allowed spontaneity terribly narrow grooves to rattle in and seemed calculated mainly to avoid the occurrence of anything untoward, anything substantially unforeseen or even unforeseeable. It was planned and managed to yield platitudes. The event was, in several senses, a corporate retreat, a gathering-in away from any edge of new ground—a quest for invulnerability in the age of the instant Internet gotcha, even at the risk of an air of mortal stasis.

In a particularly great essay, writer Stacia L. Brown dissects what was so powerful about Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar win:

This is not a reality as well known to American black girls with silver screen ambitions. We watch our stateside actresses languish in Hollywood for decades, delivering pounds of flesh just for bit parts: girlfriends in black films and girlfriends in white films and staid, put-upon wives in comedies, action films, biopics. And yes, even now, the occasional brave domestic, even now, the harrowingly tortured slave. We see them shed their apple-cheeked innocence all too quickly, becoming more vocal and more cynical about the dearth of complex and meaty work for them to do as they age.

Jared Leto’s win for Best Supporting Actor was, as expected, full of complications. On Jezebel, Kat Callahan argues that his Oscar was undeserved:

From her affected voice, to the way she walks, to the traits that seem more of mix of different drag tropes than real personalities of trans women, Rayon is a plot device. She is written as such, and her place within the narrative does not exceed these boundaries. Leto himself could have done a great amount with tone, body language, and facial expressions through the film, especially during the scenes which dealt with addiction. He did not.

In a frequently shared post you probably already saw on your Facebook feed, the Self-Styled Siren examines Kim Novak’s surprising facial features in the context of her career as a sex symbol and Hollywood’s ever-increasing obsession with beauty:

So let’s say — just as a hypothetical for-instance — you are an 81-year-old star whose last movie was in 1991 and who hasn’t been to the Oscars in many a long year. Not that you were ever nominated for one in the first place; you were, after all, a sex symbol for most of your career. As the evening approaches, the anxiety sets in. Harsh lights, you think. High-definition cameras. And a public that remembers you chiefly as the ice goddess whose beauty once drove James Stewart to the brink of madness.