Friday, March 7, 2014

Rating the Underrated: How the Critics Killed "The Killing"

(Note: This is a discussion of AMC’s series The Killing, which is a murder mystery show. I try to avoid spoilers, and my discussion is going to be mostly about the reception the show received rather than the show itself, which I think could potentially be just as interesting for those who have not seen the series as for those who have. However, if you care heavily about spoilers for a television show that aired two and a half years ago, please do not read this—I do have to bring up some details which are fairly surprising and crucial to the plot. Otherwise, enjoy!)

In 2011, AMC was easily the most exciting network in terms of original programming. Mad Men and Breaking Bad had both distinguished themselves as two of the best shows on television and continued to bring in numerous accolades for the fledgling network. But they were looking to get another hit show—at the moment, they were known as a two-show network and needed to prove that these series were not a fluke. The only other original show they had produced was Rubicon, a critically acclaimed series which was canceled after struggling to find an audience. Needing a show on the scale of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the network picked up two new dramas with massive potential. One of these dramas was The Walking Dead, which has since become AMC’s most popular show, although its audience tends to hate-watch it at times. The other drama AMC picked up was a show called The Killing. And the way that critical reception towards the show shifted is both fascinating and baffling.

For those who are unfamiliar, The Killing is a cop drama following detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). Based on the acclaimed Danish series Forbrydelsen, the idea was that, rather than solving a new crime each episode like on most cop dramas, the investigations would take longer. In the Danish season, each season was a new crime. This meant that the murders could be more complex and examined more thoroughly. For obvious reasons, The Killing gained a lot of comparisons to Twin Peaks—with the murder victim Rosie Larsen filling in for Twin Peaks’ famous Laura Palmer— and was similar in how it went about examining the crime. Ads for The Killing even featured the slogan "Who Killed Rosie Larsen," a clear Twin Peaks allusion. Although The Killing was obviously a significantly less weird show. While the investigation for the murderer was the main plot, the show wasn’t about solving a crime, it was about the death itself, and how Rosie’s death affected those around her. For example, we see how her family reacts. The parents of a murdered teen are a part of any such story in any drama—but by giving an entire season to let their emotions play out, the Larsens (played by Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton) become more than just grieving parents. Yes, they feel sadness, but over time, that sadness evolves into desperation, fear, withdrawal, and anger, and we get a chance to see this complicated progression. But Rosie’s death has other consequences—for example, we see how the tragedy factors into and alters a local mayoral election. Perhaps most interestingly, we see how the murder takes a toll on the detectives. Obviously it is their job to solve the crime, but we see the emotional devastation that comes with being a homicide detective. Since it takes longer than an hour to solve the crime, Linden and Holder make mistakes, and have to deal with the consequences, and the performances of Enos and Kinnaman are reason alone to watch this series (for fans of Breaking Bad, Kinnaman’s character of Detective Holder is basically if Jesse Pinkman got out of the drug business, grew up, and became a cop).

A cop who would then grow up to become a Robocop.

But, I digress. As you can probably tell, however, I am a huge fan of the show and what it set out to accomplish. And at the start of the series, the critics agreed with me. The two-part pilot episode was some of the best two-hours of television in recent years—and received several accolades, including a Director’s Guild of America award for best direction of a drama series (director Patty Jenkins was only the third woman to ever win the award). Critics praised the performances in the show and the gritty, bleak tone it set. As the first season rolled along, The Killing was on its way to becoming AMC’s next big drama, garnered considerable Emmy buzz (and earned deserved acting nominations for Enos and Forbes), and was renewed for a second season. In the season 1 finale, Orpheus Descending, it looked as if everything in the Rosie Larsen case was going to be wrapped up. Linden and Holder made an arrest and seemed to have irrefutable evidence as to who the murderer was. The case was closed and ready to be reset for the next season.

And then, in the last four minutes of the episode, something happened. We found out that the evidence incriminating our supposed murderer has been tampered with and he’s not the killer after all.

