And the Oscar goes to...
- Credit: PA
Last night was a great night for the British film industry. Without getting bogged down in silly games about where the finances came from, both major Oscar winners were the products of British film-making talent.
Steve McQueen’s slavery drama 12 Years A Slave carried off the big prize having been awarded the Best Picture Oscar while the science fiction drama Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, was declared to be the night’s big winner by capturing seven awards.
It was a good night for Oscar. It captured a balance between meaningful movies and well-made, intelligent entertainments. This is how it should be.
It was also a night of firsts and righted a few historic wrongs.
After Oscar shamefully sent Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple home empty-handed in 1986 – it was nominated for 11 awards and opted to give Best Picture to romantic drama Out of Africa instead – it was only fitting that the even more powerful 12 Years A Slave captured the big honour of the night.
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It is a perceptive, emotional, dramatic and unsentimental look at the issue of slavery and is even more remarkable for being based on a true story.
Although it is set against the cotton fields of the American south, the issues it deals with are both timeless and global. It speaks as much about life in the 21st century as it does the 19th – which is why Steve McQueen’s movie was a deserved winner.
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No doubt much will be made that British film-maker Steve McQueen has become the first black director to win a Best Picture Oscar and it’s fitting that it is a work about slavery but this is part of a slow journey towards equality that Hollywood has been making for many years.
Although it is easy to point the finger at the Oscars and criticise its safe decisions and its fondness for backing commercial winners, it can’t be overlooked that they also frequently stand up and do the right thing.
It can’t be ignored that Hollywood gave its first Oscar to a black actor way back in 1939 when it honoured Hattie McDaniel for her role in Gone With The Wind. Whatever you may think about the subservient nature of the role, it’s a fantastic performance and she steals many of the early scenes of the movie.
Handing over her Oscar actress Fay Bainter told McDaniel: “I’m really especially happy that I am chosen to present this particular plaque. To me it seems more than just a plaque of gold. It opens the doors of this room, moves back the walls, and enables us to embrace the whole of America.”
Heady stuff for 1939 and although it took some time, Oscar repeated the gesture in 1963 when it awarded Sidney Poitier the Best Actor Oscar for Lillies of the Field. Again this was a well-deserved reward but it gained special notoriety when placed against the backdrop of America’s civil rights disturbances at the time.
It would have been fitting if Chiwetel Ejiofor had followed in Poitier’s footsteps and picked up the Best Actor award but the groundswell of support for Matthew McConaughey for his role in the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club was simply too great.
The other prizes it picked up by 12 Years A Slave was Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o, who snatched the prize from under the nose of the hotly tipped Jennifer Lawrence, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
These were both deserved wins but I am pleasantly surprised that the American Academy overlooked one of its own and gave it to an unknown. I was convinced that we would have a repeat of the BAFTA verdict which had Lawrence carry off the honour.
Balancing the serious nature of 12 Years A Slave is Alfonso Cuaron’s dazzling science fiction thriller Gravity starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. It proves, not only, that intelligent grown-up science fiction can succeed at the box office but 3-D doesn’t have to be a gimmick.
Alfonso Cuaron deservedly won best director for managing to direct the tense, emotional acting side of the movie while also be able to get his head around the huge technical demands of the 3-D special effects.
His Oscar was reward for never letting the film become a special effects showreel. It remained a film about people. It was a genuine thriller that kept an emotional connection with its audience rather than just being a cinematic fireworks display.
Callous as it may seem Cate Blanchett’s Best Actress and Jared Leto’s Best Supporting Actor Oscars were obvious as they had won their respective categories in any number of preceding awards ceremonies – but the wins were no less deserved.
It’s good to see that the controversy surrounding Woody Allen’s personal life didn’t rob Blanchett of her richly deserved trophy. Cate Blanchett won for her role as a needy sister in Blue Jasmine and Jared Leto won for his cross-dressing Rayon in Dal;las Buyers Club.
This year was a good year for Oscar. The films rewarded were all of a high quality and there were no embarrassing oversights.
If you look at the winners of recent years I think the time of the big landslide victory, one film wins all, has passed.
The trend now is to reward each film for its areas of excellence. This is not only more democratic but actually makes the event more interesting to watch.