The season ended on a cliffhanger—the case still unsolved and the big question of “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” was still unanswered. Now, the show had already been picked up for a second season at this point. It wasn’t as if the murderer would never be revealed—it just meant they weren’t going to be revealed yet. And, yes, cliffhangers are rough, but they’re not particularly unheard of. There are numerous acclaimed series which end a season on a cliffhanger—it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. And it didn’t exactly come out of left field—like many AMC dramas and murder mysteries, The Killing was no stranger to cliffhangers, and would almost always end an episode just as the detectives make a new discovery that completely changes the course of the investigation. When I watched the season 1 finale, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Yes, I was screaming at my television screen, but that was the point. Showrunner Veena Sud knew exactly what she was doing. After a season, I was completely invested in the show and couldn’t bear the thought of having to wait a year to see how the rest of the story would unfold. But this is the mark of any great drama. You become so invested that you want to watch more to see where the show leads.

Fans and critics were staunchly divided in their opinions on Orpheus Descending. Many felt like I did—that it was a surprising end of the season, and were excited to see how the new developments would fuel the investigation in the second season. But, many fans were outraged, and in this age where everyone can make their opinion so readily known, the internet exploded. People took to twitter and facebook and tumblr and more to say how they hated the season 1 finale. But some took it farther. Some claimed that they felt betrayed by the show. Some called for Veena Sud to be fired. Some even went so far as to claim that they would never watch an AMC show again because the network had let this ending go through. By not answering the core question on all of the show’s advertising—“Who killed Rosie Larsen?”—many felt that the show had actively lied to its fans, and had not followed through on what it had promised.

The response was akin to other controversial TV finales—such as The Sopranos and Lost. Except, for those other series, they were series finales—and the frustration of fans came from the fact that their unanswered questions would forever be ambiguous. But, and I can’t stress this enough, this was a season finale, not a series finale. It’s true, the show had not answered the question of “Who killed Rosie Larsen,” but it still had more episodes to go. And no one involved in the show or at AMC had ever actually promised or even implied that the case would be solved in one season—it was just assumed by the audience. Now, to be fair, many pointed out that in the Danish series the season was based on, the case was solved in one season. But that season was 20 episodes long instead of 13, and the first and second halves had been aired a year apart (the way AMC aired the 5th season of Breaking Bad, for example). So, actually, this should have been a clue that the show might do just what it did. Showrunner Veena Sud said, “I am aware there’s been both excitement and frustration around the twist at the end of the season. Our goal was not to mislead but rather to do something different, to take the time the story needs to fully unfold.”

Detectives Linden and Holder investigate

Despite the negative response of some fans, there were still many viewers, like myself, who stood by the show and, in fact, liked the season 1 finale. But, then, the reviews came in. Now, I want to talk about the nature of critics in the world of art—I think they’re important. Critics facilitate a discussion of media. The best critics do not simply pass judgment, they provide commentary on the subject framed by their own opinions. The best critics are not always going to be the ones that you most agree with. For example, I disagreed with a lot of Roger Ebert’s reviews, but even if he loved a movie I hated, or vice versa, his reviews provided intelligent commentary and he was able to articulate his opinions well.  And reviews are important. Bad reviews can sting, but by the same token, a positive review is extremely validating, and can encourage people to see something they ordinarily would not have. So, my comments below are not attempting to speak out against critics. After all, this is an entertainment blog where I am going to be reviewing entertainment. Like a critic. It would be hypocritical for me to denounce the role of the critic. Especially if I discuss something that is really, really, really awful.

But there are some critics who thrive on writing negative reviews. And, with the mixed reaction from viewers for the season finale of The Killing, critics smelled blood in the water. Several reviewers published irresponsibly scathing reviews. Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post was notoriously. As a critic, I hold Maureen Ryan in very low regard and find myself disagreeing with her more than I agree with her, and had felt this way before her review of The Killing’s finale. In her review, she came across as actually offended by the show—as if the show had done her some personal harm in some way. But it didn’t—it just ended its season on a cliffhanger.

Mitch and Stan Larsen-- the parents of the fictional victim of The Killing

The second season did what everyone wanted it to do: it solved the murder of Rosie Larsen. But at this point, nobody was watching it. The Killing became known for its critical backlash as opposed to its distinct mood and out-of-this-world performances. Critics went into the second season ready to pounce, ready to criticize. One of the number one online communities for discussion of media—The A.V. Club—was particularly harsh. While I typically love the reviews on the website, reviewer Brandon Nowalk, who was assigned to season 2 of The Killing, appeared to go into the season with an absolute disgust for the show—a place from which a reviewer should never approach the media that they are reviewing (the site, by the way, also featured a harsh condemnation for Orpheus Descending, which it rated a D+). For me, the actual case of who killed Rosie Larsen was solved the best way that it could be. The identity of the murderer tied in the multiple storylines of the series, and was unexpected without coming out of left field. But, like the rest of the season, it was panned by most reviewers for reasons I truly cannot understand, and which never seemed to me to be fully articulated. Due to the low ratings of the show, AMC had to cancel it, a decision which received cheers mostly from viewers who had long since stopped watching the show.

But, after the news of the cancellation, another surprising announcement was made—Netflix was in talks to pick up the series for another season. See, while the show did poorly in the United States, it was beloved abroad, by viewers who had not been privy to the backlash of the first season finale. Eventually, AMC ended up picking up the show for a third season, making a deal with Netflix that they could release the season online in Europe as it aired in the U.S. The third season was an exciting chance for the show to start anew—as they were solving a completely new case, only the two main characters (the detectives) were carried over to this new season. This was a new case, and a new chance for the show. As always, the gritty atmosphere of the show was spot on, and the performances were incredible. Specifically, a young actress named Bex Taylor-Klaus knocked it out of the park as a gritty tomboy named Bullet. And the series landed a big name in Peter Sarsgaard—a fan of the show who reportedly approached the producers himself asking if he could be cast—who portrayed an inmate on death row. Sure enough, critics began giving it high praise—many adopting a tone of surprise while doing so.

The fantastic Bex Taylor-Klaus as Bullet in Season 3

But audiences who had long written off the show were not willing to watch it, and articles praising the season were treated to a slew of comments from disgruntled former fans who, rather than give the show a try in light of its renewed critical acclaim, responded that the critic must be wrong and there was no way the show could possibly be good. The show once again had dismal ratings.

While, for me, the third season takes a while to get going, the end of the season was one of the most exciting I’ve seen in a while. Two of the episodes from this season—“Reckoning” (directed by Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme) and “Six Minutes”—were some of the best hours of television that I’ve ever seen, and could have competed with the episodes of AMC’s magnum opus Breaking Bad. Even if you’re not sold on my defense of the show as a whole and don’t intend to watch it, I really encourage you to watch “Six Minutes.” While it obviously will carry more of a punch if you’ve seen the season and have gotten to know the characters, the episode is mostly standalone, and I think that it would be impressive enough on its own (even the AV Club, which to be fair had generally nice things to say about the third season, assigned the episode a rare A rating). The episode follows Sarsgaard’s character—the inmate Ray Seward (who is in jail at the start of the season and is not a suspect in the case that the third season focuses on), in the 24 hours before his pending execution. By his request, he will be hanged—a decision he now regrets as he learned that if the noose does not immediately kill him, he could stay alive for up to six minutes before suffocating (hence the title). The head detective in charge of putting him in prison—Enos’ detective Linden—now has some doubts as to his guilt and is trying to obtain a stay of execution for him. It’s a tense, heartfelt, and gripping episode which reads like a fantastic short film. Watch it—I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And I’m seriously hoping the episode somehow garners some awards for writing and directing at the upcoming Emmy awards. Although this is unlikely, they would be very much deserved.

Peter Sarsgaard in the episode "Six Minutes"

But, back to the series as a whole, I have one major question: if the show had really been as bad as people say it was, then why would it have experienced the backlash that it did? If people hated the show, then why would they have been so shocked and devastated when the case was not immediately solved? If they were not invested in these wonderful, well-rounded characters then how could the finale have garnered such a strong reaction? It makes me think of the hatred of the films of M. Night Shyamalan. If Shyamalan were just a hack director with no talent (and I’m not necessarily saying he’s not) then his films would just be ignored and acknowledged as bad, but innocuous. The reason that Shyamalan’s films are so wonderfully celebrated as being awful is because of his initial success. If not for The Sixth Sense, no one would care about how bad The Happening was. The finale let people down, and that’s fine. I disagree and thought it was brilliant, but I’m not going to discount the fact that people didn’t enjoy the finale and do not intend to put down any other viewer's opinion. But just as we shouldn’t let Shyamalan’s many, many, many, many, many, many failures blemish the fact that The Sixth Sense is a pretty brilliant film, the first season finale should not define The Killing in the way that it truly has. While it has generally been acknowledged that there are times when a show “jumps the shark,” I cannot think of any other show where a single episode so completely reversed any goodwill that critics had towards the series. It’s a true anomaly.

Brandon Jay McLaren as one of the initial suspects in Season 1

This whole incident speaks to the power of a critic. I think that critics are important, as discussion of the arts is always important, and reviews encourage that. But critics hold immense power—a poor review can kill a show. Just as a positive review can make a show. This becomes dangerous when a critic’s response so clearly dictate’s a supposedly autonomous audience’s response. Which is why I encourage you to not just take my word for it—watch The Killing. And if you hate it that’s fine. But watch it with an open mind.

The show is, actually, not dead yet. Someone at Netflix clearly loves this show, as Netflix has picked the show up for a fourth and final season, marking it the second time the show has been canceled and then renewed. Indeed, The Killing seems to be a show that can’t be killed. And the two main actors from the series-- Enos and Kinnaman-- have been seeing a tremendous amount of success in the show's wake, which is well-deserved considering their incredible performances. I for one am excited for what the fourth season will bring, and am looking forward to more episodes to spend with Linden and Holder (seriously, their friendship and partnership is really important to me).  My hope is that, with the show existing on Netflix, it will allow for newer audiences to experience the show without the swarm of hatred surrounding it. Perhaps history will be kind to The Killing. I certainly hope so.

Linden and Holder interview a suspect in undoubtedly the brightest-lit shot in the series. Yeah, that's Kacey Rohl from Hannibal. Seriously, the cast is great and you should watch this show.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Leonardo DiCaprio Didn't Win An Oscar...And That's Okay

Last night something happened that has happened every other single day in history: Leonardo DiCaprio did not win an Oscar.

This has become a bit of a joke amongst movie fans. Despite being one of the most recognizable stars of the screen, DiCaprio has never won an Oscar, and some people (including me) find this particularly hilarious. The thing is that he clearly wants it so badly. He continuously takes on what people refer to as “Oscary” roles, and every year, it feels like there are several projects that have Oscar buzz for Leo, only for him to be left out in the cold come Oscar night. Many jokes have been made. They are all funny.

But with the jokes, there is also a genuine consensus that DiCaprio is overdue. He is generally considered the #1 actor to have been snubbed by the Oscars. In reading predictions for this year’s awards—which is a thing I do in my spare time why do you ask doesn’t everybody?—I  saw one reason for why DiCaprio wouldn’t win listed over and over again: that “The Oscars just don’t like him.” And some argued that DiCaprio might “finally” win the award this year. Basically, DiCaprio is seen as an actor who is consistently overlooked time and time again by The Oscars—never getting recognized despite giving superior performances. Sure enough, after McConaughey won the Oscar, there was a wave of people saying that, once again, Leonardo DiCaprio was denied “his award.”

But why? Why have we singled out DiCaprio as forever being the Oscars anti-darling. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor, but I have always been confused as to why he’s treated as if this award is more elusive for him than for anyone else. So, I’d like to analyze why I think DiCaprio is really not all that hated by the Academy—at least not to deserve the reputation he has. And I shall pepper this post with multiple pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio looking sad because there are sooooooooo many.

So, so many.

First, let’s start with the Oscar race this year. Now, it’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of The Wolf ofWall Street, and although DiCaprio gives a strong and committed performance, I think there were better choices to be nominated this year. But even if I loved his performance, there simply wasn’t a precedent for him to win this year. Matthew McConaughey won pretty much every other major award leading up to the Oscars (the exception being the BAFTA, where he wasn’t nominated—and that didn’t go to DiCaprio either, it went to Chiwetel Ejiofor). DiCaprio’s loss this year is not a slight—it was basically expected by everyone.

The fact that he was nominated at all should be a sign that the Oscars don’t hate Leonardo DiCaprio. He has been nominated five times. That’s not too shabby at all. And in such a competitive year, he beat out numerous other buzzed-about performances, including those of Tom Hanks, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Redford. Speaking of Robert Redford, he has been nominated for acting a total of one time in his entire career. And he’s considered a screen legend whose career has spanned considerably more years than DiCaprio. Yeah, DiCaprio hasn’t won yet, but he’s certainly been more recognized than most actors. Some may say, though, that DiCaprio has given consistently strong enough performances throughout the years and that sets him apart—but there are many consistent actors who have fared far worse. Gary Oldman, who it feels like has appeared in every film ever made, has been nominated exactly one time for his efforts. John Malkovich has been nominated twice. Neither has won. To be fair, these actors are not exactly playing the same roles as DiCaprio, but what about some of DiCaprio’s contemporaries? Matt Damon and Ethan Hawke are two tremendous actors who have given many fantastic performances, yet Damon has been nominated for his acting twice, and Hawke has been nominated once. And none of the actors I just mentioned have ever won either. DiCaprio has at least twice as many nominations than any of these actors. And it’s not cliché to say that it’s just an honor to be nominated—it really is. Those nominations are accolades in their own right. the point that I'm making is that DiCaprio might not be as decorated by the Academy as some think he should be, but there are other acclaimed actors who have, in fact, been given less recognition by the Academy.

By the way, Cary Grant—voted by the American Film Institute as the second greatest male movie star of all time, was only nominated for an Oscar twice in his entire career. If he had not been given an honorary Oscar at the end of his life, he would never have won at all.

Some might say, however, that the very fact that he has been nominated so many times and still hasn’t won is indication that the Oscars hate him—that he simply cannot win. But, take a look at DiCaprio’s Catch Me If You Can co-star Amy Adams. She has been nominated five times and never won. Not just that, but those five nominations have been awarded over the span of only eight years. That’s pretty incredible. Yet there is not the same feeling surrounding her that the Oscar keeps falling out of her grasp, as there is with DiCaprio. DiCaprio's Titanic co-star Kate Winslet-- who is perfect in pretty much everything-- didn't win the award until her fifth nomination. And then there’s Meryl Streep. Now, I’m not going to pretend that Streep is not an Oscar darling. After all, she has won an impressive three Oscars (one of only six actors in history to do so). But…she has been nominated eighteen times.  EIGHTEEN! That means she has not won five times more than she has won. And there was a gap of 29 years and twelve nominations between her second and third wins. If DiCaprio wins the Oscar on his next nomination (and considering how much the Academy likes to reward people because it’s “their time,” that’s pretty likely), he will have a better win to nomination ratio than Streep.

And, look at the actors who I have compared to DiCaprio. Notice one thing about them? They're all white. Only four black actors have won Best Actor in a Leading Role in the 86 years the Oscars have been around. That's fewer than the number of nominations DiCaprio has received. And Halle Berry remains the only black actress to have won Best Actress in a Leading Role. I don't want to go into this point too much right now, because it's part of a larger problem that many others have addressed in a much more eloquent way than I ever could, but I felt I had to bring it up.

But then there’s the argument that…it just really really really seems like Leo wants an Oscar. And that’s what makes it seem so elusive for him. But, I’ll let you in on a secret. EVERY ACTOR WANTS AN OSCAR! I mean, take the reigning “Best Actor,” Matthew McConaughey. A few years ago it would have been ridiculous for him to have ever hoped to be an Oscar nominee, let alone a winner, considering the films he was in. But then he started taking on more and more challenging and dramatic roles. Yeah, some of it might have been to further his reputation as an actual artist and prove his acting ability, but I’m sure the thought of an Oscar was in the back of his mind. This is the award that every actor dreams of—not just Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course, with DiCaprio, the sheer quantity of Oscar-baity movies he has been in is ridiculously huge. But, many of those films eventually kind of fizzled out, and any buzz they had faded. The Great Gatsby was at one point considered a Best Picture contender (until it was released). The same goes for DiCaprio-helmed films like J. Edgar and Shutter Island. Perhaps the best example of this, though, is Revolutionary Road, which gained just three nominations despite being heralded the Best Picture frontrunner a year before its release (again, buzz kind of faded as soon it was released. I wonder if this is coincidental or if there is some sort of link).

But, then there’s the list of performances that many people think DiCaprio should have been nominated for. In reading about how DiCaprio is constantly snubbed, people mention that it’s “outrageous” that he was not nominated for his work in films like Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, J. Edgar, Shutter Island, Inception, and Django Unchained. An impressive lineup, but our memories are definitely distorted here. Let’s look at them one by one. Films like J. Edgar, and Shutter Island were incredibly disappointing and there was never any Oscar buzz surrounding DiCaprio. Titanic and Inception were critically acclaimed films, but certainly not for DiCaprio’s performances. I’m not saying that he’s bad in these, but they’re just not Oscar-worthy roles.  As for  Catch Me If You Can, which strikes me as DiCaprio’s most underrated performance (it’s such an incredible movie and he’s spot-on in it). But, again, it was not expected for him to get nominated here. For this film, he was only nominated for one major award—the Golden Globe, which is hardly the most esteemed of awards. That's hardly a precedent.

The only two non-nominations for Leo which I think can actually be described as “snubs,” are Django Unchained and The Departed. But, again, these were not major upsets. The fact that he wasn’t nominated for Django Unchained is probably considered the biggest snub against him. People bring this up all the time—“How could he not have been nominated for that movie?!” But…again, our memories have been distorted. I think many would be surprised to learn that DiCaprio was, again, only nominated for one major award for his performance in Django Unchained. And, again, that was the Golden Globe. DiCaprio was not snubbed for Django Unchained, he was actively not expected to get a nomination. Sure, there was some minor buzz, but it was as a dark horse, never as a serious contender.

Then there’s The Departed. This time, there was reason to believe that he might have been nominated, having been previously nominated for a BAFTA, a Critic’s Choice Award, and a SAG Award for this role. And also a Golden Globe. But while it was definitely possible for him to have been nominated, look at who was nominated that year. It was a tough year with five great performances being nominated—including DiCaprio’s The Departed co-star Mark Wahlberg. The only surprising nominee of the five was Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children, and even he had some precedent, having been nominated for a SAG Award and giving a truly incredible performance. And this same year, DiCaprio got a nomination in the Best Actor category for Blood Diamond, which might have influenced his lack of a nomination here. While it was a snub, it wasn’t really a major one. As you can see, the preconceived notion that DiCaprio is consistently passed over for a nomination is kind of unfounded.

But, to be fair, the argument isn’t that he can’t get nominated for an Oscar, it’s that he can’t win an Oscar. But, there’s a really good reason he hasn’t won yet. Are you ready for it? The reason he hasn’t won yet is because…he never gave the best performance in any given year. It’s as simple as that. Of course, judging performances is completely subjective business, and some people may think that he did in fact give the best performance in one or more of the years he was nominated. But, given the times he has been nominated for Best Actor, he lost, in turn, to Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland, Jamie Foxx for Ray, and now Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club. Not only are all three strong performances, but all three were HEAVILY FAVORED TO WIN THE AWARD. So, when faced against juggernaut performances like that, how can DiCaprio's not winning possible be seen as a slight against him personally?

The award he had the best chance of winning was for his very first nomination—for Best Supporting Actor in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (which remains, for my money, his best performance).   

I criticized Wolf of Wall Street, and have now spent a whole article not feeling sorry for him, so I felt he needed some deserved praise. As you can see, though, he's still sad.

He lost to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive, which was indeed a bit of a surprise. But, even though Tommy Lee Jones was not the favorite, neither was DiCaprio. The favorite going into the award was Ralph Fiennes for Schindler's List. Once again, DiCaprio was not snubbed—he was actively expected not to win each of these years. Like I said, you may think he deserved to win one, or more than one, of these years. His girlfriend at the time, Gisele Bundchen, famously said that DiCaprio in The Aviator should have won the Oscar of Foxx for Ray. But there is nothing to quantify this. And there is nothing in DiCaprio’s performance that is objectively better than Foxx’s. Foxx was the favorite going in, not DiCaprio, so how can it be a snub when DiCaprio doesn’t win an award he wasn’t expected to win anyway?

 I’m sure that DiCaprio will win an Oscar one day. It’s basically guaranteed. As I already mentioned, the Academy likes to reward people because it’s “their time.” They’re like the GOP that way (also because they’re all old white men). The Departed happened to be a great movie, but Scorsese would have won Best Director that year even if he had released a movie of Jack Nicholson flossing. At this point, the perceived slights against Leonardo DiCaprio have become so pervasive that the consensus is that he’s “due.” And that will win him an award. It’s generally accepted, for example, that Dame Judi Dench’s Oscar for Shakespeare in Love had little to do with her performance in that film (which is basically just a cameo) and everything to do with her not winning for Mrs. Brown. And Leonardo DiCaprio will similarly win an award, and everyone will say that “it’s about time,” and congratulate the Oscars on correcting the error of their ways.

But I think this cheapens the meaning of the Oscars. As flawed as they are—and they really are quite flawed—the idea is that the award should be given to the best performance of the year. Like I’ve said, DiCaprio is an incredible actor, and he has given consistently amazing performances all throughout his career. He has rightfully earned his place as one of the best actors of his generation. But the Oscars are not given to a body of work—they are given to individual performances. DiCaprio gives some great ones, but he simply has not held the distinction of giving the best performance in any given year. That’s why he hasn’t gotten the Oscar. Not because The Oscars hate him, and not because of some grand conspiracy against him. By all means, let’s keep making jokes about how much he wants to win an Oscar, but let’s not take them too seriously. And let’s not pretend that The Oscars are like a Little League game where the winner is whoever “wants it more.” If that were the case, then Lee Daniels’ The Butler would have won Best Picture this year.

He can play happy too! That, my friends, is called "range."

2014 Oscars: Final Thoughts

So, the 86th annual Academy Awards are over. My obsession and overly-thorough analysis of the race is now officially useless information, although, I'm pretty proud of predicting 19/24 categories correctly. And now, all that's left for me is to provide my final thoughts on the ceremony.

And, I have to say, this ceremony was really fantastic. And they were fantastic for one major reason: Ellen DeGeneres. Everyone expected her to be a great host, but she exceeded my already high expectations. There was just a general tone of joviality to the whole evening. And, especially when compared to last year's atrocity of a host, her jokes were never mean-spirited. She was having fun, so were the people in the audience, and so were those of us watching at home. And that's what an awards show should be.

The selfie on twitter idea was genius (and I loved when she pointed out that the fact that it broke a record truly made everyone a winner), and the fact that they ordered pizza was one of the greatest awards moments in history. Seriously, how amazing was that? I will see few things in my life greater than Meryl Streep looking really, really excited about getting a slice of pizza. This summed up, for me, why Ellen is such a great host: she does things just because they're funny.

Nothing will top the pizza for me, but here are some of my thoughts-- both good and bad-- on the night.

Although there were no real upsets in the major awards, there were some upsets in the categories of Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. The frontrunners in these categories did not win, but the best films of the nominees did. Which is a rather beautiful and reaffirming thing. I cheered when Mr. Hublot was announced instead of Get a Horse!. They're great films and see them for yourself-- I think you'll agree that the right films won.

Despite my thoughts on "Let It Go," it's exciting that Bobby Lopez won because he is now an official member of the coveted EGOT club, for those who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. And the speech he and his wife gave accepting the award was pure delight.

The fact that The Great Beauty won Best Foreign Language film means that Italy is now tied with France for the most number of wins in that category.

It's very rare for the director of the Best Picture winner to not win Best Director, which happened again this year. Not only that, but this is the second year in a row that this happened. The last time that these awards were split in two consecutive years was in 1952.

American Hustle, which I really loved but which seems to be getting a lot of criticism lately which I think is rather undeserved, failed to win a single award despite 11 nominations. It is now tied with The Turning Point and The Color Purple for the most nominations a without a win.

The speeches were, for the most part, rather spot on. But I found the speeches by the men of Dallas Buyers Club to be some of the lower points of the night. Jared Leto tried to bring up some important issues-- which I'd always wished he'd done when accepting awards-- but was mentioning issues that had nothing to do with Dallas Buyers Club. At the very end of his rambling speech, he finally mentioned "those out there who have ever felt injustice for who you are," yet still refused to say the word "transgender" when discussing his transgender character. Unbelievable. And then there's Matthew McConaughey who gave a completely meandering and rather incoherent speech. I get that his point was that people should strive to keep being the best version of themselves, but I find it a little odd that he spent the speech not thanking anyone-- and that he views himself as his own hero (even if it is a future version of himself).

Speaking of low points of the evening...John Travolta messing up Idina Menzel's name. What even was that? Did he say "Adela Manzeem?" It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen. It was even worse than the guy on the pre-show red carpet coverage who referred to Julia Roberts as "Jessica."

Interesting note about Best Documentary Feature Film. In my predictions for that category, I dismissed the ultimate winner 20 Feet From Stardom due to its more upbeat nature. But, I found out tonight, there has actually been a change in how this category is voted upon. It used to simply be documentarians voting, but now it's open to more people in the academy, which means it's likely that this category will feature more and more crowd-pleasers as the year goes on. Although, I can't help but feel that The Act of Killing got robbed because of this change.

Back to positives-- I loved the choice to cut the live audio feed while the In Memoriam section was running. I always love that section-- and the opportunity it gives to reflect on the work of so many great artists. But I've always found the applause during that kiiiiiiiiiiinda baffling. I know it's to honor the late, great talent...but it still always feels like "YAY! I'M GLAD THEY'RE DEAD!" So I appreciated that we didn't have to listen to the audience applause over it.

Can we talk about Lupita Nyong'o? She has won multiple awards already for her performance in 12 Years a Slave and has impressed me by giving such incredible speeches every time. Seriously, look them up. In every acceptance speech, she is not only very eloquent and gracious, but she brings up important issues and takes the time she has been given to really make a statement (take note, Leto). And it's always something different. Tonight, however, was the first time we really got to see her get emotional. She was still as poised as always, but she really gave herself time to take in the fact that she won an Oscar, and it was a beautiful and touching thing to see. Similarly, when Steve McQueen spoke after 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, I love that he gave a really composed and important speech...and then once the serious stuff was out of the way began jumping up and down.

I really want to hear the full speech that Geoffrey Rush gave to honor Angela Lansbury at the Governor's Ball. If the little snippet we heard is any indication, it was incredible.

And, of course, one of my favorite parts of the evening was that The Wolf of Wall Street walked away with nothing. When they were announcing the award for Best Film Editing, they said something like "Without a good editor, a film would be four hours long and not as good as it could have been." That statement reeeeeeeeeeeally made me think of The Wolf of Wall Street. Although, to be fair, it's not the worst film I've seen recently.

So, there we are. A great Oscar ceremony to cap off a really incredible year for film. Sure, the ceremony ran long, but I don't care. It's the Oscars-- it's supposed to run long! And while not all of the video montages (which most likely padded the ceremony and were responsible for its long duration) were all that necessary, they were all quite well done. I don't have much to say because I really enjoyed it-- and it's easier to say things about something that you are ripping to shreds. So, my comments might not be as expansive as they have been in past years, but that's a good thing. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners, and here's to another great year for film in 2014!